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.

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.

Emboldening with English

One of the most heavily emphasized features of Invictus Institute’s mentoring program is teaching English. In addition to reviewing what they already cover in school, our volunteer mentors use free online resources to teach the language, the intent being to give them a valuable new skill to move forward in life. Here I summarize how much learning English can help our students (though this is certainly not an all-inclusive list of benefits).

As explained by Academia International, “English is one of the most widely spoken languages.” As of 2015, “there were 54 sovereign states and 27 non-sovereign entities where English was an official language [i.e., used between government officials and citizens].” The list includes the U.S., Hong Kong, and Kenya to name just a few. Understanding this common denominator language opens the doors for a myriad of connections and communications with the worldwide community, whether the focus be on academic instruction or opportunities for employment.

The latter is worth exploring more deeply. After all, the vision behind Invictus Institute’s work is to assist in the elimination of poverty worldwide. Finding quality, well-paying jobs is therefore critical. A study reported by The Guardian estimated that “the language can increase the earning power of individuals by around 25%,” and that is just on average. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, that figure booms into 500% for Indian citizens!

Apart from the individuals Invictus Institute tutors, gains in prosperity await foreign economies as a whole through the implementation of English. A Harvard Business Review article from 2013 discovered a positive correlation between English skills (measured by their EF English Proficiency Index) and per capita income. As English comprehension rises, so does per capita income of the entire nation. For many of the U.N.’s least developed countries, (a list including two of Invictus Institute’s primary hubs, Uganda and Bangladesh) a grasp of English could be the foothold on which to pull their societies out of poverty. Better English and Income Go Hand in Hand Chart

A visualization of HBR’s link between English and per capita income

As the saying goes, English is the language of business. Yet in spite of the impressive rewards awaiting English speakers, relatively few are ever able to embrace them. That same study reported by The Guardian found that “urban elites,” make up the disproportionately small number of beneficiaries of English understanding, thanks to “access to a better standard of teaching – mostly delivered through private education – and higher-paid jobs.”

Invictus Institute, however, is determined to change that. One by one, we are determined to bring these valuable skills to children of all socioeconomic statuses across the globe. We will give them the tools they need to pull themselves towards a flourishing future. And in so doing, they will bring their loved ones and their nations as a whole along with them.

Weaving the Worldwide Web

Invictus Institute’s outlook is bright. In addition to the ongoing work in Uganda and India, we recently began tutoring students from a new Bangladeshi school, and held our first-ever tutoring session in Ghana on Thursday, February 23rd (stay tuned for future blog posts detailing those occasions).

As with any social venture, however, obstacles persist even in the face of progress. When asked about major obstructions to the work of Invictus Institute, founder Kasey Beck immediately pointed to a fundamental facet of our mission: “internet bandwidth in developing countries.”

He is far from the only one to recognize this issue. A 2015 United Nations report entitled “The State of Broadband” 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.

A repeated emphasis of “The State of Broadband” is how helpful Internet access could be in these developing states. The implications of connectivity are limited only by one’s imagination. Farmers could plant their crops based on online weather forecasts. Health officials could spread warnings of the next Ebola/Zika-level epidemic faster, as well as precautions to take for avoiding it. And Invictus Institute’s volunteer mentors could interact with their students more frequently and reliably, propelling those communities’ education levels.

While each nation formulates their own strategy for granting their constituents’ Internet access, two broader solutions are emerging literally on the horizon from two private corporations: Facebook’s Project Aquila, and Google’s Project Loon.

Facebook Project Aquilla Drone

 The Aquila drone

On June 28, 2016, Facebook launched their first Aquila drone, an enormous (yet lightweight) solar-powered aircraft that can stay aloft for up to 90 days. Equipped with laser communication systems, Aquila is designed to beam down to receivers on the ground (as well as other aircraft), which then convert the lasers into Internet connections. By floating above regulated airspace away from traditional planes, a vast fleet of Aquila drones could one day dot the skies, bringing stable Internet connections to developing nations who lack the financial assets to install fiber optics cables, launch satellites, or erect cellular towers.


Visualization of a future Aquila fleet

Though it temporarily invested in a similar Internet-providing drone project called Titan, Google’s focus now rests on a different aircraft: balloons. Project Loon (named for how ludicrous the idea initially sounded) bears a strong resemblance to Project Aquila, with a fleet of aircraft destined to rise to similar altitudes as the Aquila drones. Once in the stratosphere, Google believes it will then be able to direct the balloons by adjusting their latitude and longitude; such atmospheric heights have relatively predictable wind patterns and low levels of turbulence. Once positioned properly, the balloons relay an Internet signal to each other and, eventually, a ground-level station. This will allow remote, sparsely populated residences with the proper antennas to use the Internet.

High-altitude Loon balloon

It should be noted that both projects are in their early years and still experiencing growing pains. Project Loon balloons have crashed about a dozen times throughout the world, from Uruguay to South Africa. And while the test flight was originally deemed a success, Facebook disclosed (months later) that its Aquila drone was “substantially damaged” upon landing, rendering the prototype flightless.

Still, the implications for both ventures are exciting. As they are children of two of the most powerful tech companies on the globe, Aquila and Loon could conceivably never worry about funding. This stands in stark contrast to the developing nations too poor to even fund vaccinations or roads, let alone Internet-enabling infrastructure. If one or both aerial networks pans out, Invictus Institute could be one of many beneficiaries to a more worldwide worldwide web.