Education - Voice of America Learn English as you read and listen to news and feature stories about education and study in the U.S. Our stories are written at the intermediate and upper-beginner level and are read one-third slower than regular VOA English. Everything is free. Education - Voice of America en 2016 - VOA 60 Fri, 09 Dec 2016 06:11:57 +0000 Pangea CMS – VOA Refugees Improve English Skills While Waiting for Resettlement   For many refugees around the world, boredom is a fact of life. While the United Nations High Commission on Refugees – or UNHCR – works on resettling them, they wait. And wait. And wait. They cannot work, enroll in a school or travel. In 2014, several Hazara refugees in Indonesia found a way to spend their time. They created an informal school for children: the Refugee Learning Center, or RLC. Asad Shadan is one of the founders of the RLC. He left Afghanistan after the Taliban threatened his family. Shadan says that starting the school was a difficult process: "We asked the UNHCR to help us with some kind of educational program for three months, but after getting no response, we decided to just go for it and started a class on our own with 18 kids." The school's website describes how the local and international community came together to help it grow. An Australian couple paid the rent for the school. Parents gave $2.50 each to pay for carpet, whiteboards and other teaching materials. Women in the community volunteered to teach. The program, originally an informal class, has grown into a six-room school with classes for adults and children. The program, Shadan explains, grew quickly. "Within six months we had 100 children enrolled, and now we have 200 students and 16 teachers. It gives all of us something to do." Thanks to donations over the past couple of years, RLC now has a library, English classes and an indoor football league. Politics For years, Indonesia has hosted refugees. It is part of a transit route for refugees and migrants going to Australia. But, Shadan says, “the Indonesian government pretends that we don't exist.” Indonesia has never signed the UN Refugee Convention, and it offers no formal rights to asylum seekers and refugees. In addition, the Australian government's 2013 decision to cut the number of refugees it admits – in addition to turning away ships carrying migrants – has created a backlog of refugees in Indonesia. The UNHCR reports currently almost 14,000 refugees and asylum-seekers live in Indonesia. Around half of these come from Afghanistan. Building skills for the future While waiting for resettlement, the students at RLC are trying to build skills. They like to think about the future. "What we want to avoid is that, once resettled, we don't have any skills, or that kids have been wasting their formative years of their education," says Shadan. Although English is not the native language of the refugees, many speak English very well. "We have a lot of time to practice," jokes Shadan. Some of the refugees are being resettled, but very slowly. Masoma Faqihi, a 20-year-old, said her family of six have finally received approval to go to the U.S., after more than three years in Indonesia. "I like teaching at the school here but I'm just about done with school for myself, I think," she said. "I heard you can do anything in America, though, so really, I want to be a makeup artist. Wish me luck." I'm John Russell. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section. Krithika Varagur wrote this story for VOA News. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor. _______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   boredom –  n.  the state of being tired and annoyed resettle – v. to begin to live in a new area after leaving an old one donation – n. something (such as money, food, clothes, etc.) that you give in order to help a person or organization migrant – n. a person who goes from one place to another especially to find work backlog – n. a large number of jobs that are waiting to be finished Tue, 06 Dec 2016 21:44:50 +0000 EducationFeatured Stories Majority of US Undergraduates Are ‘Nontraditional’   There is a commonly held belief in the United States about the best path to a college education. Many Americans would say this path involves graduating from high school at age 17 or 18. Then, going off to university to live and study for just four years. And, at the end of that term, receiving a degree. But, that is not as usual a path as people might think. U.S. Department of Education research suggests that the majority of undergraduate college students take a less traditional approach. Carey Dwyer is an example. She graduated from high school in 2005 and began studying physical therapy at Temple University in Philadelphia. But, after her first year, she decided she wanted to study nursing instead. Dwyer moved back home and began seeking an associate’s degree at Montgomery College in Takoma Park, Maryland in 2006. However, medical issues forced her to take time off school. She started working full-time and going to school part-time. Dwyer faced several difficulties. But she says nothing was as hard as returning to school after she took the time off. In 2010, Dwyer completed her associate’s degree -- also called a two year degree. She was 24. Then, she joined the Army. Using the money she earned, Dwyer completed a bachelor’s degree at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina in 2015. Now married with three children, she says she does not mind that it took her almost ten years to complete her education. In the end, she says she only put in all the effort because she wanted to. "Ultimately, all that matters is that I got my degree done. I didn’t get it for anyone else. I did it for me, specifically, to follow my goals and my aspirations." Strayer University is a for-profit college with centers all over the country. Earlier this year, Strayer worked with the media company U.S News and World Report to create the 2016 College Experience Survey. The researchers gathered information from 1,000 U.S. undergraduate students. The study findings showed that 70 percent of the students questioned were “nontraditional.” But what does nontraditional mean? The Strayer report identifies nontraditional college students in several ways. A student who passes General Educational Development (GED) tests instead of earning a high school diploma is considered nontraditional. So is a student who works more than 35 hours a week, or studies part-time while seeking a bachelor’s degree. And, a student who was 25 years or older when they last took classes, or when they graduated, is also considered nontraditional. Information from the U.S. Department of Education suggests the nontraditional student population may be growing. In 2013 the department reported 29 percent of undergraduates were between 18 and 24 years old, studying full-time in four-year degree programs. Karl McDonnell is the chief executive office of Strayer Education, the company that owns Strayer University. McDonnell says there are so many nontraditional students now because many see education as the best way to reach new opportunities. But, he adds, nontraditional students also have much different needs.  "Over the last 5 to 10 years we’ve had a more challenging labor market. So as people try to find well-paying jobs and/or move up in their organization, a college degree is becoming more and more important -- you might even say essential. And the types of programs that higher education needs to pursue, they tend to be things that are flexible in nature." McDonnell notes that most of the students at Strayer University are nontraditional. They are often older people with years of work experience and families to raise. This means they need to be able to attend classes during the times that they are not working or caring for others, he says. McDonnell argues that most schools are much more concerned with their traditional students. Online courses like the ones Strayer offers are increasingly useful for nontraditional students, he says. But others suggest there is more schools need to do for nontraditional students than just offering classes over the internet. Eva Yuma is in the final year of her bachelor’s degree program at the University of Maryland (UMD). She also took a long path to get where she is now. Yuma took a year off from studies after graduating from high school. She then started seeking a degree in art history at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 2009. More than two years later, she found she was unhappy and moved back to the U.S. In 2013, she returned to school and became a film major. Yuma says the most difficult part about going back to school was deciding to take on more debt to pay for her continuing education. But she also says her relationship to her school changed. For example, she says she does not seek new friends the way she did during her first few years of higher education. Yuma says she feels more professional than the traditional students. She believes she is less afraid to speak her mind. But Yuma argues UMD could do more to build connections between the nontraditional students. That way they could share their networks and experience. "There isn’t very much community for those students. I guess they assume that you already have an established community; you don’t need the undergrad experience like the other kids do." Yancey Gulley is an assistant professor for the higher education student affairs program at Western Carolina University. He has 15 years of experience as a college administrator. The educator says schools need to stop using the term “nontraditional.” He worries that the term could harm students. It may make some feel that their schools consider them less intelligent or less hardworking. "It really does say to them, ‘You are an exception. You shouldn’t belong here. You’re probably not going to be successful, but we’re gonna to let you give a good old try. Good luck to you.’ And that’s really demonizing students [that] walk around our campuses every day and take our classes." Gulley notes there are programs in place that are designed to support nontraditional students. For example, Fayetteville State University offers a program that opens a faster path to a nursing degree for people who already have nursing experience. The University of Maryland also works with a foundation to provide financial assistance to older students. But, Yancey Gulley says some schools may not realize they are failing to provide equal support to their students. The U.S. higher education system was designed for traditional students. Gulley says schools must make sure all their students can access all the same supports and services. I’m Pete Musto.   Pete Musto reported this story for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. How do people in your country define traditional and nontraditional students? How do schools treat both? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. ______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   graduating – v. earning a degree or diploma from a school, college or university undergraduate – n. a student at a college or university who has not yet earned a degree associate’s degree - n. a degree that is given to a student who has completed two years of study at a junior college, college or university in the U.S. bachelor’s degree – n. a degree that is given to a student by a college or university, usually after four years of study aspiration(s) – n. something that a person wants very much to achieve diploma – n. a document which shows that a person has finished a course of study or has graduated from a school challenging – adj. difficult in a way that is usually interesting or enjoyable essential – adj. extremely important and necessary flexible – adj. easily changed online – adj. done over the Internet assume – v. to think that something is true or probably true without knowing that it is true demonizing – v. trying to make someone or a group of people seem bad or wrong realize – v.  to understand or become aware of something Sat, 03 Dec 2016 21:36:19 +0000 EducationFeatured Stories Islamic State Calls Ohio Attack Suspect 'Soldier of Caliphate'   The Islamic State terror group has called a man who attacked people with a car and a knife at Ohio State University a "soldier of the caliphate.”   The group made the statement on the Amaq news agency website, which is linked to Islamic State, or IS. Police say Abdul Razak Ali Artan carried out the attack, which injured eleven people, at the university in Columbus, Ohio Monday. Police then shot and killed him. Artan was a refugee born in Somalia. He was a legal permanent resident of the United States studying business at Ohio State University. He posted a statement on the social media network Facebook shortly before the attack.  In it, he blamed America for killing Muslims in other countries. He also praised al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki as a hero, law enforcement officials told U.S. media. Officials are still investigating why Artan carried out the attack. But, in his statement, he said he was willing to kill, those he called, “infidels” to stop America from "interfering with other countries." Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs said terrorism is a possibility in the attack. Artan drove a car into a group of people near the street. He then got out of the car and began stabbing people with a knife. Jacobs said, because Artan drove onto the sidewalk, police believe the attack may have been planned.  Leaders of the Muslim and Somali communities in Columbus condemned the attack. They said they were "heartbroken" by it. Hassan Ali Omar, Chairman of the Somali Community Association of Ohio, told VOA the Somalis he spoke to were distressed to learn Artan was a Somali refugee. "Some women told me they felt sick, they were heartbroken, they were shocked because they feel they have had enough troubles already," he said. Omar was one of the community elders who visited Artan’s family. He said he met his mother and siblings and they told him they are feeling, "at a loss and a lot of pain." "They said he was (a) hard-working person who loved education. They said their son had good culture and that they were not expecting that he would do this kind of act," he said. There are nearly 60,000 students at Ohio State University’s main campus. The people injured in the attack include both employees and students. Police Chief Jacobs noted a previous terrorism case linked to Columbus. Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud was arrested in 2015 after returning from Syria. Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia, was charged with providing material support to terrorists. Columbus has one of the largest Somali communities in the United States. I’m Mario Ritter. Alice Bryant adapted this report from VOA news. VOA Somali service's Harun Maruf and VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. Mario Ritter was the editor. _______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story caliphate – n. an area that is supervised by an Islamic leader cleric – n. a member of the clergy in any religion infidel – n. a person who does not believe in a religion that someone considers the true religion campus – n. the area of and around a university, college, school heartbroken – be very sad elders – n. a person who is older We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section. Wed, 30 Nov 2016 21:17:49 +0000 HomeAmericaEducationAs It Is What Is a Charter School?   