Next Stop, Kenya

Today, I’m finally giving our readers a break from the dry academic material I’ve been posting for several weeks. Instead, I’m happy to announce that as of late October 2017, Invictus Institute’s roster of countries now includes the east-African nation of Kenya!

About a month ago, Invictus Institute began tutoring 21 young students from Kisumu County’s Phildan Memorial Education Center, a nonprofit educational institution. Located in western Kenya, Kisumu County (shaded in red in the map) straddles part of the Lake Victoria shoreline within Kenya’s borders. Phildan Memorial Education Center rests “in a very remote part of the country,” according to Kasey.

Sadly, rural areas of Kenya and African nations in general tend to fare below their urban counterparts. This trend holds true in numerous aspects of life, including healthcare, poverty, and education. Still, Invictus Institute’s volunteers should not be discouraged by the state of things and try to see this as an opportunity. Kasey certainly adopts that approach: “there’s a need to specifically help these kids and for us to prove our model in more rural areas.”

This latest partnership began in early September 2017 through liaisons with Dolla Mika, Phildan’s headmaster. Ultimately, things started in earnest thanks to the generous contributions of a donor who wished to remain anonymous.

While no particular curricular focus exists for the students at Phildan, one advantage here is the fact that English is Kenya’s official language. This eliminates the communications barrier inhibiting Invictus Institute’s tutoring sessions in other nations where English is not commonly spoken such as India and Bangladesh.

If all goes well, these initial 21 students should be just the first of many. Kasey Beck projects that “Our goal is to be tutoring all 137 of the students consistently at this school…within 6 months.” And hopefully, once Invictus Institute has a proven track record in Phildan Memorial Education Center, we can expand to other nations throughout Kenya, both rural and urban.

The Impact of One-on-One Tutoring on Ugandan Public Education: Lit Review

One of the ongoing projects in my African Politics course is to develop a hypothetical research study to answer an unanswered question about sub-Saharan Africa, thereby creating new knowledge. One of the major steps in developing such a study is a literature review (or lit review, as college students often call it) – an examination of related work by past scholars, pointing out what has been discovered concerning a subject, and what has yet to be discovered. My study would test the effects of Invictus Institute’s tutoring sessions on students in Uganda (more to come later). Below is my lit review on the general topic of education in sub-Saharan Africa and interventions that could make it better.


In 1996, President Yoweri Museveni accomplished something remarkable. After extensive discussion in “educational institutions, in the cabinet and at [the] parliamentary level,” Uganda adopted the Universal Primary Education program (Ndeezi 2000). Suddenly, the door to a life-changing service seemed wide open, even to the historically disadvantaged such as girls and children with disabilities.

As momentous as the occasion was, Museveni’s vision of “transformation and [modernization] of society through the elimination of illiteracy and the provision of Education For All” has yet to be fully realized (Ndeezi 2000). As ForeignCredits (an international translation firm) summarizes, “Despite its best intentions, there [are] few really free state schools in Uganda” (Uganda Education System 2012). Even if the government pays for schooling itself, parents are often left on their own to acquire uniforms, school supplies, meals, etc. that they simply cannot afford.

The operational outcomes have likewise been less than hoped for. According to recent statistics from UNESCO, while gross enrollment in pre-primary education has risen, it has fallen for primary and secondary levels. It should be noted, however, that their statistics are not measured over the same, consistent period. For example, from 2014 to 2015 pre-primary enrollment rose, but no data exists for primary or secondary enrollment during the same time span. Still, the data’s conclusions, while erratically dispersed over the years, are undeniable. Enrollment in upper education levels is dropping, implying the rise of incomplete educations (Lewin 2009, UNESCO 2017).

A more consistently reported operational outcome is Uganda’s illiterate population, which appears to be rising. Starting in 2010, the illiterate population increased for both of the population parameters set by UNESCO: men and women aged 15-24, and men and women aged 15 and older. Though UNESCO offers no explanation for these trends, one can infer that the previously mentioned predicament, falling enrollment, plays a part.  As children fail to enroll in primary/secondary education, they fail to learn how to read fully (UNESCO, 2017).

The current, shoddy state of public education in sub-Saharan Africa is particularly frustrating in light of research uncovering the many benefits of high-quality education. It has been found to strongly correlate with improved hygiene, nutrition, infant mortality rates, economic productivity, and sustainable fertility rates (Browne & Barrett 1991; Shapiro & Tenikue 2017; Shapiro 2012).

Hand in hand with these documented blessings from education is further research on how to rectify the schooling process. These prove similarly varied. Academic studies show positive impact ranging from mother-tongue instruction for dominant ethnic groups to greater concentrations of foreign aid (Ramachandran 2017, Riddell & Zarazua 2016, Yogo 2016).

Among the most ambitious studies on the matter is a meta-analysis conducted by Katharine M. Conn, wherein she analyzed “56 articles containing 66 separate experiments and quasi-experiments and 83 treatment arms” (Conn 2017, 863). Conn identified a dozen educational mediations, eventually discovering “that programs that alter teacher pedagogy or classroom instructional techniques had an effect size approximately 0.30 standard deviations greater than all other types of programs combined” (Conn 2017, 863).  She is by no means alone – other academic articles point out how vital teachers and their effectiveness at teaching can be (Dembélé & Lefoka 2007, Emoungu 1992).

An intervention not analyzed in Conn’s model, however, though closely related to teacher pedagogy, is one-on-one tutoring. Uganda, like many developing nations, faces massive teacher shortages, making hand-crafted attention for individual students nigh impossible (Ssekweyama 2017). Since academics widely agree that teacher development and pedagogical refreshing lead to better education, this untrodden avenue is worth exploring.

