South Sudanese Students Struggle to Get an Education

South Sudanese family

South Sudanese students are struggling to get the education they need.
Image: Vlad Karavaev / Shutterstock.com

Getting motivated enough to go to class—especially early in the morning—can be tough. But imagine if going to school were actually a daily threat to your life! For students in South Sudan, that’s their daily struggle.

South Sudan, located in East Africa, has the world’s highest population of children without an education. According to UNICEF, half of school-aged children in the country (1.8 million) don’t attend school at all. The reasons are varied, but poverty requiring them to work alongside their parents and traditional values that don’t support education for girls are two of the biggest problems.

As for the students who do manage to get to school, they are constantly risking their lives. Kidnappings and shootings are common since the 2011 separation of South Sudan from Sudan. In 2013 a civil war broke out between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar. Though a peace deal was signed in August of this year, tensions still run high—not a good setting for an already troubled school system.

More than 2 million people remain displaced, and about half the population (5.8 million) are struggling with hunger. That hasn’t stopped students from dedicating themselves to their education, though. Mary Kiden Yohana, a 14-year-old student in South Sudan’s capital city Juba, noted that “even if there is no food, we have a right to get an education.”

The quality of education available, however, isn’t ideal. “Many schools are organized in temporary shelters or under trees, and only two-thirds of them have sanitation,” reported Tizie Maphalala, a UNICEF education manager. In refugee camps, a “school” could be nothing more than a single classroom for students ages 3 to 17 where children receive only the most basic instruction in reading and math.

And for girls, there’s another barrier: ingrained cultural mores discourage them from getting an education. As a result, primary schools have seven girls for every ten boys, and the ratio falls to five girls for every ten boys in secondary schools. In 2013, there were only 500 high school senior girls in the whole country.

Still, these kids aren’t about to give up. “We want to learn, even during war,” said 12-year-old John Mabior Deng, who goes to school in the Mahad refugee camp. “Education will be the only thing to get us out of this situation.”

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Treating Epilepsy Doesn’t Make Learning Disorders Vanish

Back of child in sweater looking out at ocean

A new study found that just treating childhood epilepsy isn’t enough.
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Epilepsy can be difficult to deal with for anyone, but especially for children. The disorder can cause lifelong trouble for people who have it, although it is possible to control seizures themselves with medication. 

However, epilepsy often comes “bundled” with other problems, such as bipolar disorder, ADHD, or depression, all of which can make learning difficult for children–and make their adult lives a challenge.

Those other issues are not caused by epilepsy, but they are common in people who struggle with the disorder.  to a new study, those issues can continue to cause problems even when seizures are under control. The idea that a person with ADHD might have problems in life unrelated to their epilepsy may seem obvious at first, but the value of the study lies more in the realization that those disorders are not lessened by getting seizures under control.

The study implies that pediatricians seem to worry about getting seizures under control and then assume that the other issues will work themselves out–or they fail to even screen for other problems. In this way, by focusing on the more obvious problem of epilepsy alone, doctors are doing their patients a disservice by not helping them address other problems.

The study found that people with these issues had a harder time succeeding as adults. Of course the situation could be worse if they didn’t have their seizures under control, but the study found that seizures didn’t play as big a role as expected in their struggles.

The take away from all this for educators, parents, and doctors, is that dealing with epilepsy is just one factor in healing children who have the disorder. It’s important to also pay attention to other potential issues, like learning or behavioral disorders, and treat those as well, just as you would for any other children.

Valedictorian Accepted to Eight Ivy Leagues

Sign with arrow and words "Ivy League Education"

What do you do when you’ve gotten into all 8 Ivy League schools?
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In the past decade, perhaps a dozen American high school students have achieved what could be called the ultimate achievement – acceptance into all eight of the Ivy League universities. The latest is Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna, valedictorian of Elmont Memorial High School in Long Island, the second from her school. (Last year, Elmont senior Harold Ekeh was accepted at 13 universities and chose Yale.)

The eight Ivy League schools are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale, are widely considered to be among the top schools in the world. Seven of the eight predate the American Revolution, and every single one is renowned for being difficult to get into.

Uwamanzu-Nna’s academic history makes it no surprise that she’d achieve the near-impossible – the seventeen-year-old has nearly a 102-point grade point average with whole semester’s worth of extra credit work and she was a finalist in Intel’s international science competition. But she was still shocked when she received offers from every single school to which she applied, and she admits to having started crying when she first realized the scope of her success.

Aside from the Ivy Leagues, she’s also been accepted to John Hopkins, MIT, New York University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic. She plans to visit all of the schools before deciding, though she has to declare her choice by May 1st.

Whichever one she chooses, it’s clear that this extraordinary young woman will star in her chosen field of study. Currently, she’s aiming for biochemistry, and she hopes to be an inspiration for young woman studying in STEM fields.

Lightpath App Takes First Prize in Coding Contest

Hands holding a smart phone surrounded by apps imagery

Anisha Srivastava’s app has won a prestigious contest. Will it win her a career in STEM as well?
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This is the third year that Pearson, an education publishing company based in New York City, has put on their Student Coding Contest. The contest is looking for educational apps to integrate with their own interfaces, designed by college students working solo or in teams.

This year, the top prize was taken by Anisha Srivastava with her app Lightpath, a research aid meant to link students together and allow them to help each other broaden the depth of their research. The name comes from its focus on “light bulb moments,” or the instant a concept or source makes sense. Students can share their light bulb moments with one another in the form of summaries, links to outside information, or highlighted moments in their texts and other resources.

Srivastava coded her app herself, and in fact got the idea for it at coding camp in the summer of 2014.

“I started looking at [my] notes and realized what I was focusing on was those little segments,” she said. “And that’s when I got the idea.”

Her prize for winning the contest is $5000 in cash, but the goal of the contest is to help participants land good jobs in the coding industry. Coding is in high and growing demand worldwide, and it is particularly lucrative in STEM fields. Women are underrepreseneted at every level in STEM (which stands for Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math), so it is particularly encouraging to see a woman winning at this level so young.

Coding appears to be what Srivastava is meant to do–and, more importantly, what she wants to do. One can only hope she goes far.

The Early Gap

Wooden train set

A new study shows that the gap between privileged and unprivileged children when it comes to STEM starts even earlier than we thought.
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It’s a statistical fact that fewer women and people of color wind up in careers in STEM fields, those jobs that make up the backbone of economic progress. While the disparity has causes at every level of education, a huge one has been revealed much earlier than expected–before kindergarten.

A study done by researchers at Penn State University involving nearly 8,000 young students indicates that minority children (minority here including girls) entered kindergarten with low levels of general knowledge. And those who start behind stay behind.

These five-year-olds were asked questions like “What do firemen do?” and “What do planes and trains have in common?” Those who could answer them at that age were likely to score much higher on science tests in higher grades than those who couldn’t.

The research found that general knowledge of that kind was a much more accurate signpost of how well a student would do later in life than reading and math scores. The links are not entirely solid, but they suggest that young children who have more questions answered for them at home before school begins will do better all their lives.

With this in mind, it seems that the links to class and gender are obvious. Minority children are more likely to have parents who work, often multiple jobs. Less time with their parents means fewer educational opportunities while very young. And girls are statistically less likely to have childhood questions answered by parents of any gender than their brothers.

General knowledge is a vague metric to measure, which is why Paul Morgan and his fellows used such a large study sampling. But their findings are a good piece of evidence to help us adjust the way we educate every student.