Last week, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump nominated Betsy DeVos to be the Secretary of Education in his administration. DeVos is an education activist. She supports school choice -- a term for policies that let students and their families choose between attending private or public schools. Devos has been a leading supporter of charter schools. So, what are charter schools? How are they different from traditional public schools in the United States? In today's Education report, we explore the charter school movement. What are charter schools? The American state of Minnesota passed the country’s first charter school law in the early 1990s. Since then, charter schools have spread from coast to coast. There are currently more than 6,700 charter schools, educating nearly 3 million students nationwide. Those numbers come from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a non-profit organization. Charter schools are a kind of public school that receives a special charter, or written rules, from a state government. A charter is a document, or series of documents, that gives rights to a person or group of individuals. Charter schools cannot require students to pay tuition for their education. The schools also cannot set admissions requirements. If too many young people asked to be admitted, the school must choose its students through a lottery system. Charter schools are different from public schools in many ways. They often have flexibility in the kinds of classes and programs that they can offer. They often do not have to follow the rules public schools do. Jon Valant is an education expert at the Brookings Institution, a public policy group. He says the charter school movement grew out of unhappiness with public schools.  Over time, different groups began supporting the charter cause. Civil rights groups wanted schools that broke down barriers based on race or wealth. Parents wanted greater ability to choose where their children went to school. Some Americans said that competition between schools could improve the quality of education. The main idea was that increased flexibility in an education program would let charter schools better serve their students. Why do Americans debate charter schools? Not all Americans like charter schools. For over 20 years, critics have argued that charter schools take money away from public schools, and may not serve students with special needs. Some civil rights groups have opposed charter schools. The NAACP and Black Lives Matter movement, for example, have released statements criticizing charter schools. They say that charter schools have exacerbated segregation, increasing racial barriers. The groups have also criticized the use of suspension as a punishment in charter schools. They point to studies that suggest that charter schools are more likely to suspend minority students. Some labor and union organizers disagree about whether charter schools are actually public schools. The National Labor Relations Board, for example, recently ruled in two cases teachers at charter schools operate under rules that govern private sector employees.* Traditionally, public school teachers are subject to laws for public employees. What does the evidence about charter schools say? In the United States, tests are often used to measure educational success. When opponents and supporters of charter schools talk about a school’s performance, they are often talking about state test results. Whether current state tests are the best way to measure success is a subject of debate. Valant, at Brookings, explains what the evidence shows about state tests and charter schools: "The best evidence we have now is that if you look across the country, kids in charter schools perform similarly on state tests to kids who are in similar schools. So it doesn't look like there are very large effects across the board on test scores." Valant goes on to explain that charter schools are not all the same. Some charter schools do a better job than others do. "Having said that, the effects on test scores are more positive in urban areas, which is where there is a lot of energy behind charter schools, so that's where you do tend to see charters outperforming some of the local traditional public schools on state tests." Another point, Valant adds, is that one of the hopes of charter school founders was to de-segregate American schools. This reality was one that the charter school movement hoped, but has not been able to change. Another hope of the founders is that charter schools would increase competition with public schools. The idea was that competition would lead all schools to improve. To date, there is no proof that the competition has improved public school quality. "That evidence just isn't there," Valant says. What does the debate over charter schools show you about America? Michael Hansen is an education expert at the Brookings Institution. He says he thinks the debates over charter schools show that some Americans are suspicious of the idea of public money going to private interests. The idea that charter schools have ties to private organizations, such as religious groups, is one common misconception. Valant, also at Brookings, adds that the charter movement has appealed to Americans with different beliefs. This appeal, which has not been true of other education reform ideas, helps to explain some of the growth of charter schools. Charter schools have not unified both political parties, Valant explains, but these schools have found enough support in the country’s two leading parties. "I think that support" he adds, "has been important in the sustained development of what is a pretty fundamental restructuring of the way that schools are governed." I'm John Russell. And I'm Phil Dierking. John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section. *These cases involved unionization efforts at two charter schools. Read the Washington Post's story for more information.  ________________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   charter – n. a document issued by a government that gives rights to a person or group tuition – n. money that is paid to a school for the right to study there flexibility – n. able to change or to do different things across the board  -- phrase adj. affecting everyone or everything in a group misconception – n. a wrong or mistaken idea exacerbate – v. to make more violent or severe lottery – n. a game or event in which the final result is decided by chance Tue, 29 Nov 2016 21:36:34 +0000 EducationFeatured Stories ‘President Trump’ Worries Some International Students   Hussain Saeed Alnahdi was one of the almost 400 international students attending the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Twenty-four-year-old Alnahdi was from Saudi Arabia. He began his studies at the school in the Midwestern part of the United States last year. But early on the morning of October 30, Alnahdi’s experience as an international student came to a violent end. An unnamed attacker beat him until he died outside a restaurant in the city of Menomonie. A few weeks later, police announced they had arrested a suspect. They said they do not believe the attack was a hate