Every two years, the Jacobs Foundation awards the Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prizes to trailblazers seeking evidence-based solutions to education’s biggest challenges. In this series, Annie Brookman-Byrne meets with the finalists of the 2022 awards. In part 6, Annie talks to Moitshepi Matsheng from Youth Impact in Botswana.
Annie Brookman-Byrne: What are the biggest challenges facing young people in Botswana?
Moitshepi Matsheng: Although school enrollment rates throughout the country are high, students often fall behind grade level, as accessing quality instruction is a challenge. We found that only 10% of 10-year-old students in grade 5 can do division, and only 40% can read a simple story. This means that the majority of students in class aren’t learning as well as they should be. As a result, test scores are declining in the later school years, preventing some students from going on to university because they have not acquired foundational skills.
ABB: What is your vision for the future of young people in Botswana?
MM: More than anything, I want to see all young people thriving. I would like to see all students able to do math, read, and acquire crucial life-changing knowledge so that they can access the world. In Botswana, this means giving youth the skills they need to grow and as future leaders to realize their potential and dreams.
“I would like to see all students able to do math, read, and acquire crucial life-changing knowledge so that they can access the world.”
MM: Youth Impact is a grassroots, youth-led, evidence-based movement headquartered in Botswana. Our mission is to identify, adapt, and scale up health and education programs. Initiatives in our three program areas are delivered by young people, for young people. We work closely with the government to scale up our programs nationally.
Our health program “Zones” consists of a 90-minute intervention for teens to inform them of the high risks associated with relationships with older partners and other risky behaviors. Often, girls enter into these relationships unaware of the associated lethal risks, and this program provides strategies to help them make healthy relationship choices.
Teaching at the Right Level, also known as TaRL, is an accelerated learning approach that teaches primary school children foundational skills – numeracy and literacy. TaRL has enjoyed a high level of support from government partners in Botswana, as demonstrated by a Memorandum of Understanding between Youth Impact and the Ministry of Basic Education to reach all primary schools in the country by 2026.
We developed our newest program, ConnectEd, in response to school closures during the pandemic. We believe that the pedagogy and the platform are equally important. The pedagogy is designed to connect students with instruction focused on foundational skills. The mobile phone platform through which it is delivered allows children to connect wherever they are.
ConnectEd has improved learning even since schools reopened. The program has reached over 20,000 households in six countries and has provided children with the equivalent of one year of high-quality schooling per $100.
ABB: What other solutions are needed?
MM: We are committed to working with government partners to find and scale up what works. We aim to seek and support initiatives that can utilize existing resources to deliver proven, high-impact programming.
For example, our work with ConnectEd has demonstrated that cheap, scalable interventions can deliver meaningful, high-quality learning. This presents an excellent opportunity to steer large government budget items dedicated to educational information and communication technology towards solutions that are proven, cost-effective and scalable. Alignment with government policy is especially relevant in the post-pandemic climate, as education ministries throughout the world seek to boost programs that promote more resilient education systems.
ABB: What have you learned from the other Best Practice Prize finalists?
MM: We are both thrilled and honored to be included in the same category as the other finalists for this year’s Best Practice Prize. As we reflect on their work, we recognize a universal commitment to evidence and working sustainably with governments to provide programming for children wherever they are.
As there is no “silver bullet” solution to delivering quality education, we see greater opportunities in engaging with implementers, policymakers, and governments that are emphasizing evidence-backed programming and sharing lessons on what works, for the good of children the world over.
“We see greater opportunities in engaging with implementers, policymakers, and governments that are emphasizing evidence-backed programming and sharing lessons on what works.”
Moitshepi Matsheng is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Youth Impact. She is a lawyer-turned-social entrepreneur and a youth development advocate. She is also the chairperson of the Botswana National Youth Council and the first Motswana – citizen of Botswana – to receive the Queen’s Young Leaders Award, which was presented to her by Queen Elizabeth II. Moitshepi was named an Obama Leader for Africa in 2019 and recognized as one of 50 Batswana Change Makers Under 40 during Botswana’s 50th independence celebration. She is a member of the Youth Council of Botswana’s former President Festus Mogae.