K-12 Education

Turning the Education System into a Battlefield for Justice

July 20, 2016  • Alison Decker

Above: watch “Leading Toward Justice: Education” with Scott Bush, managing director, J.P. Morgan Asset Management; John Deasy, superintendent-in-residence, The Broad Center; Chadia El Meouchi Naoum, managing partner, Badri and Salim El Meouchi Law Firm; Manoj Kumar, founder and CEO, Naandi Foundation; moderated by Kim Smith, founder and CEO, the Pahara Institute.

Education systems can be a battleground for justice:  education is often the key to unlocking a successful future.  But children around the world and in the United States do not have equal access to this opportunity, which can set them up for failure.  AGLN Fellows share how they use their platforms to increase access to education for underserved communities around the world.

Ensuring 1 million girls will be educated in India by 2020

India Leadership Initiative Fellow Manoj Kumar, with the Naandi Foundation, made an Action Pledge that his foundation will work towards educating 100,000 girls across India – which he achieved.  In 2016, Kumar is aiming towards educating 1 million girls, and going further to ensure that they can implement their education towards their future.

Over the course of his work, Kumar found that in pockets of rural areas across India, there were communities that believed that not a single girl should go to school – which inspired him to shift his focus to explicitly increasing access for girls to education.  He worked directly with communities for years to change attitudes about girls’ education programs.

He also spoke with many girls who said that their main challenge was that once they finished their schooling, around age 15, they were immediately married off.  Their wish, they said, was that they wanted to get married only when they were economically independent.  Listening and observing the communities he worked with, Kumar shifted the emphasis of his Action Pledge: to support girls through the age of 18 to 19 to help them gain that financial independence and take charge of their own lives.

“The best investment is investing in girls: girls say that their education will be able to help them ensure that their grandchildren will never have to go through poverty.  Investing in these girls can be the game-changer for three generations.”

Cutting recidivism in the juvenile justice system in California

There is a group of young people in our country who are never allowed to fully participate in the education system, says Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow John Deasy, superintendent-in-resident of the Broad Center. Youth in the criminal justice system, whether that be if they are incarcerated or post-incarceration. Successful completion of high school is what gives youth the opportunity to contribute to society – and kids who are not allowed to do that are set up for failure.

“The system is absolutely broken,” said Deasy.

With his Action Pledge, Deasy championed a “youth first” agenda which aims to apply redemptive theory to post-incarcerated youth, breaking the prison pipeline of youth in prison who grow up and return to jail.  The program raised achievement levels and helped more students graduate ready for college and the workplace.

“If you spend a moment with any youth in correctional facilities, they just desperately want a chance. So many systems conspire to give them none.”

Developing a network of 250 young leaders at a city level who can lead toward the future

Young people can have a powerful impact in making change across a city as well.  Henry Crown Fellow Scott Bush, with J.P. Morgan, aims to help start a new generation of leadership in cities across the world.  Using other AGLN Fellowships as a model, Bush wants to create an urban corps of young, inspiring leaders who could make a difference in their own town.   This idea was brainstormed during the 2015 Action Forum. Still in its infancy stages, Bush is hoping to bring this model in St. Louis, Newark, and beyond.

“We want to sand and chisel this Fellowship model appropriately so that we can scale it nationally, globally, and so that it is built to do so effectively,” Bush said. “Bring us to cities and we’ll build the toolbox.”

Reaching 1 million children across the world to help them become “self-learners”

Henry Crown Fellow Chadia El Meouchi Naoum , with Badri and Salim El Meouchi Law, says that two insights drove her to aim towards this mission.  One is that she believes the subjects children learn today in school won’t necessarily help them toward a successful future. There is a lack of focus on problem-solving, or on training for the jobs that will actually exist in the next ten years.  The other aspect of her inspiration was looking at how the refugee crisis affects her home country of Lebanon – with one million refugee children in the country, only one out of every twenty was going to school.

“It’s like a lost generation – these are people that will end up being targets for extremists, violence, and terrorism. But there is another option.”

She advocates for self-learning online platforms – and created one, along with AGLN Fellows from Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and China.  On the platform, Leap Learner, anyone with an internet connection can get an education, as well as skills like coding, programming, debating, and seminars on morality and ethics.  All students can become global citizens: for every subscription that someone pays for, the company gives one subscription away for free in refugee camps and rural villages.  El Meouchi Naoum is working with international NGOs and other organizations to gain access and develop infrastructure in these hard-to-access areas.

“Fear is your friend,” said El Meouchi Naoum.  “Go towards it.  Because behind it is something that will be rewarding to you.”

The discussion took place at the Resnick Aspen Action Forum, which brings together leaders from across sectors to discuss global issues and develop action plans to address them. The five-day event features seminars and workshops geared toward change-agents looking to collaborate and create action pledges to implement in their respective communities.