Microsoft and UNESCO – Improving the education of ‘Starfish’ Girls and Women

Microsoft has entered a new partnership with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This initiative is aimed at improving the education of girls and women worldwide. The program has two main aims: firstly, the improvement of female adult literacy, and secondly, the improvement of secondary education for girls.

I do think that education, starting with literacy, should be improved for everyone regardless of sex. However, the figures for girls are particularly alarming, and I can understand the focus on females. The Microsoft article rightly says that two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate adults are women. In addition, in many parts of the world, illiteracy rates for women are well over 50 per cent, according to the CIA World Fact Book. As part of the initiative, mobile technology will be used in order to allow girls access to the education that is the right of everyone.

The focus on the Microsoft-UNESCO articles is on the need for improvement in female education. The word ‘Education’ itself is from the Latin ‘ducere’, which means ‘to lead’. By prefixing the ‘e’, it becomes ‘to lead out’. For me, education is really about showing people the way to a better life, and giving people opportunities to have better lives. Although this new initative is focused on girls’ education, I see it in a wider context of improving the lives of girls and women who need it most.

What the articles don’t tell you:

·        women in South Africa are more likely to be raped than learn to read, as reported in the Guardian newspaper last year.
·        70 million girls a year are deprived of a basic education (‘Equals’ video starring Dame Judi Dench and Daniel Craig)
·        a staggering 60 million girls a year are sexually assaulted on their way to school (‘Equals’ video starring Dame Judi Dench and Daniel Craig)

The sheer scale of the issue may seem insurmountable. It reminds me of the ‘Star Thrower’ story; there are variations of this story, and here’s my personal favourite. A man and a boy are walking along a beach, and they find many starfish stranded on the beach. The old man throws the starfish back into the sea. The boy comments that there are so many stranded, that they all can’t be put back into the sea, so why bother? The old man picks up another starfish, throws it back into the sea, and comments that ‘we made a difference for that one’.

I’m hoping that the Microsoft-UNESCO initiative will go some way to helping some girls’ and women’s lives by at least allowing them the ability to read. This means so much; they can start to get the help that they need, to get an education, and to even dare to hope and build for a way out, if that’s what’s right for them as individuals. Providing girls with an education means that they can have more opportunities to be ‘led out’. The mobile technology is particularly good, in my opinion, because it takes the technology to where the girls are.

If we can make a difference for even some girls and women, then we’ve got to at least try. So, for me, the Microsoft-UNESCO partnership is worthwhile and I look forward to seeing how it develops. We may never know the names of the ‘Starfish’ that we help, but we’ve got to try.

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