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School is more than just the classroom. This is what education in 2019 looks like

This year’s UN International Youth Day theme is ‘transforming education’. Today, people across the world are showing how they’ve been improving education for the most marginalised.

But with 265 million children out of school, there’s now only just over a decade left until the end of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – and its global commitment to free, quality, and equal primary and secondary education for all.

This month we look at three examples of how ICS' non-formal education approach in Kenya, Nepal and Cambodia is transforming the education of local young people – and volunteers too.

A man holds up a placard in front of people protesting
© ICS / Jeff DeKock
ICS volunteers in Nandi have been campaigning for better rights for the Deaf

Making an impact for young people around the world

Giving Deaf children in Kenya a voice for the first time

Right now, we have an all-Deaf team of volunteers out in Nandi, Kenya.

This group of UK and Kenyan young people are building relationships with Deaf young people in the town to understand their challenges and listen to their stories of being hidden away from education and social interaction. 

For the mother of six-year-old HeavenLights, who is Deaf, meeting the volunteers has given her a new-found confidence to communicate with her daughter: “The volunteers taught us some sign language letters and we’re starting to learn,” she said.

“We’re all very willing to learn the language so we can communicate. My hope is that she’ll get a quality education. I want her to have a good job. Whenever there is a Deaf child somewhere, HeavenLights can be a role model to them and the community.”

A female volunteer speaks with two other volunteers in front of a blackboard
© ICS / Jeff DeKock
Deaf volunteer Raabia Hussain (centre) has learnt Kenyan Sign Language

For British volunteer and filmmaker Raabia Hussain, 25, the project is providing her with a chance to learn about different cultures. Although she’s proficient in British Sign Language (BSL), she’s had to learn Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) to communicate with her counterparts.

“This experience has been life-changing,” said Raabia. “I’ve learnt so many things and it’s brilliant to have both UK and Kenyans in the team. It’s so important to use young volunteers because it can have an impact on our learning and we can pass it onto our networks back in the UK.”

Two girls walk holding hands down a dusty empty road
© VSO / Omar Havana
'Big Sister' Seema (left), 20 walks with her 'Little Sister', Pramila, 15, towards her school

Helping communities learn a girl’s worth is much more than just marriage

For young girls in Nepal, the emphasis on getting married and taking care of domestic chores can leave little time for education. That’s where the Sisters for Sisters education project in Nepal comes in.

‘Little Sisters’ on the program infrequently attend school due to the long and dangerous journey, as well as pressures at home of housework and marriage.

They're assigned a 'Big Sister', a local woman supported by ICS volunteers in life skills and education training - who acts as a mentor to the younger girls in her community. Together, they'll identify the educational needs of the Little Sisters at home and work to implement them.

They'll support them with their school homework and often play a significant role in helping convince their parents that their daughter is more valuable in education.

Now, 84% of the Little Sisters on the project regularly attend school and are confident about a brighter future, thanks to her Big Sister and the ICS volunteers involved in the project.

Making an impact for ICS volunteers around the world

Female ICS volunteer poses for a photo on balcony in front of garden
© ICS / Elena Ricci
"ICS made me realise I wanted to work on projects in post-conflict countries," said Elena

My experience in Cambodia inspired me to do a Master’s

Elena Ricci, 23, volunteered last year in Cambodia.

Cambodia’s Child Friendly School (CFS) Framework sets out the rules to make sure schools put children at the centre of everything they do. Elena and her team supported this by increasing youth participation in schools, strengthening their extracurricular activities and encouraging youth club use.

And while the project made important headway for the local young people, it also had a huge impact on Elena’s career goals.

“Had it not been for ICS, I would never have applied for a Master’s degree in International Development. ICS gave me the professional and academic skills needed to take the plunge. It made me realise that I want to work on education and sexual health projects in post-conflict countries,” said Elena.

“Being the only black volunteer in Kou Loap was not easy but I’ve become so much more resilient. I learnt how to overcome challenges by thinking outside the box and using very little resources. I started learning Khmer and I can now hold a small conversation in the language! And just as importantly, I found a sister for life in my counterpart who has helped me grow since returning from Cambodia.”

A girl wearing a headscarf writes on a tabled page in a notepad
© VSO / Suraj Shakya
Our new ICS learning curriculum gives volunteers a better ability to unpack their experience on placement

Putting volunteer learning at the heart of ICS

This year we introduced a big change to the way volunteers learn while on ICS.

We know everyone learns differently, and we wanted to make sure that that knowledge picked up while on ICS – on everything from grasping how development works to becoming an active citizen when you return home – is properly taught, understood and put into practice. 

“We split the learning into five training events, made up of sessions before, during and after placement. The idea is that volunteers build on what they’ve learnt in those previous events, through a mix of participatory, interactive and individual learning” explained Dan McVeigh, ICS’ Youth Learning and Training Specialist.

"So, for example, the initial explanations of the country context you receive before you leave are expanded on when you arrive in the community – when you have that crucial first-hand experience.”

We’re confident our new, practical, reactive curriculum will give volunteers the ability to unpack their time on ICS in a way that helps them understand and learn from their experiences and use these in their search for employment.

“Learning isn’t just about what happens while volunteering. Most importantly, it’s about being able to debrief and challenge and critique your experiences. I’m excited for our youth curriculum to put volunteers at the heart of the learning journey,” added Dan.