crime, or a crime influenced by race. But events like the attack in Wisconsin have raised concerns for many international students living and studying in the U.S. Study in the U.S.A. is a company that supports international students who want to study at American colleges and universities. A few days before the U.S. presidential election, the company released the results of an opinion study of 1,000 international students from 130 countries. Over 65 percent of the students said they would be less likely to study in the U.S. if Donald Trump were elected president. FPP EDU Media also works with international students. The company released its own survey of 40,000 students in June. Those results suggested 60 percent of their students felt the same way. During his campaign, President-elect Trump made statements about Mexican people that many critics called racist. At one point, he called for a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. The Southern Poverty Law Center is a civil rights group based in Montgomery, Alabama. The group says it has received 437 reports of incidents of intimidation and harassment in the six days following the election. Renait Stephens is the chief executive officer of Study in the U.S.A. She says international students and their parents are worried. However, she is also hopeful. She argues that what a politician says during a campaign and what they do once they are in power are two different things. Stephens says international students will have to wait and see what happens. "It’s early days. And until we know something more about any policy changes, then I think we just have to really emphasize that and hope that our education system will continue to be how it is right now. So right now we’re just trying to reassure students that nothing has changed. U.S. campuses are still safe. They’re still open. They’re still diverse. And you still get a fantastic education." Other experts say there has never been any real threat to international education. The Institute of International Education (IIE) is a nonprofit organization that studies and supports international student exchanges. Together with the U.S. Department of State, the IIE releases a report every year on the number of international students in the U.S. The 2016 Open Doors report says about 1,044,000 international students attended American colleges and universities last year. That is a record number. Peggy Blumenthal is an official with the IIE. She says the organization has been recording international student numbers for over 90 years. She says international students are mostly concerned with the quality of the education they can get in the U.S. The rest of the world still values the strength of the American higher education system above almost any other country, she adds. Blumenthal points to historical examples. When the U.S. accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in the capital of Serbia in 1999, major protests took place at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. But, she says, shortly after the protests, Chinese students were complaining the American embassy was not processing their visas fast enough. Blumenthal says this shows world events do not easily affect international student exchanges. "International students really value their opportunity to study in the United States. And throughout the whole history of our collecting data, there has almost never been a drop in the number of international students coming to the United States. There have been many important changes in American policy, in international circumstances, in the economy. But the numbers of international students pretty much continues to rise regardless of what’s going on elsewhere around them." Blumenthal admits there may be a small decrease in the number of Muslim students coming to U.S. schools. That also happened after the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11th, 2001. But she says a decrease in students from one country is often balanced by an increase in students from other countries. Foreign students bring a lot to the economies of many towns and cities across the U.S. The U.S. Department of Commerce says international students added about $30 billion to the U.S. economy in 2015. Blumenthal argues that no politician is willing to risk losing that. However, Philip Altbach remains worried. Altbach is the director of the Center for International Higher Education. The center works through Boston College to research and support international study. Altbach says there are examples of decreases in international study in other countries. He notes the major decrease of Indian students studying in Australia after several Indians were attacked there in 2009 and 2010. He also says the language Trump and his supporters used during the campaign has lowered the world’s opinion of the U.S. "I think that the toxic discourse of the campaign and of what Mr. Trump has said for a long time actually is extraordinarily damaging for the image of the United States in general and in the thinking of students and faculty members overseas who may be considering studying in the United States or coming here as professors. Because the choice of where to study in the world depends very significantly on the comfort that students and their families will feel about the country to which they are planning to go." Altbach says international students and professors bring different perspectives to the universities where they study or teach. Losing them would cost the American students a lot -- educationally and financially. He says international graduate students and professors are involved in much of the research done at most U.S. universities. Also, decreases in international student numbers may not affect large, well-known universities, he says. But many others need international students to pay the full price to attend. Having international students pay more makes it possible for schools to let American students attend at reduced cost, he says. Altbach admits there is no way to know what will happen until the new administration takes office. But until then, universities must make clear public statements saying they will support and protect international students. If not, Altbach says, America may no longer be the first choice for people seeking the best education in the world. I’m Pete Musto.   Pete Musto reported on this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor. We want to hear from you. How would Donald Trump being president affect your decision to study in America? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. _______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   hate crime – n. a crime influenced by an unfair feeling of dislike for a person or group because of race, sex or religion, typically involving violence influence(d) – v. to affect or change someone or something in an indirect but usually important way survey – n. