Whenever a Miss America contestant is asked a question about how she would change the world if she wins the crown, her answer will sound something like, “I will try to attain world peace, end poverty, improve health worldwide, and teach little children how to read.”  As overly ambitious and cliché this answer is, the world has made strides in the area of global health with the help of vaccines.

Needle by Dr. Shepard

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are twenty eight Vaccine-Preventable Diseases that have vaccines fighting against them including:  Hepatitis A and B, Measles, Lyme Disease, and the H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) and many more. These vaccines have prevented the spread of disease, and improved the quality of life of all who have been vaccinated. However, vaccinations aren’t always readily available, and when supply is short, the consequences could be disastrous.

It was reported just earlier this month that a measles epidemic hit Pakistan, and this epidemic has already claimed 500 children’s lives (the full article can be read here). Measles is preventable with a vaccine, but not all have access to said vaccine. Dr. Zahid, Medical Superintendent of Mayo Hospital (one of the many hospitals seeing many of the patients with measles) said, “About 80 percent of patients were not vaccinated.”  The power of vaccinations is incredible, and their importance shouldn’t be underestimated. More vaccines could have saved 500 children.

This past month at Jolkona was education month, and we are grateful for the generosity of our readers.  I would like to officially announce that Jolkona will focus on the topic of global health for the month of August. Global health is an issue that many in our office feel passionate about, so dedicating three projects to improving global health was a no-brainer. Please stay tuned for more information coming soon.

By partnering with Jolkona, you get to choose how you impact the world. Join our Give Together program today!

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Monsoon season in Bangladesh brings in the flood waters, and as a result, thousands of students are unable to attend school. Many of these students are rural and have issues accessing schooling in the first place. This brings to mind perhaps the most essential tools a student needs for learning: a school. One man came up with a creative solution to address the issue and brought the school to the students during times of flooding, rather than leaving them behind.

Mohammed Rezwan founded a nonprofit called Shidhulai Swanirvar Sansgstha, which runs a fleet of boats acting as schoolhouses, libraries and adult education services. Since his family had a boat growing up, he was able to go to school year round, but he saw that many of his friends didn’t have the same access. He started with one boat and a few small grants, then his project garnered much more attention. With the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2005, he added solar powered electricity and computers, and expanded the fleet to its current size, with 20 school boats, 10 mobile libraries, and even 7 centers for adult education on practical issues like agriculture, and 5 clinics. Since it’s beginning, Rezwan has brought schooling to 70,000 students, and hopes to reach 100,000 more in the next five years. This is an amazing project, since, for many in Bangladesh, it is the only way to learn.

Shidhulai imageThis story shows that creative educational tools can overcome adverse conditions, and with enough support, bring schooling to more people than ever. Here at Jolkona, we know that making a big difference starts with a small and creative idea, just like Rezwan’s single boat has turned into an expanding educational flotilla. Through our Give Together Program, you can support similar innovations, and help students all over the world to expand their education.

One project that also approaches impediments to education with creative solutions is Enlighten Playgrounds Inc. which you can support this month through Give Together. This project provides innovative LED lanterns, charged with playground equipment to rural Ghanaian students to take home and study with at night. By providing something as simple as light, EPI improves the access and the quality of education in villages that don’t even have electricity.

Both Shidhulai and Empower Playgrounds Inc. confronted a seemingly immoveable issue, such as flooding and natural disaster, or lack of electricity with creative and clever solutions. Support the efforts of innovative educators like those behind EPI with Give Together. Many students do not have access to things like light at night, or even solid ground on which to attend school, that we take for granted. When we think about the tools needed for a successful education, we do not think of those needs, but they are absolutely vital.

With just a $5 donation, you can join in on Give Together, and make a difference on education. We only have a week left to focus on education, so remember to vote for your favorite organization!

Photo Credit: Amy Yee, NYT

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In my last blog (it can be read here), I talked about how one study claimed that the current education programs training teachers were not adequately preparing teachers for their classroom. Teachers are being taught outdated methods, and consequently, their students aren’t learning as well as they could be.  I would like to discuss one more issue that is just as important as teacher training, and that is access to educational tools. I have written about the Technology Access Foundation (TAF) before, and I very much believe in their vision: get the necessary tools to the low income students who can’t afford them. The most important tool that every student needs in our modern classrooms is a laptop.



I’m a blogger, meaning that I’m on my computer a good 16 hours a day. I must type my stories out, research, input my work into WordPress, and keep up to date about everything in the nonprofit world.  I then go home and use my computer for entertainment purposes: Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, and the list goes on. While I was a student (I just graduated from the University of Washington) all of my readings and essays had to be accessed and turned in online. A computer is no longer a luxury item, but an irreplaceable educational tool.



