When Jubulani went to school each day, he tried to do his lessons sitting on the floor because no children in his school had a desk to sit at. He and his classmates weren’t alone. It has been estimated that 95 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa go to schools without desks. The impact on their education is devastating.
A retired professor of education developed an idea for a portable desk that was lightweight and could be given to students when they came to school and taken home for their lessons. Shane Immelman took the professor’s idea and developed prototypes to show to donors. Initially, the desks were called lap desks.
The desks were popular with the donor community and had proven to improve learning outcomes. Archbishop Desmond Tutu agreed to become a Patron and his support accelerated the support for providing each child with a desk. The desks were retitled Tutudesks.
The desks have had a demonstrated impact on learning outcomes as hoped for. But what was unexpected was the impact on retention and the return to school of students who had dropped out. The desks became students’ personal property and a real symbol of what a love of learning would look like.
Since the Tutudesk program began, more than 1.5 million desks have been provided to children. The goal is to provide up to 20 million desks to those in need.
UNICEF in collaboration with Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC host, has started the KIND campaign (Kids In Need of Desks). The Tutudesk campaign is now thought of as a campaign for the reduction of poverty through education.
We often think of major societal challenges as ones requiring expansive solutions to a global need. An idea as simple as providing a portable desk to children can have an impact greater than much larger programs. Hope is often fulfilled in small packages.
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“Think a desk isn’t critical education? Try sitting on the ground and doing a lesson.” – Anonymous