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something racist – adj. showing belief that some races of people are better than others intimidation – n. enforcing agreement by making someone afraid or using violence harassment – n. constant or repeated action causing someone to feel slightly angry or troubled, worried, or concerned emphasize – v. to give special attention to something reassure – v. to make someone feel less afraid, upset, or doubtful diverse – adj. made up of people or things that are different from each other toxic – adj. very unpleasant discourse – n. the use of words to exchange thoughts and ideas perspective(s) – n. a way of thinking about and understanding something, such as a particular issue or life in general graduate student(s) – n. a person who is working on a degree or diploma from a school, college, or university after earning a bachelor's degree or other first degree Sat, 26 Nov 2016 21:35:07 +0000 EducationFeatured Stories Girls on Wheels: Bicycle Programs in India and Kenya For VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report. In developing countries, attending school can be a daily struggle for some children. They may walk several kilometers to school because their families do not have money to send them on buses or other forms of transportation. With schools far away, and little money to pay for transport costs, parents worry about the safety of their children walking to school. So, a number of parents keep their children at home. Or the child drops out of school: they leave without completing their studies. These and other barriers to school attendance are the reality for many girls in poor countries. But now, programs in two developing countries are helping to change that. The programs are giving girls “pedal power” -- transportation in the form of bicycles. Power of the pedal Rural areas of poor countries often have few secondary schools. So, it is common for students there to travel great distances to attend classes. Bihar is the poorest state in India. Ninety percent of the state’s population lives in rural areas. Until 2007, too many teenage girls in Bihar were dropping out of school. For Nahid Farzana, her home was 6 kilometers from school. And, her father did not have money for bus fare, she told the Associated Press. But, that same year, the state government began offering bicycles to girls to help them get to school. The program has been so effective that three nearby states are now doing the same. And the results are measurable. A 2014 study found that giving bicycles to teenage girls in India increased their secondary school enrollment by 30 percent. It also helped many of them stay in school long enough to take their final exams. Western Kenya is experiencing success with a similar program. Until recently, there was a high risk of local girls dropping out of school and then becoming pregnant. Loise Luseno is a 16-year-old girl from Kakamega, Kenya. In the past, she had to walk about 10 kilometers to reach school. Last year, she dropped out temporarily because of the distance. Members of her family work as subsistence farmers. They earn just about $30 a month -- not nearly enough for food, school costs and transport.  But, a few months ago, Luseno went back to school – this time on a bicycle. Her new form of transportation was provided by World Bicycle Relief, an American-based group. Hurdles for girls Christina Kwauk is an expert on girls’ education at the Brookings Institution, a research organization in Washington, D.C. Kwauk recently told VOA that, in many countries, girls face a long list of barriers to school attendance. Sometimes, the issue is that a society has firm ideas about what girls “can and shouldn’t do as they become young women,” including whether they should receive an education. Luseno experienced this. When girls in her community walked to school, motorbike riders would stop them on the road. They would offer the girls rides to school. Then, they would try to persuade the girls to drop out. Kwauk says another reason girls may not attend school is their family. Parents might believe that losing children’s help at home can cause the family to lose money. For example, a poor farming family grows less food without the help of children. Girls are often expected to do this work. In many cases, those household duties include taking care of younger brothers and sisters. There are also direct financial barriers, says Kwauk, such as school fees, books, and meals. So, in places where families value boys more than girls, and parents have little money, the boys are sent to school.  The ups and downs Even with the success of the bicycles programs, there are still problems. Ainea Ambulwa teaches at the Bukhaywa secondary school in Kakamega, Kenya. He belongs to a bicycle supervisory committee at the school. He makes sure that the riders are keeping their vehicles in good condition. Ambulwa says defeating poverty remains a difficult issue. He says that some families will put heavy things on the bicycles and then they break down. Because the family lacks the money to have the bicycle repaired, the girl can no longer get to school. World Bicycle Relief is based in Chicago, Illinois. It provides bicycles through another group: World Vision. In 2015, the two groups launched a bicycle production factory in Kisumu, Kenya. The cost of the bicycle is around $180. That is too much money for most families in rural Kenya. But with the help of donors, the program has given away about 7,000 bicycles throughout the country. Most of the people receiving the bikes are girls. Bicycles decrease the safety risks for girls because the girls get to school quicker, Kwauk explains. It also helps parents not to lose work time taking their girls to school. Peter Wechuli, the head of the program in Kenya, says the bikes have improved children's lives. But, he says, the factory was built around 100 kilometers from Kakamega. So, getting the bicycles to needy families can be a problem. Yet Kwauk calls the bicycle programs “very promising” and a low-cost solution. She says many organizations in wealthier countries would be happy to provide this kind of resource. I’m Alice Bryant. And I’m Jill Robbins. Lenny Ruvaga reported this story from Kenya for Alice Bryant adapted his report for Learning English. She also spoke with Christina Kwauk. George Grow was the editor. We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section. ________________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   drop out - v. to stop going to school before finishing pedal - n. a flat piece of metal or rubber that you push with your foot to make a machine (such as a bike) move, work, or stop fare - n. the money a person pays to travel on a bus, train, boat, or airplane or in a taxi enrollment - n. the act or process of entering something (such as a school) as a participant subsistence - adj. a word describing the amount of food, money, etc., that is needed to stay alive hurdle - n. something that makes an achievement difficult motorbike - n. a small, lightweight motorcycle fee - n. an amount of money that must be paid bump - n.  a small raised area on a surface Tue, 22 Nov 2016 21:01:43 +0000 EducationFeatured Stories More College Students May Be at Risk for STDs   College is a time when many young people experiment and learn more about themselves. Some may have romantic relationships and even engage in sexual activity for the first time. But experimenting with sex has risks. Sex without a condom can lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report in October on the spread of STDs in the United States. The CDC is the main government agency dealing with public health in the U.S. The CDC report showed cases of gonorrhea in the U.S. increased by 13 percent between 2014 and 2015. Cases of syphilis rose by 19 percent. And the number of cases of chlamydia grew to 1.5 million -- the highest level the CDC has ever recorded. The report showed the majority of cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea were among people age 15 to 24. Most college students in the U.S. are between 18 and 25 years old. Eloisa Llata is a medical researcher working on STD prevention for the CDC. Llata says throughout history, STDs have affected people