Why Laptops Are a Necessary Tool In the Classroom

1. If one doesn’t have a laptop, one is confined to a space where a computer can be accessed.

During my senior of college, I bought a new laptop because I had been using the same PC for six years (pictured above), and it was time for an upgrade. Within three weeks of buying the laptop, the hard drive crashed, and I was forced to go to the library to do my homework.  This meant that I couldn’t go to a coffee shop and do homework with my classmates. It also meant that I had to show up early to the library to make sure I got a computer, and had to fight off others who tried to use it when I stepped away to use the bathroom. Finally, being confined to one space always impeded my creative flow. I didn’t realize moving locations was a luxury until I couldn’t do it anymore.


2. Not having constant access to the Internet.

I will admit that I may be an Internet addict. About 4 months ago, the power went out of my apartment, and being forcibly unplugged was not a fun experience. Not having a constant Internet connection means that you are not updated on everything that is happening around you.  Not being in the know means you are behind, and that is never good. One never knows when breaking news will hit, when your professor will cancel class, or when two of your friends become Facebook official. Information is power.

(Photo credit: The Australian)

3. The simplest tasks become harder.

I remember writing one of my first research papers in the third grade about birds, and having to check out one of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s books to take home and read. Carrying around an encyclopedia was annoying, and it hurt my back. In addition to this, I don’t miss writing out all of my essays by hand. Typing is easier. Laptops make research, writing, reading, communication, collaboration, and presentations easier. I couldn’t imagine my education without one.

Here at Jolkona, we realize the importance of laptops and technology, and have made it easy for you to support organizations like TAF in their efforts to provide students with the appropriate educational tools. You can read about our other projects we are supporting here, and can donate to these causes here.

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I’m not trying to be flashy with my headline, I truly believe that today’s teachers aren’t adequately prepared for their future classrooms; and The National Council on Teacher Quality feels the same way.


The NCTQ assessed the quality of a number of educational programs around the nation, and the results weren’t great:

“Through an exhaustive and unprecedented examination of how these schools operate, the review finds they have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms” (The full Seattle Times article about the NCTQ report can be read here).

These were hard words to swallow for educational programs involved. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten quickly responded to the NCTQ’s accusations by stating that the review was a “gimmick,” and further stated, “it would be more productive to focus on developing a consistent, systemic approach to lifting the teaching profession instead of resorting to attention-grabbing consumer alerts based on incomplete standards.” Although Weingarten agrees that teachers could always be more prepared, she believes that the level of scrutiny the educational programs received was unwarranted.  (Photo by Canadian2006)

What’s The Truth?

The NCTQ discovered two disturbing facts in their research:

  • *3-out-of-4 teacher training programs do not train potential educators how to teach reading based on the latest research. Instead, future teachers are left to develop their own methods.
  • *Only 7 percent of programs ensure student teachers are partnered with effective classroom teachers. Most often, a student teacher is placed into a classroom where a teacher is willing to have them, regardless of experience.

If I signed up for a computer programming class at my university and saw that the computers were still running Windows 98, I would demand my tuition money back because Windows 98 is out of date. This is exactly what is happening in some educational schools. Teachers are being taught strategies that are outdated, and therefore not as effective as they could be. Teaching old strategies should never be in a lesson plan.  Similarly, not pairing up student teachers (or even first year teachers) with a proven teacher leads to improper training and higher rates of first year teachers burning out. The NCTQ stated that, “A vast majority of teacher preparation programs do not give aspiring teachers adequate return on their investment of time and tuition dollars.”

 Making the Top TenTeacher and Sudents

I want to make clear what I’m claiming in this piece: I’m not saying that all teachers are bad teachers; what I’m saying is that teachers aren’t being trained as well as they could be, and students are suffering from it. In the world rankings of education, America doesn’t even make the top ten. It is time to invest into our teachers, because not doing so will put the nail in the coffin of our make our already failing system. However, this is just one study’s opinion. If your experiences tell you differently, please write in the comments below why you agree or disagree with this study. Every experience matters in educational studies.  (Photo by connectedclass)

What Jolkona is Doing for Education

Since its education month at Jolkona, we have spot lighted three educational themed projects that need your support. The three projects are highlighted here, and include empowering women to become better teachers and getting technology to students who don’t have access to it. If you want to support these projects, please visit our Give Together page, and donate.

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*The full Seattle Times article can be found here.

Our second in our series of Partner Spotlight for Education month focuses on our partner in Myanmar, Educational Empowerment.