In all fairness, the impact of one-on-one tutoring has been extensively studied – just not in sub-Saharan Africa (as far as the author can tell). The opposite is true for the United States. Tutoring programs for several different American sub-groups have been analyzed, from first-graders to adolescents in juvenile correction facilities (Coulter 2004, Gilbert et al. 2013). Similarly diverse is the range of sample sizes. While Coulter’s article on “adjudicated youth” contains only 12 subjects, more statistically powerful groups of 64, 84, and a whopping 649 appear in further studies (Coulter 2004, 321, Gilbert et al. 2013, Houge and Geier 2009, Baker, Gersten, and Keating 2000).

In spite of the differing scopes among the studies listed in the previous paragraph, the overwhelming consensus is that one-on-one tutoring does help the program’s recipients academically. Furthermore, a meta-analysis akin to Katharine M. Conn’s published in the Review of Educational Research validates that consensus with an extensive array of research findings. The authors analyzed “21 studies (with 28 different study cohorts in those studies) reporting on randomized field trials” of assorted tutoring programs (Ritter et al. 2009). They concluded that “volunteer tutoring has a positive effect on student achievement,” particularly in regards to “letters and words, oral fluency, and writing” (Ritter et al. 2009, 3).

For Uganda, the most likely venue for such tutoring would be an NGO (Reimann 2006). Invictus Institute, for example, is a registered 501(c)(3) whose mission is to tutor students in developing nations via the Internet, thereby supplementing their education (Invictus Institute 2017). Given the fact that they already have ties to Uganda, they seem like an ideal match for such research (Beck 2016, Beck 2016).

To be fair, this approach is not without its challenges. Sub-Saharan Internet connectivity, for one thing, is notoriously unreliable by Western standards (Mail & Guardian Africa 2016, The State of Broadband 2015). A study of the effects of online, one-one-one tutoring would have to take such fluctuations into account during its concluding analysis.

Additionally, a 2009 article published in International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning found that online tutoring can pose several obstacles that may lower the quality of instruction (Muhirwa 2009). However, said article relied exclusively on qualitative data such as follow-up interviews and video recordings of the tutoring sessions. An empirically-based randomized control trial on the subject has yet to be developed (again, as far as the author can tell).

Which begs the following question: what quantifiable effect would online, NGO-facilitated tutoring have on public school students in Uganda, specifically regarding their academic performance?

Works Cited

“20 striking facts about digital, mobile and tech in Africa; including the ‘dictator’s dilemma’.” Mail & Guardian Africa. January 23, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2017.

Baker, Scott, Russell Gersten, and Thomas Keating. “When Less May Be More: A 2-Year Longitudinal Evaluation of a Volunteer Tutoring Program Requiring Minimal Training.” Reading Research Quarterly 35, no. 4 (2000): 494-519.

Beck, Kasey. “Mbirotono Primary School.” Invictus Institute. October 18, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2017.

Beck, Kasey. “Mukono, Uganda.” Invictus Institute. October 18, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2017.

Browne, Angela W., and Hazel R. Barrett. “Female Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Key to Development?” Comparative Education 27, no. 3 (1991): 275-85.

Conn, Katharine M. “Identifying Effective Education Interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Meta-Analysis of Impact Evaluations.” Review of Educational Research 87, no. 5 (October 2017): 863-98. Accessed October 11, 2017. doi:10.3102/0034654317712025.

Coulter, Gail. “Using One-to-One Tutoring and Proven Reading Strategies to Improve Reading Performance with Adjudicated Youth.” Journal of Correctional Education 55, no. 4 (2004): 321-33.

Dembélé, Martial, and Pulane Lefoka. “Pedagogical Renewal for Quality Universal Primary Education: Overview of Trends in Sub-Saharan Africa.” International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift Für Erziehungswissenschaft / Revue Internationale De L’Education 53, no. 5/6 (2007): 531-53.

“Education System in Uganda.” Uganda Education System. 2012. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Emoungu, Paul-Albert N. “Education and Primitive Accumulation in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Comparative Education 28, no. 2 (1992): 201-13.

Gilbert, Jennifer K., Donald L. Compton, Douglas Fuchs, Lynn S. Fuchs, Bobette Bouton, Laura A. Barquero, and Eunsoo Cho. “Efficacy of a First-Grade Responsiveness-to-Intervention Prevention Model for Struggling Readers.” Reading Research Quarterly 48, no. 2 (2013): 135-54.

Houge, Timothy T., and Constance Geier. “Delivering One-to-One Tutoring in Literacy via Videoconferencing.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 53, no. 2 (2009): 154-63.

“IVIMarketingBackgrounder.” Invictus Institute. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Lewin, Keith M. “Access to Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: Patterns, Problems and Possibilities.” Comparative Education 45, no. 2 (2009): 151-74.

Muhirwa, Jean-Marie. “Teaching and Learning Against all Odds: A Video-Based Study of Learner-to-Instructor Interaction in International Distance Education.” International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 10, no. 4 (September 2009). Accessed October 11, 2017.

Ndeezi, Alex. “Focus on Policy: Universal Primary Education in Uganda.” Enabling Education Network. 2000. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Ramachandran, Rajesh. “Language use in education and human capital formation: Evidence from the Ethiopian educational reform.” World Development 98 (October 2017): 195-213. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Reimann, Kim D. “A View from the Top: International Politics, Norms and the Worldwide Growth of NGOs.” International Studies Quarterly 50, no. 1 (2006): 45-67.