between the ages of 15 and 24 more than any other group in the U.S. But she says the college environment does create unique risks. Llata notes that a student can come from a small community with a limited number of sexual partners to an area with a larger population. She also says the college experience can lead young people to engage in risky behavior. "These folks tend to be unmarried, have maybe more than one partner at a time, and college might be an area where things like binge drinking and drug use might play a larger role." The CDC reported in April that the pregnancy rate among women age 15 to 19 in the U.S. reached an all-time low. Llata says this change is because more young people are using contraceptive methods such as the birth control pill. The pill is a type of medicine women must take every day to prevent pregnancies. But the pill does not prevent the spread of STDs. Llata says getting an STD has serious consequences. STDs can affect a woman’s ability to have children and may put people at greater risk for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Why have STD rates gone up? Laura Lindberg, a research scientist with the Guttmacher Institute, says the rise in STD rates is not yet a major cause for concern. The Guttmacher Institute is a nonprofit organization that studies sexual health and policy in the U.S. Lindberg argues that a major reason the number of reported cases of STDs has gone up is because more people now have access to healthcare. People do not know they have an STD unless they get tested for STDs, she says. And most people do not go to the doctor because they believe they have an STD. Lindberg notes people most often get an STD test while they at the doctor for another reason. She argues sexual activity among young people has not gone up in ways doctors can measure. And condom use has decreased only a little. So, Lindberg says, the increase in STDs shows only that more young people are getting tested. Also, the increase is not enough information to prove the STD rate among young people will continue to increase, she adds. Why aren’t young people more careful? But Lindberg admits there is a problem: many young people do not think about the consequences of risky sexual activity. She says they are embarrassed about discussing sexual health. And, she says, they worry that if they get tested their parents will learn they are sexually active. Lindberg notes that the only people not at risk for STDs are those in long-term relationships with a single partner. She says most relationships in college are newer and those involved may not limit themselves to one partner. This means sexually active college students should get tested regularly. But Lindberg says young people face a bigger problem than just embarrassment: education. "Today’s college students are part of a generation whose sex education that they received prior to college has been very weak. Many of them did not receive comprehensive sex education. They did not receive instruction and information about birth control. Instead, what they got was some version of an 'abstinence until marriage program' which left out key information about using condoms and contraception to protect themselves. So today’s college students need information. They need medically accurate information. They need honest information. And they need complete information." A 2015 CDC report found fewer than half of the high schools in the U.S. taught all the suggested topics in their sex education classes. For example, Lindberg says, many young people may not know that most STDs can be treated. And they may not know that the birth control pill prevents only pregnancies. Couples may be risking STDs by not using condoms. Lindberg adds that STDs are a much bigger problem for young people who are not attending college. Often these young people live in communities with less money. This means they have less access to healthcare and STD testing. Also, the American Medical Association, the American College Health Association and over 100 other organizations say sex education programs that only teach about waiting for sex until marriage do not work. Still, colleges can do a great deal to help their students, says Debby Herbenick. Herbenick is a professor at Indiana University in Bloomington. She is also the director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the university’s School of Public Health. Herbenick and others in the center teach classes about human sexuality and gender. She says young men and women need to learn about how to respect each other and their own bodies. "They don’t always know that sexual pleasure is a good thing and that it’s something that, in fact, adults do expect them to explore and be experienced in. Some of them have been really shamed and just been taught that sex is bad. I think that many young people are just trying to figure out how to create sexual lives that are respectful, that are healthy. And they are looking to adults to support them in that." Herbenick says schools can support students by providing STD testing and sexual health counseling in their health centers. If they do not have the resources to do so, schools should direct the students to other places that can help. She also suggests that schools can invite speakers to talk about healthy relationships and sexual activity. And most of all, Herbenick believes schools should require students to take at least one class about sexuality. As Laura Lindberg at the Guttmacher Institutes notes, there should never be just one conversation about sexual health. I’m Pete Musto   Pete Musto reported this story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor. We want to hear from you. How is sexual education taught in your country? What kinds of sexual health resources or services do universities in your country offer? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. _____________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   romantic – adj. of, relating to, or involving love between two people condom – n. a thin rubber covering that a man wears on his penis during sex in order to prevent a woman from becoming pregnant or to prevent the spread of diseases gonorrhea – n. a disease of the sex organs that is spread by sexual contact syphilis – n. a very serious disease that is spread through sexual intercourse chlamydia – n. a disease of the sex organs that is spread by sexual contact unique – adj. very special or unusual binge drinking – n. the drinking of a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time contraceptive – n. a drug or device, such as birth control pills or a condom, that is used to prevent a woman from becoming pregnant pill – n. a small, rounded object that you swallow and that contains medicine or vitamins consequence(s) – n. something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions embarrassed – adj. to be made to feel confused and foolish in front of other people comprehensive – adj. including many, most, or all things abstinence – n. the practice of not doing or having something that is wanted or enjoyable accurate – adj. free from mistakes or errors shame(d) – v. to force someone to act in a specified way by causing feelings of shame or guilt counseling – n. advice and support that is given to people to help them deal with problems or make important decisions Sat, 19 Nov 2016 21:15:37 +0000 EducationFeatured Stories How Well is English Spoken Worldwide? Adults in the Netherlands are the best non-native English speakers, a new report released Tuesday says. The report also says that Iraq has fallen to last place. The