A successful pedagogical environment is dependent on many factors. However, perhaps aside from students themselves, there are a few factors as essential as well trained teachers and classroom resources (books, pens, paper etc.). Indeed, one of the significant reasons why Burmese students don’t finish school is precisely for a lack of these very things. Educational Empowerment is fighting that cause. We caught up with them and asked them to give us the skinny on who they are, what they do, and why you should join our Give Together program and donate to their inspiring cause.

What is the inspiration behind your organization?

When we learned that the libraries and books available to families in the early 1980’s disappeared with the military takeover – and learned that most children have never seen or even touched a picture book, it broke our hearts. Something that we take for granted, books, aren’t accessible to children in Myanmar. Educational Empowerment (EE) founders decided we wanted to bring books and the joy of reading to the poverty-stricken Burmese children.

edu empowerment

What’s the story behind your project?

Shule Myint Zu, one of the schools we support in Yangon, has six grades and over 200 students in one large, noisy room. The six teachers care deeply about their students, but most lack a formal education beyond the age of sixteen, have no training in educational practices, and have little or no access to training materials and classroom learning aids. This school, like others in nunneries and monasteries, tries to practice a more child-centered approach to learning, and teach more critical thinking skills as opposed to the rote learning methods of the government schools. When we asked those teachers what they needed most to be more effective, training and materials was the unanimous top choice. We’re glad that we can support these women in their goal to become better teachers and role models for their students and empower both through education.

How did you become connected with Jolkona?

We knew of Jolkona from first hand experience through another international NGO. As EE planned to utilize a grass roots funding approach, it was a logical step to connect with Jolkona. Jolkona provides an easy mechanism for small dollar donors to make a large impact, especially as funds donated to EE provide excellent value.

Can you tell us a bit more about your project and how it’s going currently?

EE has partnered with Yinthway Foundation, a Yangon-based organization that provides teacher training throughout Myanmar. It is often difficult and expensive for teachers to attend these sessions, so EE provides funding for travel, accommodations and training tuition. A month-long session provides in-depth training for teachers who have had little or no formal education beyond high school. EE also plans to return to Myanmar in December 2013 to videotape a primary education session for DVD distribution to hundreds of teachers both in cities and in outlying ethnic states who are not able to personally attend sessions. Yinthway believes in a child-centered approach to learning that fosters creative and critical thinking for problem solving and education.

What kind of lasting change does the project hope to engender?

Teacher training will improve teacher retention rates. Empowering women provides them with confidence to strive for higher goals and be on the path to socio-economic improvement. Education nurtures hope for a better life for women and children. EE also supports sustainable models that provide for long-term independence.

So say I give $XX to the project, can you explain a little further the impact that is achieved?

$50 will provide basic classroom materials, such as paper, pencils, and chalk, for 50 students for one year.

$100 will provide a teacher with classroom learning materials for one year. This could include laminated posters for use in creative story telling and group discussions, puzzles and games for math, and simple science experiment supplies.

$200 gives a teacher who has no formal education beyond age sixteen, a one-month intensive training course to more effective in her classroom.

educational empowerment

We love stories at Jolkona. Do you have a favorite impact story you can share?

One of our initial goals was to create a greater local awareness of Myanmar through a literacy exchange program. Sixth grade students here at Hyla Middle School created “culture frames”, a type of self-portrait telling about their interests, family, friends and activities. When we presented these photos and stories to the staff at Shule Myint Zu, their eyes lit up with excitement. The children there loved seeing kids from the U.S. and immediately set to work making their own culture frames, full of pride of their villages and families, for us to bring back to the Hyla students. Those sixth graders are now making simple illustrated storybooks to be translated into Burmese script for the Shule Myint Zu students. This sister school relationship is another way to provide learning in a simple, affordable manner. The joy of learning about kids so far away, in a very different culture, has been tangible in both schools and it is a thrill to ignite that spark of learning.

In a nutshell, why should someone give to this project?

Myanmar is finally opening up to the world after decades of isolation. The new school year has just started. Timing is optimum to measurably impact these female teachers’ opportunities to be successful through education and training, to be positive role models, and to provide hope for the future. Your support can make an amazing and significant difference in the lives of these children.

Sign up or sign in to Give Together and donate to Educational Empowerment.

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Rather than reducing income inequality and providing access to the same opportunities, higher education seems to be maintaining, the status quo.