Riddell, Abby, and Miguel Nino-Zarazua. “The effectiveness of foreign aid to education: What can be learned?” International Journal of Educational Development 48 (May 2016): 23-36. May 2016. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Ritter, Gary W., Joshua H. Barnett, George S. Denny, and Ginger R. Albin. “The Effectiveness of Volunteer Tutoring Programs for Elementary and Middle School Students: A Meta-Analysis.” Review of Educational Research 79, no. 1 (2009): 3-38.

Shapiro, David. “Women’s Education and Fertility Transition in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Vienna Yearbook of Population Research 10 (2012): 9-30.

Shapiro, David, and Michel Tenikue. “Women’s education, infant and child mortality, and fertility decline in rural and urban sub-Saharan Africa.” Demographic Research 37 (September 13, 2017): 669-708. September 13, 2017. Accessed October 11, 2017. doi:10.4054/demres.2017.37.21.

Ssekweyama, Ezekiel. “Teacher Shortage Drains Sembabule Schools.” Uganda Radio Network. March 13, 2017. Accessed October 11, 2017.

The State of Broadband 2015. Report. September 2015. Accessed November 12, 2017.

“Uganda.” UNESCO UIS. April 12, 2017. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Yogo, Thierry Urbain. “Assessing the Effectiveness of Foreign Aid in the Education Sector in Africa: The Case of Primary Education.” African Development Review 29, no. 3 (September 18, 2017): 389-402. Accessed October 11, 2017. doi:10.1111/1467-8268.12276.

Political Violence in Africa: Thoughts on Its Causes and Mitigators


The following is an additional essay written for my African Politics course. This time, I offer my thoughts on political violence in Africa – both its causes, and its mitigators. While it may not seem relevant to Invictus Institute, it is important to note that we operate in parts of the world where day-to-day life (including education) is far more likely to be disturbed by serious fighting. Just recently, our program in Cameroon had to be placed on hold due to violent uprisings there. Sadly, children often experience immense suffering during these times of upheaval. If we truly want to improve the lives of our students, we should do our best to fully empathize with them.

Granted, the opinions I offer should be taken with several grains of salt; I am by no means an expert on Africa. But if nothing else, I hope it inspires some contemplation from our readers on a very real, very human, social problem:


While a variety of factors contribute to the spread of violence in sub-Saharan Africa, the broader, social-systemic factors appear to have more influence than individual drives, especially ethnicity. Mitigating violence is therefore most effective when divisions along these lines are softened through pervasive intervention.

Strong examples of these social-systemic factors include ethnicity, corruption, natural resources, and poor governance. Disputes centered on them often embroil sub-Saharan Africa in fierce conflicts, including the Rwandan genocide, the Belgian oppression of the Congo, and the civil war in Liberia (Scott 2006; Gbowee & Mithers 2013; Jennings et al. 1998; Hochschild 1998). In each of these striking examples, a combination of all the above factors permeated state government and society, resulting in untold suffering.

Of the four social-systemic factors discussed in the previous paragraph, ethnicity seems to hold the most sway. As Alex Thomson summarizes in An Introduction to African Politics, ethnic divisions create hierarchies in which ethnic groups of lower esteem must compete against those held in higher esteem for scarce resources (Thomson 2010). By serving as the basis for distribution of resources and power, ethnicity under-girds all conflicts (to varying degrees) that incorporate the other three elements.

Between Philip Roessler and Adam Hochschild (two scholars whose work we have studied throughout the semester), Roessler would be more inclined to agree with the aforementioned ethnicity argument than Hochschild. After all, his seminal work on ethnicity’s role in African state politics claims that the state’s degree of ethnic power-sharing can largely determine whether a coup or civil war breaks out (Roessler 2016). He would, however, emphasize that a nation’s ethnic hierarchy is no mere coincidence, but “a strategic choice” made by the nation’s rulers (Roessler 2016: 19).

Hochschild, on the other hand, would likely refute this argument. In King Leopold’s Ghost he repeatedly stresses the influence of the Congo’s natural resources on the devastation that took place there, particularly ivory and rubber (Hochschild 1998). The historian would probably use the Congo to argue that natural resources, not ethnicity, have the greatest effect on political violence in sub-Saharan Africa.

One of the many case studies that supports this view of ethnicity’s role in political violence is the aforementioned Liberian civil war. In describing the conflict’s outbreak, Gbowee frames it as decades worth of ethnic tensions finally exploding, with Charles Taylor leading the so-called indigenous people against the so-called (traditionally ruling-class) Congo people (Gbowee & Mithers 2013). The underlying ethnic tensions seemed to not only prompt the struggle, but exacerbate it. As an American Medical Association article details, violent acts against Liberian women became more common if they were accused of belonging to a certain ethnic faction, highlighting the magnitude of ethnicity’s part in the conflict (Swiss et al. 1998).

A counterfactual example to the ethnicity argument is the brutal despotism in the Congo by the hands of the Belgians. While the Europeans clearly considered themselves the inferior race, the thirst for wealth in ivory and rubber was the primary driver of their inhuman rule over region’s natives. Their looming quotas prompted crimes against humanity such as the lucrative slave trade, holding women and children hostage, and lethal beatings (Hochschild 1998).

While colonial Congo may be an exception, the permeating influence of ethnicity in African political violence cannot be denied. Therefore, in order to mitigate violence, the ethnic tensions (and all other social-systemic disparities) that underlie them need to be mollified. Evidence of this course of action’s effectiveness exists in Rwanda, home to one of history’s most disastrous ethnic conflicts. Nowadays, “even mentioning the two dominant ‘ethnic groups’, Hutu and Tutsi, is a major taboo,” (Olopade 2014: 226). Since the genocide’s conclusion, Rwanda has become a West African model of inclusivity, innovation, business, and more. As unlikely as it may have seemed in the not-too-distant past, Rwanda offers hope that political violence in Africa can and should be abated for the sake of the continent’s future.