private education company Education First (EF) released the 2016 English Proficiency Index report. The English Proficiency Index is based on the online test scores of 950,000 adults from 72 countries. The results do not show the English ability of a country’s entire population. They are based on people who took an online test, the EF Standard English Test (EFSET), during 2015. You can take the test online for free. The study is the sixth produced by EF. It is a yearly report that examines the English knowledge level of adults from 72 countries. It has found most areas in the world are continuing to improve their English language ability. The report also says that English language remains an important part for a country’s economic power. According to EF Director of Research Min Tran, one quality the highest-ranking countries share is a strong education system. However, he says that may not be enough. “However, another very important factor is whether your country has an English speaking environment. If you go to Singapore today, you hear English on the streets. You hear Singaporean youngsters mixing Chinese, Malay, and English. Singaporeans are watching TV, watching films, listening to music in English...” Tran also said the report has found a gender difference in English ability.  “You look at the genders, women are better than men. And we’ve seen that in nearly every country, every age group, every industry even when you look at business English. Women are just consistently outperforming men.” Europe Similar to the previous six years, Europe leads the rankings with its overall strength in English. Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland were the top five countries in Europe and in the world. These countries have been in the top five almost every year the report has been released. The only difference is that the Netherlands has moved from second place to first this year. The report says there are several reasons these countries perform well. They have strong education systems, and primary and secondary schools in those countries require English language studies. There are also many chances for people to use English in their day-to-day lives. The report says one very helpful quality is that English is used often in the media of these Northern European countries. One important change took place in France. It moved from the “Low Proficiency” category last year to “Moderate Proficiency” for 2016. France placed 24 out of 28 European countries included in the report.  “English is a sensitive issue in France because the country is very proud of French and the position of French, the French language in the world. Universities do not teach in English, whereas other universities in Europe do have programs, even entirely in English. So we’ve seen France go down in the past five years, and this year was the first year that they came back up...” The lowest performing countries in what the report considers Europe were Azerbaijan and Turkey. Those countries made small improvements from last year, but their scores were lower than the rest of Europe. The report says these countries tend to have weaker teaching methods that depend on rote memorization rather than communication. Asia In Asia, Singapore was the highest ranked country, moving to sixth place in the index. Singapore was considered to have a “Very High Proficiency” level for the first time. Tran says this improvement is because Singapore has a very strong education system. “Well, Singapore’s education system is often seen as one of the best in the world. If you look at other English tests like IELTS and TOEFL, Singapore is consistently at the top -- not just in Asia, but throughout the world. It just has a very, very strong education system that focuses on quality of instruction and has extremely high standards for their students...” Along with Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines were the next highest-ranked countries. The report says countries with a historical link to the British Empire usually have stronger English levels than other countries in the area.  However, the report says Thailand and Cambodia still have low levels of English proficiency, although they have a growing tourism industry. China also increased its rank by moving from 47th to 39th place. However, it is behind many other countries in Asia. Tran says this might be the result of its large population. Latin America Adult English proficiency in Latin America remains less strong, the study says. Most countries had a lower rank this year than last year. Argentina is the only country to rank as “High Proficiency.” The Dominican Republic follows closely behind.  One reason for Argentina’s high ranking, according to the report, is that English teachers there are “highly qualified.” They have to complete a five-year training program to teach English in public schools. Latin America’s largest countries, Brazil and Mexico, have lower rankings this year. This is the case although there are efforts to send students to English-speaking countries for university studies.  Tran says one reason these countries do not have higher rankings is the large size of their populations. In large countries, it takes more time for enough citizens to learn English to raise the average English level. The Middle East and North Africa The Middle East and North African area had the greatest changes in scores from last year. Morocco and Qatar made the most improvements of all countries in the area, but Iraq and Oman’s scores dropped the most. Only Morocco and the United Arab Emirates are in the “Low Proficiency” level. All other countries fell into the “Very Low Proficiency” level.  Tran says some issues causing the low performance in the Middle East and North Africa, or MENA, area are outside of the classroom.  “They are countries that have experienced quote a lot of turmoil. When you have such turmoil in your country for such a long time, then it’s difficult for the education system to really make a difference.” The report says that factors affecting these countries are poor education systems and not enough jobs for students after they finish school. This can cause students to not try as hard to succeed in their studies. The survey did not include sub-Saharan African countries. Steps to Success Tran suggests three things for countries trying to improve their English level.  First is to make quality English teaching available to all citizens. Next, a country should invest in teacher training, and then invest in its English-speaking environment. “I think the number one priority would be to make sure that everybody has access to quality English instruction, and to do that I think to then is to leverage teacher training, right? And making sure that you have a teacher supply that is ready to deliver the quality instruction that you need in your entire school system. “Then it’s about creating that English environment in your country. It’s having bilingual signs, bilingual venues, having programs in English that are not dubbed, and creating excuses for your students to speak in English, right?”  The report shows that it is not easy to improve English-speaking ability country-wide, and it also is costly. But, it is clear that the economic and social benefits make it worth the investment. I’m Phil Dierking. And I’m Jill Robbins.   Phil Dierking wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor. How well do you think your country speaks English?  