Obama Ladies Travel to Promote Education for Girls

Afghani girls in school

Girls all over the world are struggling to get the education they deserve.
Image: GPE/Jawad Jalali

Michelle Obama and her daughters Sasha and Malia recently took a six-day tour of North Africa and Spain to promote the “Let Girls Learn” initiative, which hopes to encourage countries across the world to support and value education for women.

In Madrid, the First Lady spoke to about 100 teens, urging them to join the campaign and noting the difficulties they face.

“You see, it is not just about whether parents can afford school fees or countries can build enough schools,” she noted. “It’s also about whether families and communities think that girls are even worthy of education in the first place.”

Let Girls Learn was launched in March 2015 to “address the range of challenges preventing adolescent girls from attaining a quality education that empowers them to reach their full potential.” Since then, it’s earned the support of the Department of State, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Peace Corps, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Their goal is to get 62 million more girls into school all over the world.

Young women face all kinds of challenges when it comes to getting an education. Warzones, negative cultural beliefs, poverty, and HIV are only a few of the situations that keep many girls out of school.

The Obamas’ six-day trip took them from Liberia to Morocco and finally to Spain. They spoke at schools and a Peace Corps-sponsored leadership camp.

“I’m traveling with my mother and my two daughters,” Michelle Obama told her audiences. “This is the special girl-power unit of the Obama household. We left the president behind because he’s a boy.”

But she was quick to point out that men and boys have a place in the fight for education for girls as well. “Today, to all of the men here, I want to be very clear,” Obama added. “We need you. As fathers, as husbands, and simply as human beings, this is your struggle, too.”


People surrounding chalk image of game controller

A new, educational version of Civilization will bring together gaming and the classroom.
Image: Shutterstock

Video games in our schools aren’t a new thing. Back in the early nineties, students were learning to do math with the help of virtual race cars and using reading comprehension to catch a school-themed supervillain.

The Civilization franchise isn’t new to classrooms, either. Civilization III and IV, released in 2001 and 2005, respectively, have both been used by history teachers as a way to illustrate topics about imperialism, expansion, arms races, and geography. Civ IV came complete with modes to guide the game as close to historical realism as could be managed, featuring real-world plagues and disasters to influence the growth and death of a player’s civilization.

With Civilization V, Take-Two Interactive, the game’s publisher, is taking an active role in how we can engage students in learning world history. A modified edition of the game called CivilizationEDU, developed with ed-tech company GlassLab Games, will be available for high school classes starting next September. Analytics will be added to the game so teachers can set goals and track progress for students. Tutorial videos and lesson plans for teachers will also be included, so they can easily integrate the game into their usual curricula.

GlassLab Games has an education-focused resume. They make their own educational games, and also have partnered with major game companies like EA to craft classroom-aimed versions of popular games. Use Your Brainz is a version of Plants vs Zombies, for instance, and they are also behind SimCity EDU.

“For the past 25 years, we’ve found that one of the fun secrets of Civilization is learning while you play,” said the creator of the Civilization series, Sid Meier. That secret’s been out for a long time, and if there really is educational value in seeing if you can get Gandhi to become a berserk warlord (a well-known and loved game feature, originally a glitch), then these should be a fun addition to the toolbox of history teachers everywhere.

12,000 Inmates Receive Pell Grants for College Education

Clasped hands behind bars

A new program from the Obama administration will allow some inmates to be eligible for Pell grants to further their education.
Image: Shutterstock

Sixty-seven American institutions will take part in offering classes to as many as 12,000 prison inmates around the country. Following the approval of the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, instituted by the Obama administration, inmates will be able to use federal Pell grants to finance the classes. Congress has banned providing financial aid to prisoners for the past 22 years. That ban has not been dismantled, but the Obama administration is experimenting.

The United States Department of Education announced that it would be rolling out the Pell grant program in 2015, and now the program is getting on its feet.

“The evidence is clear,” said John B. King, Jr., U.S. education secretary. “Promoting the education and job training for incarcerated individuals makes communities safer by reducing recidivism and saves taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.”