     Works Cited

Arriola, Leonardo R. “Patronage and Political Stability in Africa.” Comparative Political Studies 42, no. 10 (October 1, 2009): 1339-362. February 27, 2009. Accessed October 26, 2017. doi:10.1177/0010414009332126.

Bellows, John, and Edward Miguel. “War and Institutions: New Evidence from Sierra Leone.” American Economic Review 96, no. 2 (2006): 394-99. 2006. doi:10.1257/000282806777212323.

Gbowee, Leymah, and Carole Mithers. Mighty be our powers: how sisterhood, prayer, and sex changed a nation at war: a memoir. New York, NY: Beast Books, 2013.

Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. 1st ed. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Olopade, Dayo. The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa. New York, NY: First Mariner Books, 2014.

Roessler, Philip G. Ethnic politics and state power in Africa: the logic of the coup-civil war trap. Cambridge, United Kingdom, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Straus, Scott. The Order of Genocide Race, Power, and War in Rwanda. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006.

Strohecker, Karin. “Africa struggles to improve governance in past decade: Ibrahim survey.” Reuters. October 03, 2016. Accessed October 26, 2017.

Swiss, Shana, Peggy J. Jennings, Gladys V. Aryee, and Rojatu S. Turay-Kanneh. “Violence Against Women During the Liberian Civil Conflict.” Jama 279, no. 8 (1998): 625. February 25, 1998. Accessed November 4, 2017. doi:10.1001/jama.279.8.625.

Thomson, Alex. An Introduction to African Politics. 3rd ed. London: Routledge, 2010.

African State Governance Institutions: Comparing Two Ugandan Regimes

This semester, I have had the good fortune to enroll in an African Politics course, taught by BYU’s Dan Nielson. The following is an essay I recently wrote for the class on African political institutions, particularly state governance institutions. As Invictus Institute continues to expand their presence in Uganda and elsewhere, we will have to rely on state government’s cooperation and acceptance to best serve their people. This post examines the importance of state governments meeting the needs of their people, including education:

The key types of African political institutions are those dedicated to state governance. Although colonialism left a harsh legacy behind, evidence suggests these institutions are beginning to accept a factor critical to their longevity and are changing accordingly – meeting their citizens’ needs.

In the geopolitical spectrum, states remain king. Even the United Nations appears to acknowledge this, with Article 2 of its Charter enshrining state sovereignty’s inviolability (United Nations, 1945). This especially holds true throughout Africa. Overall, state governments across the continent are heavily centralized, with no illusions of separation of powers. Additionally, African state governments are often the primary bulwark for their respective labor markets, nationalizing commodity industries and granting government positions to supporters (The Economist 2011; Arriola 2009). Such dominance over day-to-day life makes governance institutions crucial.

Supremacy to this degree is no accident; it is one of the far-reaching aftereffects of European colonialism. This era of Africa’s history was marked with (generally speaking) iron-fisted, and oftentimes, vicious oppression of the majority by the ruling minority (Hochschild 1999; Stone 2001; Crowder 1964). Although some occasional, half-hearted attempts were made to integrate African natives into the governing process before independence, as Alex Thomson states, “liberal democracy had no historical foundations in Africa” (Thomson 2010, 26). Yet newly independent African countries were “expected instantly to create a political culture that could support these pluralist political institutions” upon declaring independence (Thomson 2010, 27). With nothing but autocratic rule in their cultural memory, it is no surprise that this domineering legacy from European colonists survived, and lives on to this day.

However, while it is a controversial matter, evidence is beginning to surface that this may be changing (Strohecker 2016; United Nations Economic Commission for Africa 2016). Signs suggest that some oppressive regimes are starting to realize the essential factor to staying in power – ensuring their populace’s needs are met.

One example is Yoweri Museveni’s reign in Uganda. While not a democratic regime by any stretch of the imagination, Museveni’s government seems to understand this principle and is, at the very least, attempting to live by it. In 1996 Museveni adopted Uganda’s Universal Primary Education (UPE), opening the door for all children to attend school (Ndeezi 2000). Since coming to power, Uganda has experienced steady drops in child mortality and pregnancy-related maternal deaths (Uganda Bureau of Statistics 2017). In terms of anecdotal evidence, Professor Nielson has remarked that new roads and stoplights continue to spring up in provinces that did not support Museveni in their so-called elections. Though there is certainly more work to be done with Uganda’s social services, Museveni is at least trying to fill societal gaps his citizens keep falling through.

Conversely, one of Museveni’s predecessors stands as an example of what happens to rulers who do not meet the people’s needs: Idi Amin. After overthrowing Milton Obote, Amin “made little attempt to build institutions or links with civil society” (Thomson 2010, 148). Instead, he chose to consolidate resources in a militaristic tyranny. By all appearances, Amin viewed the people’s needs as irrelevant, relying on strength of arms to maintain office. As a result, when Tanzanian forces marched in to overthrow him, they did so handily. This was in large part because “Amin’s government was always weak, having never tried to legitimize its rule through linking state and civil society” (Thomson 2010, 150).

As a Cameroonian proverb summarizes, “the mouth that eats does not speak” (Bayart 1993). If Africa’s state governance institutions choose to live by this credo and fulfill their people’s needs, they should enjoy stability; more stable, equitable governance should consequently lead to a more stable, prosperous Africa.