Anyone who has attended a University in the last decade has been aware of the skyrocketing costs of tuition.  For me, the small increases on my tuition statement every quarter, combined with the occasional obligatory (and often poorly attended) student strike in protest became a normal part of my academic landscape. However, I have realized that the world of higher education is highly complex, and very parallel to the struggles of the collective student body.

closing school

Two recent stories show that this struggle is played out not just between students, but between universities as well, especially private schools. With the recession, small private schools with less access to resources are at higher risk of closing. These are schools that struggle with funding, as they often do not receive the massive donations that larger schools do, and have to rely only on student fees to survive. In turn, they are less able to provide amenities and the level of quality necessary to draw in a healthy student body in a competitive student landscape.

However, this is not endemic of the greater higher education industry suffering as a whole. One of the latest scandals in the field was the news that NYU was giving its “stars” housing loans and other enormous monetary benefits to keep them at the school.  This has caused outrage, since NYU is one of the most expensive institutions in the US to attend, and its students have been leaving with startling amounts of debt.  When its faculty and other academic assets are being paid massive bonuses, and its president makes 7 figures, the news of this further fiscal abuse is truly disheartening. Clearly NYU isn’t raising tuition costs in order to survive like smaller private schools. They are doing it because they can.

So, what do these stories tell us? They tell us that the same trends that maintain income inequality between students even after attending a university are endemic on a higher level. These trends are apparent in the private sector of higher education as a whole from school to school.  What is even more distressing, is private universities such as NYU and its small, failing brethren, are non-profits. We expect the for-profit education industry (which accounts for a full fifth of college students) to financially exploit students. What we don’t expect is that a famous non-profit private school, which receives substantial donations, would land its students with a huge financial burden in order to fund second homes for famous faculty.

This is a time where more Americans are earning degrees than ever, and the changing nature of jobs means that applicants need more specialized training than before. Access to higher education, is becoming more of a necessity, and is still the best chance at reducing income inequality. Something so necessary shouldn’t be a game to play with bank accounts.

What becomes clear is that the rapidly rising tuition rates is making students, and smaller private schools poorer, and is an opening for large, dominant schools to pad their pockets. When institutions of higher education think only about money, it is the students who suffer, especially those who need it the most.  It is time for things to change.

The good news, is that you can positively impact education for students all around the world, through our Give Together program.  Be proactive about education, and donate today.

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Sugata Mitra in February of this year gave a powerful TED Talk explaining that building a school in the cloud is not only a plausible option, but an option that could potentially make access to education a problem of the past. 


Mitra started his TED Talk by sharing a story about how many wealthier parents in India bragged about their sons and daughters great computer skills. Parents believing their children are the best at everything is nothing new, but Mitra wouldn’t have been surprised if these children had a high computer IQ. Through their parents, these children had opportunity and access to a great education. However, Mitra wanted to know if these children of wealthy parents were actually brilliant, or if given the opportunity, could children with no access to any computers or wealth could be just as great. To test his theory, he put a computer in a hole in the wall 300 miles inland from his office, and then told children they could use the computer.  The results will surprise you.

A number of children stared at the computer, and began to teach other how to browse the Internet. This may sound trivial, but these children didn’t speak English. In order to even begin to use the computer, they had to learn English. After two months of using the computer, Mitra returned to the computer, and the children asked him, “Can you bring a better mouse and faster processor please?”  Mitra installed another computer under a tree, and even more children learned how to browse, improved their English, and most were computer literate within months of having access to a computer.

Mitra’s obvious next step was to find teachers to help these low-income students. However, finding teachers to volunteer their time over a webcam to very young children proved difficult. Mitra overcame this obstacle by employing grandmothers. This may sound strange, but any good grandmother knows the best way to encourage a child is to ask questions: “How did you do that? How did you get to this screen? Can you explain to me what you did?” The grandmothers also gave words of encouragement: “I could never do that at your age. You are really smart. You learn so quickly!”  This encouragement and interaction with the grandmothers only boosted the childrens computer literacy intelligence.

computer in wall

 A New Approach

Seeing such great success has caused Mitra to look at our education system in a new way:

“My [Mitra] wish is to help design the future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their innate sense of wonder and work together. Help me build the School in the Cloud, a learning lab in India, where children can embark on intellectual adventures by engaging and connecting with information and mentoring online. I also invite you, wherever you are, to create your own miniature child-driven learning environments and share your discoveries.”

Building a school in the cloud will give more students all around the world access and the opportunity to a great education (you can watch the entire TED Talk here).

It is education month here at Jolkona, and we have three featured projects that need your help. A donation to our Give Together campaign will do one of three things: help close the technological gap in the U.S. through the Technology Access Foundation (TAF), provide play-powered lanterns for rural students in Ghana, or help support women teachers in Burmese. Donate today!

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