The two- and four-year colleges participating in the program will work with state and federal correctional institutions to teach inmates in actual classrooms in their buildings. Schools will also develop online programs as well as classes that are both physical and online. But not every inmate will be eligible for the Pell program: inmates only qualify if they’re due to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework, says the Department of Education. But for those inmates who are eligible, the Pell grant will cover tuition, books, and fees for classes.

“We all agree that crime must have consequences, but the men and women who have done their time and paid their debt deserve the opportunity to break with the past and forge new lives in their homes, workplaces, and communities,” King, Jr. added. “This belief in second chances is fundamental to who we are as Americans.”

The Obama administration is providing $30 million in Pell grants to inmates in 27 states—funding that accounts for less than .1 percent of the Pell program overall, which is worth an estimated $30 billion. Schools can begin offering courses for prisoners as early as July 1st, 2016—just a handful of days away.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke out on the importance of the new Pell program this week. “Access to high-quality education is vital to ensuring that justice-involved individuals have an opportunity to reclaim their lives and restore their futures. This program will help give deserving incarcerated individuals the skills to live lives of purpose and contribute to society upon their release.”

Student Startups Get Help from Schools, Mentors, and VC College Funds

Young man in suit reading and thinking

Business education is changing, with more students actually creating startups before earning their MBAs.
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Today’s business students are ready to launch their startups right now. Colleges have recognized this trend and have adapted their curriculums to support their entrepreneurial business majors.

These students benefit from innovative programs featuring the support of business leaders such as Robert Andrews III, retired Chairman and CEO of FMI Corporation; Jeremy Fiance, founder of House Fund; and Rene Kern, who sits on the Board of Trustees of the University of California Berkeley Foundation and is managing director of General Atlantic.

A business career used to begin after a student received their MBA. Graduates once needed these degrees to prove their value before accepting a job in the lowest levels of the largest corporations. Then they worked grueling hours for years to pay their dues. The idea of starting a business seemed impossible.

Back then, it was hard to imagine competing against a corporation big enough to leverage costs and contracts in their favor. Entrepreneurs launching small businesses couldn’t afford to compete. Things are different today.

A small business is now called a startup, and some of them are worth billions. They’re growing fast—GEM Global Report research reveals that 100 million new businesses are launched each year.

What has lead to such a sudden change in the character of learning and doing business today? The simple answer is technology. Entrepreneurs grew in number when it became possible to make a million dollars by writing a small piece of code, creating an app, or improving an existing business practice or manufacturing process.

Today’s business students aren’t simply learning how to write a business plan—they’re writing the plan and launching their business while they’re in school. Instead of holding back their students, many colleges have recognized that this entrepreneurial impulse is a good thing and gives students a real education, when they earn and learn by actually doing what businesspeople do when they start a new business.

Check out these resources that are inspiring business students today to launch their own startups. You might get inspired to start your own business:

Dorm Room Fund



North Carolina State University Acceleration Fund



The House Fund, University of Berkeley



Minecraft: Free Trial of Education Edition Launches

Young girl playing Minecraft on tablet

Microsort is releasing a new version of Minecraft to be used in the classroom.
Image: Bloomua / Shutterstock.com

Microsoft has released a free trial of the new edition of the building game Minecraft, intended for use in schools. The new version of the game includes extra features that make it classroom-friendly, says Microsoft. The company has provided lessons for students in primary, intermediate, and secondary schools that help them develop a variety of skills.

Minecraft in schools is meant to help students develop skills in digital citizenship, empathy, and literacy. The program can be used to study coding, science, city planning, or to get a unique perspective on history. Lessons included in the game include “City Planning for Population Growth,” “Exploring Factors and Multiples,” and “Effects of Deforestation,” as well as several others like lessons on story settings, climate change, and Rube Goldberg machines.