Works Cited

Arriola, Leonardo R. “Patronage and Political Stability in Africa.” Comparative Political Studies 42, no. 10 (October 1, 2009): 1339-362. February 27, 2009. Accessed October 26, 2017. doi:10.1177/0010414009332126.

“A debate that will persist.” The Economist. December 03, 2011. Accessed October 26, 2017.

Cited in Bayart, Jean-Francois. The State of Africa: The Politics of the Belly. London: Longman, 1993. 188.

“Combating Corruption Improving Governance in Africa.” United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. 2016. Accessed October 26, 2017.

Crowder, Michael. “Indirect Rule: French and British Style.” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 34, no. 3 (1964): 197 205.

Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. 1st ed. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Ndeezi, Alex. “Focus on Policy: Universal Primary Education in Uganda.” Enabling Education Network. 2000. Accessed October 11, 2017.

Stone, D. “White men with low moral standards? German anthropology and the Herero genocide.” Patterns of Prejudice 35, no. 2 (2001): 33-45. December 7, 2010. Accessed October 26, 2017. doi:10.1080/003132201128811133.

Strohecker, Karin. “Africa struggles to improve governance in past decade: Ibrahim survey.” Reuters. October 03, 2016. Accessed October 26, 2017.

Thomson, Alex. An Introduction to African Politics. 3rd ed. London: Routledge, 2010.

Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) and ICF. 2017. Uganda Demographic and Health Survey 2016: Key Indicators Report. Kampala, Uganda: UBOS, and Rockville, Maryland, USA: UBOS and ICF.

United Nations, “Charter of the United Nations.” United Nations. October 24, 1945. Accessed October 26, 2017.

Growing in Ghana: The Zongo Program

Due to a combination of poor memory, procrastination, and the onset of a new semester, I neglected to write about one of Invictus Institute’s newest programs, the Zongo program, back when it was still new. My apologies, readers. Still, better late than never.

In February 2017, Invictus Institute began mentoring students in Ghana. As the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) details in an education-centric working paper, the need is pervasive. As one of our volunteers summarized in their personal research, Ghana faces a series of educational challenges, among them, their lack of teachers. In lower secondary school during 2005, only 51,419 teachers were responsible for 919,334 students; in that same period in upper secondary school, it was a mere 16,527 teachers to 338,664 students.  (Note: Ghana organizes its public education into six years of primary school, three years of lower secondary school, and three years of upper secondary school). Disparities to this degree make it all but impossible for students to receive specialized, one-on-one attention they may need, hampering the quality and quantity of their learning.

This is where Invictus Institute comes in. Through our online tutoring system, we offer the individualized support students need, enabling better absorption and future recall of material. And, as of July 2017, we are extending these tutoring opportunities to one of Ghana’s numerous Zongo communities.

One of the program’s participants describes Zongo communities as “Muslim dominated communities. Interestingly, most villages, towns or cities have Zongos.” Cecilia S. Oben, an Associate Professor of Applied Health Science at Indiana University, characterizes Zongo settlements as West African communities composed primarily of settlers from Northern regions, particularly Northern Nigeria. Currently, Invictus Institute operates in Adomi Senchi, a “half a mile away from the Senchi-Ferry Community library…a suburb village of Senchi-Ferry.”

The Zongos’ social services such as education are in a dilapidated state. Our participant confesses that “Zongo communities have high rates of illiteracy and hence appear the poorest in most cases, concerning poverty, education, sanitation etc.” With conditions as unfortunate as these, one would expect civil strife to be commonplace, a part of day-t0-day life in the Zongos. “However,” our participant adds that “there is huge harmony and peaceful coexistence between both Moslems and non Moslems.”

The social calm, and especially the unquestionable need, within the Zongo neighborhood make it an optimal site for Invictus Institute’s tutoring. The Zongos, and Ghana as a whole, stand to gain a great deal from an educational boost among its populace. Our aforementioned volunteer researched one of the Education at a Glance reports from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and discovered that countries “able to attain literacy scores 1% higher than the international average will achieve levels of labour productivity and GDP per capita that are 2.5 and 1.5% higher, respectively, than those of other countries.”

Similar advantages are available to Ghanaians, both Zongo and otherwise, from enlarged English proficiency skills, a hallmark of Invictus Institute’s tutoring programs. This proves particularly true among job seekers; our volunteer reports that “recruiters and HR managers around the world report that job seekers with exceptional English compared to their country’s level earned 30-50% percent higher salaries.” He also points out “a direct correlation between English proficiency and the Human Development Index (a measure of education, life expectancy, literacy, and standards of living).” 

The prospect of heightened prosperity and well-being is a dream for people all over the world, from Zongos, to Ghanaians at large, and beyond. Our volunteers in the Zongo program, along with the rest of Invictus Institute’s programs worldwide, strive to make that dream a reality for all who desire it.

An Educational Refuge

Over the last few years, the Syrian refugee crisis has grown into one of the most compelling news stories in recent memory. Photos, videos, and written accounts paint a brutal picture of often fatal hardship. The types of turmoil include, but are certainly not limited to, fleeing from oppression, crossing the sea in ramshackle ferries, and inhospitable camps.

An unfathomable amount of work remains to be done, not only assist refugees with their immediate predicaments, but to help them settle down into completely new lives. Invictus Institute is proud to say that we have begun making our own small contribution to help alleviate their suffering.

Last month, Invictus Institute began partnering with ECHO Refugee Library to offer our tutoring services to refugees young adults. As of now, we regularly tutor three of them – one in Greece, one in Sweden, and one in Spain. (The latter two were originally in Greece, allowing ECHO to build relationships with them; they have since been relocated.)

