THE BLOG

Malala Day: Let Us Turn The Dream Into Reality

07/11/2013 08:36 am ET | Updated Sep 10, 2013

July 12th marks the historic occasion that Malala Yousafzai will be joined by students from over 80 countries to lead the 'United Nations Youth Takeover' -- a youth assembly with a global call to action. The message is loud and clear -- quality 'education for all' is a basic human right.

I recently found myself in the middle of Africa's largest slum -- Kibera -- where I visited a school in which 75 percent of children happen to be orphans or brought up by a single parent, something that I was assured is not unique to this school or to the local catchment. As jarring as this statistic is, the thing that brought a tear to my eyes was that I was told that the vast majority -- 95 percent -- of children who I was interacting with came to school without having had a meal that morning, and many hadn't had anything since their school lunch was served the day before. The hot breakfast I had that morning immediately flashed up in my mind and made me reflect on why these situations persist.

We have the intelligence, the resources, the expertise to obliterate global poverty, and can make a fundamental difference to the prosperity of all -- especially the underprivileged like those in the Kibera school. So, why haven't we?

I lead a not-for-profit organization -- the Varkey GEMS Foundation -- that has financial commitments of $100m to help improve education outcomes globally. We are helping to build a block of classrooms in Kibera, which will keep kids in school and learning when it's pouring with rain outside. We funded midday meals in schools in India through our partnership with Akshaya Patra Foundation. We have also worked with UNHCR to provide a large number of school uniforms to Syrian children who are living in refugee camps in Lebanon.

All of these, and more, help enroll and keep children in schools, but what needs to happen is focus on improving standards in classrooms. So, our flagship intervention -- a low cost, high impact teacher training programme -- seeks to train 250,000 teachers in classroom pedagogy over the next 10 years. By next Easter, we will have trained over 5,000 teachers in Uganda and started the programme elsewhere.

So, given that recent statistics show that progress in ensuring all children attend school has slowed, and that the bulk of these reside in sub-Saharan Africa, I visited Ghana a few weeks back to take a look for myself at the work done by Professor James Tooley of Newcastle University on low-cost private schooling. We visited three schools on the outskirts of Accra which demonstrated that for a cost of $150 per child, every child can be in school, with books, school uniforms and a piping hot meal at lunch.

These two examples -- our own low cost teacher-training intervention and James Tooley's low cost private schools are examples of what we can all get behind to improve the chances of millions of children all over the world.

Malala reminds us of the injustice girls face, but more than anything else, her story speaks to me about the desire of children to learn and dream about better futures for themselves and their communities.

Malala said: "I want every girl, every child educated." Let's use this day to emphasize the need to innovate, invest in scaling solutions that have been proven to work, put aside ideological difference, and create a true dialogue between all stakeholders that firmly center on the student and their dreams.