The version just released isn’t the game’s final form, but it should give a good overview of what Minecraft Education has to offer. Teachers can try it out over the summer and begin making lesson plans, and they can offer feedback to Microsoft to improve its performance. The new edition includes a number of suggestions the Minecraft team received from teachers’ experiences in the past, so the game now allows for easier classroom collaboration, non-player characters, and can allow students to snapshot their work.

Teachers can change the program to suit their students’ needs. An electrical engineering teacher could implement rules for the game for an assignment teaching students to hardwire a city’s power grid. How cool is that!

Up to 30 students can play in a world together without needing separate serves. Students can also work in groups or as individuals, but in the future, Microsoft hopes to offer a “Classroom Mode” which will provide a map and list view of all participating students, teleport capabilities, and a chat window.

Minecraft: Education Edition will be available for purchase by schools, libraries, museums, and participants in nationally-recognized home school organizations, says the product’s website. The game will cost between $1 and $5 per user, depending on the size of the organization and what kinds of qualifications it has. Microsoft anticipates that Minecraft: Education Edition will be available this coming September.

Life Expectancy Linked to Education

Notebook, tape measure, and green apple

A new study has found a correlation between education and life expectancy.
Image: Shutterstock

Life expectancy around the world has risen since the middle of the 20th century, but that increase has not been uniform around the world. “Developed” nations tend to have greater life expectancy at birth than do less developed nations, and there are a lot of factors involved. One factor that, until recently, hasn’t been given a lot of attention is education.

According to researchers from Slovenia, education correlates well with life expectancy, in that nations with broader access to education have children with a greater chance of living into old age. There are a number of reasons why this might be true. Educated women are less likely to become infected with diseases like HIV and have a better grasp on things like nutrition. Furthermore, the children of educated parents generally attend higher education in greater numbers, meaning that their kids will subsequently have a better life expectancy and so on down the line.

Teen pregnancy also correlates to education, in that less educated teenage girls are at a higher risk of becoming pregnant, and their children tend to have a lower life expectancy.

The onus isn’t entirely on educating children, though. Researchers also found that continuing education was important to high life expectancy. Continual education is important, especially in terms of things like health care, because science and society change at a faster rate than they did in the 20th century or before. New discoveries about what is or isn’t healthy can impact how long a person lives, as can keeping up with current technology in order to not be left behind while employers move ahead.

Access to medical care, or even basic needs like food and shelter, also contributes to life expectancy, and more educated individuals tend to have access to better jobs, allowing both them and their children to live longer, healthier lives.

Green Screen: Can Trees Really Clean the Air?

Front of school building

St. Margaret Mary School is about to become involved in an interesting study on trees and clean air.
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St. Margaret Mary School is set on a busy road in Louisville, Kentucky. Right outside the bus turnaround is a light, and for hours a day, traffic backs up there, idling and putting out exhaust so thick it makes a visible haze.

This summer, a University of Louisville study will be aimed at addressing that pollution. Not just for the benefit of St. Margaret Mary students, but for widespread gain.

It’s long been known that trees and growth help reduce some kinds of air pollution. Enough for some health benefits as a result? Still debatable.

“People appreciate trees, and they’re good and they’re aesthetically pleasing, but whether they actually have specific quantifiable health-promoting effects by removing pollutants from air has never been rigorously tested,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, a staff member at University of Louisville.

In conjunction with the Institute of Healthy Air, Water, and Soil and Louisville Metro’s Office of Sustainability, the U of L will spend the summer taking in data at the school. Once they have a solid basis of comparison, they’ll plant a “green screen” of twenty-foot-tall trees and bushes, screening part of the school’s campus from nearby Shelbyville Road. Then they’ll continue to monitor the school for the next year or longer.

They aren’t just using the school as a testing ground, though. St. Margaret Mary students will be involved in the entire process, from data-gathering to tree-planting. The new green space will become an outdoor classroom, and eventually, the school will use the results of the study to decide if they want to continue the screen around the entire school.

Bhatnagar’s hope for the study is for it to show clear enough benefits from this limited experiment to be expanded. He’d like to perform the same research on a neighborhood scale.