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Room to Read develops life skills curriculum for the 21st century

Abigail Spangler, Room to Read | February 16, 2024

Research and insights Skill building Content and curriculum Bangladesh Cambodia India Laos Nepal Sri Lanka Tanzania Vietnam

By Abie Spangler
Global Associate Director of Room to Read's Girls’ Education Program

In a report published in September, 2023, UNESCO reported that an estimated 122 million girls are currently out of school around the globe, and women continue to account for almost two-thirds of all adults unable to read[1]. Early marriage, pregnancy, gender-based violence, poverty and school location are just a few of the barriers that often block girls from the classroom, dramatically limiting their life options. 

Room to Read believes that world change starts with educated children. When children are able to gain foundational skills in school, they lead healthier lives, earn more income and build more equitable, resilient communities. Our Girls’ Education Program helps adolescent girls and gender-minority students cultivate these essential skills — skills they need to lead fulfilling lives of their own choosing. By supporting girls to complete their education and build key life skills, and by partnering with governments to scale and sustain this model, Room to Read is supporting a new generation of educated young women to become leaders in their families, communities and the world.


1 "250 million children out-of-school: What you need to know about UNESCO’s latest education data," UNESCO.ORG

Room to Read's Girls' Education Program in Cambodia.


Room to Read's Girls' Education Program

Our Girls' Education Program encompasses four components that work together to mitigate many of the challenges that adolescent children — particularly girls — face as they enter secondary school. 
Essential to our program are social mobilizers, local women hired as mentors and advisors to work one-on-one with girls and their families to ensure that girls stay in school, participate in life skills activities and navigate the challenges of adolescence with the ability to make their own life choices. Social mobilizers provide guidance through individual and group mentoring sessions, creating a space in which participants can ask questions and navigate complex, often sensitive topics. 
In addition to mentorship, Room to Read's Girl's Education Program works with families and communities to create environments that support our participants’ success in school and beyond. Social norms, expectations and challenges can significantly affect adolescents’ — particularly girls’ — ability to continue their education. Room to Read engages with families and communities by hosting workshops, events, and other activities to raise awareness about the importance of education and the resources that exist to support children’s learning, especially during crises. 
For some families, the cost of a school uniform or safe transportation is prohibitive to sending their children to school. That's why Room to Read provides need-based material support for school costs such as tuition fees, school supplies, uniforms and exam preparation services so parents don’t have to make the choice between putting food on the table and investing in education. 
While each of these components is needed to create a supportive educational ecosystem, our life skills content is the foundation of our program. Our seven-year, gender- transformative life skills curriculum supports our participants through secondary school, helping them develop skills like resilience, leadership and collaboration, and offering important discussions on topics like reproductive health and higher education. Through classes, workshops and extracurricular activities, adolescents learn how to apply these key skills in their daily lives and become better equipped to advocate for themselves and handle challenges — from gender discrimination to building self-confidence to finding time to study. 


Room to Read's Girls' Education Program in Tanzania.


Evolving our life skills curriculum

As a learning organization, Room to Read is constantly testing our assumptions and improving our programs. We recognize that our life skills curriculum — like everything we do — must be able to adapt to new contexts. At the end of 2021, our Girls’ Education Program team began a deep review of our life skills curriculum to ensure it reflects relevant content and essential skills needed in the 21st century. In starting this process, our aim was to incorporate best practices and learnings from our program implementation, strengthen our gender equality and intersectionality lens, and update our life skills content to address the issues most important to adolescent girls and minority-gender students in each of the countries where we work.  

As a first step, Room to Read's Girls' Education Program team collected feedback from local leadership, seeking guidance on programmatic best practices and evolving educational priorities, and insights learned through implementing our program in varying contexts. From there, we examined our life skills curriculum, ensuring the content allows students to actively challenge gender biases, norms and stereotypes, and provides space for discussion on the root causes of inequality and systems of oppression. As we set out to revise the curriculum, we made sure to incorporate an intersectional lens, developing content that encourages students to recognize that the causes of discrimination do not exist independently but intersect and overlap with gender inequality.   

Room to Read's Girls' Education Program in Nepal.

Room to Read’s revised life skills curriculum includes content essential for adolescents as they navigate the challenges of the 21st century. Life skills sessions now offer content that speaks to the specific needs of young people regarding finances, for example, including how to set a budget, plan for emergencies and develop healthy spending habits, analyzing the difference between wants and needs. The curriculum has new climate justice content as well, providing lessons on the science of climate change along with its social ramifications around gender equity, helping participants understand the gendered consequences of climate change and gain the skills to take action in their lives and communities.
A session called "Building Inclusive Communities," asks students to explore concepts of privilege and marginalization and provides space to discuss what it means to create inclusive spaces. In a new "Respectful Communication: Disagreement and Self-Advocacy" session, students learn how to communicate effectively in the midst of a disagreement, and how to advocate for themselves even when no one else will. And a new "Strategies for Self-Care" session provides students with opportunities to reflect on what it means to care for their physical and mental wellbeing, and to create a self-care plan.  
Room to Read is dedicated to adapting our content as the world continues to evolve. We understand the importance of being proactive and revising our materials, programs and approach to address the changing needs of students, partners and the communities we work in. We are excited to unroll the revised curriculum and continue to support adolescents  to stay in school, challenge gender norms and harmful power dynamics and make informed decisions about their futures.  


Room to Read's Girls' Education Program in Sri Lanka.


Supporting girls worldwide

All children deserve the opportunity for a quality education that will help them lead informed, fulfilled lives. Give now to support Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program and help ensure that girls build the skills they need to succeed in school and make key life decisions. 

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Room to Read's Girls' Education Program in Bangladesh.