ECHO has been aiding refugees since August 2016 when they “established a library in Vasilika camp in Northern Greece.” Since then, they have converted an old van into a “mobile library” that visits various camps over the course of each week. At first they focused in Thessaloniki, the Northern Greece region where they constructed their permanent library. Now, due to the closure of many northern camps, they concentrate on Athens. Their mission is “to nurture a space of learning and creativity, a place to cultivate the mind – that one part of us that can never be held captive.”

Now Invictus Institute’s tutors can help supplement the print and online material in the mobile library. Thus far, four of our volunteers have digitally mentored the three pupils. Their primary language is Arabic, but they do speak some English. Founder Kasey Beck explains that learning new languages “is the focus of many of these refugees as they are trying to be more integrated in European countries and start new lives there. They want to create successful futures; communication is very important for that.”

While this certainly classifies as a humble beginning, it is still just the beginning. “There are a lot of organizations who are doing many wonderful things to support refugees in Greece,” Kasey compliments. “We have reached out to these organizations to set up tutoring programs. They recognize the value immediately.

“Unfortunately not all the resources are in order yet with other partners but the conversation is ongoing and we will be launching fundraising campaigns to set up programs and work with the refugees.”

In the meantime, at least three of the estimated 5.1 million Syrians displaced from their native country can enjoy a brief refuge through one-on-one education sessions, with many more to join them.

Beyond the Warm Fuzzies

The nonprofit sector has a way of romanticizing its volunteers and volunteerism in general. Nonprofit leaders, in their urgency to thank volunteers for their work, often paint volunteerism as the noblest of efforts, the sign of a devoted, admirable bleeding heart. One of my own earlier blog posts followed this mindset, focusing on the blessings that arise from the service of Invictus Institute’s volunteers.

While this common portrayal of volunteerism is not incorrect, it fails to do the more pragmatic benefits from volunteering justice. Beyond simply beefing up one’s resume, volunteering can amplify (and even give birth to) valuable skills that are sure to prove useful in one’s professional and personal life. Below are the accounts of two long-time volunteers for Invictus Institute who can attest to such an assurance: Caitlyn Meadows, and Andy Chapman.


Caitlyn, who was also featured in my previous volunteer-centric blog post, has tutored numerous Bangladeshi girls since October 2016. Though the prospect of assisting children was a major draw, Caitlyn was also attracted by the opportunity to hone her future craft. “I am planning on being teacher and figured this opportunity would give me great experience with teaching,” she recalls.

She has certainly had plenty of practice. Every Wednesday evening she spends “an hour and a half to two hours,” tutoring her group of girls; prior to each session, she devotes another hour and a half to lesson planning. Her lessons tend to focus on chemistry, and she makes it a point to ask many questions to keep the students involved.

“I have always loved teaching,” she professes, “and being able to share knowledge with others and tutoring has helped me improve my teaching skills.” Serving as a tutor has also proven to be a refiner’s fire for two more abstract proficiencies – patience and creativity. While teaching anyone demands a considerable amount of patience, teaching the Bangladeshi girls calls for an extra dose. “You often have to repeat yourself, especially when there is a difference in language,” she admits.

The unavoidable language barrier is where creativity comes in. Caitlyn describes herself as a not-so creative person, but that has not stopped her from fostering the skill to bolster her teaching. “I have to be able to come up with new ways to explain things or answer questions if they don’t understand my original answer. I also try to make each lesson as interesting as possible and I have had to be very creative in how I do that.”

All of her hard work has paid off “in many alternate situations,” she explains. Within her paid work in child care, for instance, her enhanced creativity and patience have made watching over children not only more manageable, but more enjoyable. “Tutoring with Invictus Institute has helped me become a well rounded individual and I really hope to improve in all aspects of my life, especially learning how to become a better teacher.”


Three years ago, Andy first learned about the volunteering opportunities available at Invictus Institute through a friend on Facebook. Today, he continues to meet with students in Uganda on a weekly basis “to teach English and have fun.”

The fun, along with the chance to make new friends, are some of the things he enjoys most about volunteering. But as with Caitlyn, he is also grateful for the chance to strengthen not only his presentation skills, but his levels of empathy and reliability. As he puts it, “It’s more about forming a bond with a student than simply teaching English.”


As further evidence of how practical and worthwhile volunteering can be, I can verify that this has been my exact experience with Invictus Institute. Since signing on in September 2016, my writing, which was already decent, has definitely improved. As for new skills, my internship has allowed me my first-ever training with both WordPress and Twitter, two resources that are sure to be handy in our increasingly digital world. In short, volunteerism, both with Invictus Institute and otherwise, has a multitude of benefits to offer, not just the warm fuzzies.



Delving the Digital Divide – Asia


First off, my apologies for taking so long to post something new. It’s been nearly two months since my last entry. Frankly, I’ve been enjoying summer too much, devoting too much of my free time to various other pursuits like re-reading the Harry Potter books and other volunteering opportunities outside of Invictus Institute.

But I’m back, with part two of my reporting on the digital divide across the regions where Invictus Institute operates. The digital divide, of course, refers to the lack of stable Internet connections throughout the globe. According to the UN, over half the human race lacks a dependable connection to the Internet, something U.S. citizens can find practically anywhere, from churches to laundromats.

Due to the issue’s abstract nature, it pays to burrow for information at the regional level. Last time I wrote about the digital divide as it stands in the continent of Africa. Today, I will do the same thing for the continent of Asia.

World Rankings

At first glance, Asia appears to be doing rather well with linking their people to the Internet. Based on the data from Internet World Stats, they have managed to garner 1,874,000 Internet users as of March 31, 2017. As illustrated in the chart below, this puts them well ahead of any other world region; the next closest, Europe, has nearly three times fewer.


