This post is written by Natacha Danon, a political science and sociology student at Bates College.

In 2013, I fulfilled my New Year’s resolution to give more of my time and money to help others. Through Jolkona, I researched several great causes — giving books to a kindergarten class in Burma, providing prenatal care for poor women in India, funding social services for exploited children in Benin, training homeless American women for the workplace — before deciding to contribute to helping Seattle children improve their math and science skills.

As someone who values education and appreciates the opportunity to attend college, I find it difficult to see friends and classmates grappling with the financial burden of steep loans or postponing their plans for higher education.

Technology Access Foundation

By contributing to Jolkona’s Give Direct project for the Technology Access Foundation, I can do something to help bridge these glaring inequalities. TAF provides educational support, particularly in math and science, to underserved elementary and high school students in Seattle. For example, a $30 contribution pays for a set of headphones to be used in one of their Techstart classes, to help bridge the technology and educational divide for children from low-income families. TAF’s mission is to provide educational opportunities and instills an appreciation for learning — things I was fortunate enough to grow up with because of my parents.

Jolkona carefully evaluates and selects organizations that are sustainable and effective, so I am confident that my contributions get to the right people and have a direct, tangible impact.

Educational Empowerment

In 2014, I plan to support Educational Empowerment, an organization that buys and distributes books to classrooms in Myanmar (Burma), where libraries are virtually non-existent due to years of isolation and political instability. My donation helps buy and deliver locally produced books to help Burmese children learn to read and love learning — a crucial impact  in a country where one-third do not attend school and 70 percent of those who do end up dropping out before high school.

You can also make a New Year’s resolution to support more philanthropy,  and use to find an issue (education, global health, poverty alleviation, agriculture and food, women and girls), a region, and a specific project that inspires you. Donations are welcomed in any amount, starting at just $5. Whether you’re a college student like me, or already established in your career, every gift counts. After all, “Jolkona” means a drop of water in Bengali – each donation, pooled together with mine and others, collectively creates a large impact.

Happy New Year!

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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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Give Together is live! And our opening feature issue is Education1005044_10151427376962396_1217417665_n

We have three projects that significantly help both teachers and students internationally move towards a brighter future. Give Together today, choosing your favorite project and pooling your contributions with others who share your same interests.

Here is an introduction to our featured projects:

Empower Burmese Women to Become Effective Teachers

Educational Empowerment supports education in SE Asia, especially in Myanmar. A third of children in the country are unable to access education at all, and 70% of those who do never move beyond primary school. Educational Empowerment has made it their goal to fix this deficit by providing training and educational materials to teachers (90% of whom are women) in poverty stricken communities in Myanmar.

This project not only enhances the education of young children, providing them greater opportunities in the future, but it also empowers the women who teach, allowing them to be more effective in the classroom, and prepare them better for their careers. Both teachers and children face poverty and unequal opportunity. The $250 fundraising goal for Educational Empowerment will purchase the necessary materials to contribute to the essential development of primary school children, and allow their teachers to become confident  role models.

Providing Play-Powered Lanterns for Rural Students in Ghana

Empower Playgrounds, Inc. is an innovative company that installs playground equipment for schools in Ghana, which charge special lanterns that students can take home with them after school to study. In most villages in Ghana, there isn’t a reliable source of power. The village of Ahiatroga, is no different. This makes it difficult for students to continue their education outside of the classroom, which is essential for increasing the quality of their education.

The $500 fundraising goal will install a merry-go-round for Ahiatroga’s school, charging portable LED lanterns for students to take home and study with. Empower Playgrounds, Inc. has already installed 40 of these innovative merry-go-rounds, benefitting almost 10,000 students in Ghana. Donate today, and add the students of Ahiatroga to this growing number.

Fund the Education of Underserved Students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

The Technology Access Foundation (TAF) is an organization in King County, Washington, that is working on improving the STEM education for communities of color, better equipping underserved students to enter college, and helping them pursue careers in fields of science and technology. Their summer program provides camps focused on a number of topics, such as robotics, aviation and design. The students attend a field trip, and present their work at the end of the session.

The fundraising goal of 2 scholarships at $350 will allow some of the highest need students from White Center Washington, where as many as 82% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches, to have an in-depth, and hands on experience with a STEM field of their interest. The summer program will supplement their education, preparing them for college and science and tech based career.

Donate today, and use Give Together to pick one of these organizations and improve education worldwide!

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