"The Long Game: Quality Education For All"
Wendy Kopp, CEO Teach For All: "We need incredibly well-trained and developed people at every level."
Since the launch of the UN Millennium Declaration in 2000, the global community has made enormous strides in getting children all over the world into classrooms. Enrollment in primary education in developing countries has reached 90 percent, and disparities between girls' and boys' enrollment are well on their way to being eliminated.
Now, we need to shift our focus from getting children into school, to getting them the quality education they desperately need while they're there.
I recently had the chance to travel to Nigeria and visit a school of more than 600 girls in Lagos. During the hour I was there, I walked from classroom to classroom and only found one with a teacher. The 14- and 15-year-old girls in that one classroom were learning the difference between simple and complex sentences. One girl I spoke with had travelled an hour and a half to get to school that morning, and would travel and hour and a half to get back home.
Around the world, 250 million children won't learn even the basics of literacy and numeracy-and that's with half of them actually in school. In virtually every country, whole segments of students attain educational levels far below those of more privileged students and don't attain the kind of education necessary to break the cycle of poverty, or to be active and contributing members of the community or the economy.
A complex, systemic problem
Across the globe, the children living in poverty face a remarkably similar set of challenges.
This is a complex, systemic problem that exists because marginalized children in countries all over the world face many extra challenges-from violence and instability in their communities to poor nutrition and health care, to little or no early childhood education. These children then come to schools that aren't equipped to meet their extra needs and set high expectations for them. The problem persists because of mindsets about the potential of marginalized children.
This problem is not unique to any one country or region. Across the globe, the children living in poverty face a remarkably similar set of challenges. In fact, the most marginalized children in India probably have more in common with the most marginalized children in the U.S. than with more privileged kids in their own country. And while this universality can make the problem seem overwhelming, it also means that the solutions are sharable, if we take a global approach to solving educational inequity.
It will take a lot of work - from inside and outside of education - in order to change this. We need far more teachers and school leaders, but we also need more doctors and policy makers and entrepreneurs to support these children and their communities.
Who is going to do all this?
The Fellows are doing incredible things in those two years of their deployment.
All over the world, countries send their top talent into finance, technology, medicine, and law-but rarely into education. The 35 Teach For All partner organizations are trying to change this - to ensure that all over the world, countries begin channeling the energy of many more of their most promising future leaders towards this systemic set of challenges facing children.
These organizations recruit top students and professionals to commit to teaching in their highest-need communities for two years, and cultivating their lifelong commitment to change. These teachers are doing incredible things in those two years, and between 50 and 70 percent are staying in education-depending on the organization. Even more are becoming leaders outside the classroom, committed to improving outcomes for children in their countries. Whether they become lifelong educators or business leaders, they take with them an understanding of the importance of giving every child a quality education and what it will take to accomplish that.
In the places where our partners have been working the longest, we see that channeling leaders like this against the problem of educational inequity leads to progress.
When we started Teach For America in Los Angeles in 1990, most people were not even imagining the possibility that every child could have access to an excellent education. Looking back just to 2000, the Academic Performance Index of schools in the low-income community of Watts trailed that of Beverly Hills by more than 400 points. By 2013, they had halved the gap. Four of today's top 10 highest performing high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District didn't even exist in 2000. While there are many people who have contributed to this progress, if you took out the Teach For America alumni, you would lose a lot of the energy that's fueling change: Nearly 60 school leaders, hundreds of teachers, and leaders of charter networks with some of the highest performing schools in the state of California.
The long game
It will take a generation or more of our most talented leaders working against this monumental and multi-faceted problem.
The change in Washington, D.C. schools did not happen overnight, and there was no one solution that brought it about. It took many people chipping away at the many facets of the problem of educational inequity. In education, as in any other sector, people are everything. We need incredibly well-trained and developed people at every level to produce the kind of outcomes that we need to see in schools around the world.
This is the long game. It will take a generation or more of our most talented leaders working against this monumental and multi-faceted problem. It will take changing the mindsets and developing the skills of billions of children and parents and teachers and administrators.
But investing in this long game is the only way to realize the rest of our ambitions: a world that is economically prosperous, peaceful, just, healthy and sustainable.
Wendy Kopp is the co-founder and CEO of Teach For All and founder and chair of Teach For America.