However, upon closer inspection, this appearance of ubiquitous Internet accessibility proves deceiving. While it may possess the highest number of Internet users, the continent of Asia also possesses the largest percentage of the world’s population. Of the world’s 7.5 billion people, 4.4 billion of them reside in Asia. As Worldometers points out, this amounts to 59.69% of all humanity. Given that proportional perspective, Asia turns out to be lagging far behind the majority of the planet with a 45.2% Internet penetration rate. In other words, only 45.2% of Asia’s population, less than half, maintain sturdy Internet connections. As seen in Internet World Statistic’s visualization, the only region they are ahead of is Africa.

A Closer Look at the Continent

Like Africa, certain parts of Asia are far more likely to be linked to the Internet. Last year the UN’s ESCAP office (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) published a report entitled “State of ICT in Asia and the Pacific 2016: Uncovering the Widening Broadband Divide“. Within its pages, they explain “that 74.89 per cent of total fixed broadband subscriptions in Asia and the Pacific are concentrated in East and North-East Asia”. In other words, a handful of nations such as China, South Korea, and Japan contain three quarters of all steady broadband connections.

The remaining (approximate) quarter of subscriptions are pitifully divvied up as follows: “South and South-West Asia (9.77 per cent), North and Central Asia (7.68 per cent), South-East Asia (5.74 per cent) and the Pacific (1.93 per cent)”. India and Bangladesh, where Invictus Institute operates, are of course located in South Asia, and the Solomon Islands, where we will soon operate, is in the Pacific.

Geo map of AsiaWhy?

Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, Executive Secretary of ESCAP, offers some insights into Asia’s Internet disparity. In an article published by The Diplomat, she points out that “high income countries [are] experiencing a higher growth rate of broadband penetration relative to other countries.” Simply put, the richer nations have more money to spend on the broadband infrastructure necessary for enduring Internet connections, including the apparatuses themselves, labor costs, etc.

As with Africa, distance from the coast also plays an important role. The highly connected, East and Northeast Asian countries border the ocean, making it possible to ship the required equipment and supplies. Transportation remains haphazard and shaky, however, among landlocked countries, forming another barrier to broadband infrastructure implementation.

Another, more unique factor is Asia’s susceptibility to natural disasters. “Earthquakes, for instance, have disrupted submarine cables and subsequently access to the Internet among densely populated coastal areas and cities,” Dr. Akhtar reasons. One does not have to think  back terribly far to recall nature’s ferocious displays in Asia, such as the the Gorkha earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015; Typhoon Haiyan, which raged across the Philippines in 2013; and the Great East Japan Earthquake, which subsequently triggered a tsunami and nuclear reactor meltdown in 2011. The relative frequency of such calamitous events poses a daunting challenge to any development projects.

Wreckage from Typhoon Haiyan


Fortunately, another similarity that Asia shares with Africa regarding the digital divide is the promising future ahead. In an ESCAP summit held last October, “more than 35 Asia-Pacific countries…[voiced] overwhelming support to develop seamless regional connectivity to increase the availability, reliability and affordability of broadband Internet for all.” The project is commonly referred to as the Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway. Its goal is to buttress current broadband infrastructure as well as further expand it to close the digital divide. Expectations are that increased connectivity will lead to “transformative opportunities to the poorest and most disadvantaged members of society.”

Invictus Institute eagerly awaits the day when the Superhighway is completed. Its realization will mean more young students within reach of the Internet, and therefore, within reach of Invictus Institute’s tutors. We stand with Dr. Akhtar, who declared, “We must put forth all our efforts to close the digital divide and ensure that all people are able to thrive in today’s information economy.”




Delving the Digital Divide – Africa


Back in February, I published a blog post entitled Weaving the Worldwide Web, wherein I summarized some key findings from the UN’s State of Broadband report in 2015. At one point, I wrote:

“[The report] estimates that there are “some 4.2 billion of the world’s people who still do not enjoy regular access to the Internet,” amounting to over half the world’s population. The disparity is particularly poignant in the UN’s 48 Least Developed Countries, where over 90% of citizens have no Internet access whatsoever. Of the 48 LDCs, Invictus Institute operates or will soon operate in five of them – Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Solomon Islands, Uganda, and Vanuatu.”

I then spent the bulk of the article examining potential solutions offered by the tech giants Facebook and Google. However, the underlying issue, commonly referred to as the digital divide, deserves more detailed, region-specific attention. So much of Invictus Institute’s work relies on the internet; the wider the divide, the fewer children can be mentored by our volunteers.

For simplification purposes, I will concentrate on the continent of Africa in this post. Later, I will devote a separate post to the continent of Asia.

World Rankings

To start, it is worth putting Africa’s population into perspective. Of the 7.5 billion people on the planet, approximately 1.25 billion of them live in Africa, amounting to 16.6% of the world’s total (based on data from the United Nations – Population Division).

world internet penetration

This backdrop makes Africa’s lagging in internet availability apparent. Of the 1.25 billion inhabitants, just over a quarter have regular access to the internet (roughly 345.6 million). This puts their internet penetration rate of 27.7% at dead last. Unsurprisingly, North America is the leading region, leaving Africa in the dust at 88.1%. But even the second-worst, Asia, is considerably ahead at 45.2%.