We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. ________________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   benefit – n. a good or helpful result or effect bilingual – adj. able to speak and understand two languages gender – n. the state of being male or female leverage – n. influence or power used to achieve a desired result proficiency - n. good at doing something rank – n. a position in a society, organization, group, etc. rote memorization – n. a memorization technique based on repetition turmoil – n. a state of confusion or disorder sensitive – adj. easily upset by the things that people think or say about you Tue, 15 Nov 2016 21:00:27 +0000 EducationFeatured Stories Does Technology Belong in College Classrooms?   Modern technology has a strong influence on many things we do. In fact, technology is shaping almost every part of our day-to-day existence, including education. Ashok Goel is a professor with the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Goel says he uses the Internet in almost all of the classes he teaches. Every term over 300 graduate students take his class on artificial intelligence (AI). The students never meet in person. All of the classes take place online -- through a website. The site lets students ask questions and complete their work from anywhere in the world. Having hundreds of students in a class means Ashok Goel has to answer thousands of questions. He has eight teaching assistants to help him. But even that is not enough to give all the students the help they need. So, in January, Goel had an idea. First, he noted that each term his students were asking many of the same questions. Then he decided to try an experiment. At the start of the spring 2016 semester, he added a new member to his teaching team: Jill Watson. She was able to answer questions faster than most other teaching assistants. And she was available 24 hours a day. It was only at the end of the semester that Goel’s students learned Watson’s secret: she was not a real person like the other teaching assistants. Jill Watson is an AI computer program. Goel says only two students came close to predicting Watson’s true identity. He was worried about telling his students because he thought they would not like being part of the experiment. But once they learned Watson’s identity, they became very excited. "Then, you know what happened? They not only asked that question about Jill. ‘Is she an AI?’ Once the identity of Jill was revealed they also asked if I was an AI." Goel now uses Watson in two other classes, but still does not tell his students which of his teaching assistants is a computer program. He hopes this technology will make it easier for teachers to create their own programs to use in and outside the classroom. And it appears stories like his will only become more common. A website called Campus Technology publishes stories about how colleges and universities use new technology. In August, the site published a survey of over 500 professors and their use of technology. Fifty-five percent of the professors said they ask students to use study materials online before coming to class. And, more than 70 percent said they combine online materials and face-to-face teaching in their classrooms. Ashok Goel says the new kinds of technology becoming available will increase the availability of learning all over the world. But there are some concerns about how well the technology works. SRI International is a non-profit organization that researches many different issues. In April, the group released the results of a survey of educational technology at 14 colleges. The study measured the effect of online classwork and special programs that measured student progress and made suggestions about educational resources. The study found that the technology did little to help student performance. Louise Yarnall is a senior research social scientist at SRI International. She says there are two major problems. First, she says, the technology has yet to reach a level that proves how useful it can be. Second, there is no system to make sure the technology is used the same way. Yarnall notes that students and teachers all use the special programs in different ways. This means they may not be using the technology as best they can. "Just like in school when teacher says, ‘Do your homework,’ we have found that students who do their homework tend to do pretty well in school and students who don’t do their homework often don’t do so well in school. And the same idea applies here with adaptive learning. If you don’t use it, you don’t progress." Yarnall worries that once more technology enters classrooms, teachers and students will be more concerned about the technology than anything else. Jose Bowen goes even further. Bowen is the president of Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. He wrote a book arguing against the use of technology in classrooms. It is called “Teaching Naked.” Bowen admits that technology does improve the availability of information. But he notes technology is not free. It still mostly goes only to people that have money to pay for it. Bowen also warns that giving students more information through the internet or social media does not help them understand how to use that information. He says the job of a college is to teach people how to think critically and find their place in the world around them. Technology can bring teachers to students all over the world, as in the case of Ashok Goel’s class at Georgia Tech. But Bowen notes that online classes do little for students with limited educational experience. "So those tools are there. But the problem is that online content by itself doesn’t know how to ask you the question ‘What interests you? What motivates you?’ … The first thing a good swim teacher does is ask you a couple of questions. The first question is, ‘How do you feel about water?’ And if you don’t like water, then I change my lesson plan. … And if you love water, well maybe I push you in the deep end." He admits there is a place for technology outside the classroom. It can do some things teachers cannot, like provide answers immediately when a teacher is unavailable. Bowen says teachers must accept the many things technology can do that they cannot. But he and Goel agree that nothing can replace the personal relationship between teachers and students. And the training in the classrooms of today may be the only thing that prepares students for the technology of tomorrow. I’m Pete Musto.   Pete Musto reported on this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor. We want to hear from you. How is technology used in college classrooms in your country? How important do you think technology is to learning? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page. ______________________________________________________________ Words in This Story   graduate – adj. of or relating to a course of studies taken at a college or university after earning a bachelor's degree or other first degree artificial intelligence – n. an area of computer science that deals with giving machines the ability to seem like they have human intelligence online – adj. connected to a computer, a computer network, or the Internet semester – n. one of two usually 18-week periods that make up an academic year at a school or college reveal(ed) – v. to make something known survey – n. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something adaptive – adj. using the process of changing to fit some purpose or situation content – n. the ideas, facts, or images that are in a book, article, speech or movie motivate(s) – v.  to give someone a reason for doing something Sat, 12 Nov 2016 21:00:24 +0000 EducationFeatured Stories