world internet users

A Closer Look at the Continent

As with the world at large, variation in regards to internet access exists within Africa itself. Numerous factors can determine how easy it is to connect, as summarized in numerous articles published by Mail & Guardian Africa. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Type of Community. Urban dwellers are more likely to have internet access than rural dwellers. A number of reasons make this so, such as the lack of foundational infrastructure like roads and bridges in rural areas, as well as the mathematical logic that higher populations will have higher proportions of electronically connected residents.
  • Distance from the Coast. Landlocked countries experience far greater prices for fixed broadband access than coastal countries. For many landlocked nations, “including Rwanda, Chad, Burundi and Burkina Faso,” the price of a fixed broadband connection “actually exceeds average income per capita levels.” On average, being landlocked adds an extra $232 in monthly fees.
  • Age. Younger Africans are noticeably more likely to have reliable internet access than older Africans. The 2016 World Development Report estimated “a 12-percentage point difference in access between youth (20%) and those more than 45 years old (8%). “
  • Gender. Perhaps the least surprising entry in this list, men are far more likely to regularly use the internet than women. As Mail & Guardian Africa states, “It is generally agreed that the gender digital divide stems primarily from the structural inequalities that exist between men and women in many societies.”


Imbalances such as Africa’s digital divide inevitably prompt one to ask why. Why is this level of inequality so rife?

Here the prevailing answer is the financial cost. As Mail & Guardian Africa point out, “There is ample evidence that, despite a consistent drop in [information and communications technology] prices over recent years, the relatively high price of ICT services remains a major barrier, particularly for those ICT services that are far from reaching global coverage, such as broadband services.”

As mentioned in the prior section, the amount charged by landlocked African nations for a fixed internet connection greatly exceeds the average, per capita income levels. But while the difference may not be as severe, the same basic arrangement of overwhelming internet fees exists all over the continent. It holds true for nearly half of the UN’s Least Developed Nations in Africa.

Much like the reasons for varying levels of internet openness in Africa, the reasons for such high costs are many. The aforementioned lack of reliable, fundamental infrastructure poses a challenge for any sort of development, including the necessary groundwork for broadband. Other factors include the lack of capital among governments and social instability arising from conflicts.


Though the breadth of Africa’s digital divide can appear bleak, Invictus Institute’s partners offer hope by tackling the issue head on. Evco Africa, for instance, “has educated over 20,000 children in technology by providing donated computers and new labs” over the last 12 years, according to Ann Zablaskai, one of our volunteers. And plenty of other organizations not yet partnered with Invictus Institute are fulfilling the same mission. ET Learns, which works solely in Ethiopia, follows the same model of providing “modern educational technology to students and teachers,” enabling them to tap into the wealth of online knowledge.

In short, there is a light at the end of the tunnel (albeit a long tunnel). And as Africa establishes the proper framework for dependable, widespread internet accessibility, Invictus Institute will be there to deliver its services to their future leaders.

Initiating Invictus Institute

At the request of Invictus Institute’s board members, I have decided to chronicle the organization’s creation – what sparked the original idea, the steps to becoming a full-fledged nonprofit, and what lies on the horizon.

As detailed in a previous blog post about board member Hamis Mugendawala, the story begins in Uganda where Kasey Beck, founder of Invictus Institute, embarked on a humanitarian trip in 2007. It was there that he met Hamis, who at the time worked in the nation’s Parliament and arranged meetings with various government officials. After a series of conversations on how to rid Uganda of poverty, Hamis, an “education guru,” in Kasey’s words, decided on that exact specialty of his: education. Personalized education, to be precise.

Image result for uganda map  Map of Uganda

This settlement stemmed from an array of observations about the Ugandan education system in its current form. “Many kids in Uganda,” Kasey explains, “are part of classrooms with 100+ students. That, combined with high teacher turnover, automatic grade advancement, and other issues make it very difficult for the kids to receive one on one help.”

After mulling over different ideas for a few years, the duo decided on what is now Invictus Institute (originally named Tech Tutors). As Kasey describes, “Online tutoring made the most sense when balancing the need, the large scale effect it could have, and the costs involved.” It was during this genesis that they defined their core competency as strictly teaching, choosing to partner with outside organizations such as Agami and Beyond Intent to acquire facilities, electronic equipment, etc. In addition to lowering costs, relying on other like-minded institutions helps streamline the process of establishing a new program, for example, the one at Adventist Preparatory & JSS School in Ghana, where tutoring sessions began taking place earlier this year.

At first the tutoring sessions were a rewarding, albeit limited side project for Kasey. But before too long, the program’s benefits demanded expansion. “In 2014,” Kasey recounts, “Hamis made me aware of how much of an impact the tutoring was having on these kids…That convinced me that we needed to grow and become more sustainable, hence become an official 501(c)(3) organization.”

Image result for irs logo  IRS logo

Beginning in April of that year, Kasey began the IRS’ Form 1023, the extensive application required for nonprofits to be tax exempt. The document is an intimidating one, demanding information on compensation arrangements, fundraising methods, and business connections, among many other things. After filling in as many questions as he possibly could on his own, Kasey then “asked for help with the difficult questions from others who have gone through the process.” Seven months later, Invictus Institute officially gained its 501(c)(3) status, and the rest is history.

While the challenge of forging stable internet connections remains omnipresent, Kasey and the rest of Invictus Institute’s board contemplate the future with hope. As they continue to capitalize on and further refine their unique skills such as volunteer recruitment and research, they are currently seeking out new members to help with an unexplored area: fundraising. “[It] hasn’t been a focus of ours yet but that is changing and we need help in that area,” Kasey confides.

Though the journey is ongoing, it has already proven fruitful not only for the pupils on separate hemispheres, but for everyone involved. For anyone establishing their own nonprofit, Kasey offers the following advice: “Put yourself ‘out there’. Talk with people who have done it and who share your passion. They’ll have great guidance. You’ll form great friendships.”