Scholarship Funds to Educate Girls in Africa

Husband-wife team of agricultural researchers establishes new fund


Secondary school can have huge development implications especially for young girls.

Secondary school can have huge development implications especially for young girls.

NEW YORK — Renowned agronomists Pedro Sanchez and Cheryl Palm have set up a new scholarship fund for young girls throughout poor, rural parts of Africa who are hoping to attend secondary school. The husband and wife team have designated $370,000 to create the Sanchez-Palm Girls Scholarship Fund, which will directly support Connect to Learn, a project aimed at getting young girls into secondary schools (high schools), and improving those schools with computers and internet connectivity.

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In 2002, Sanchez was the recipient of the World Food Prize, the foremost international award recognizing the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world; it is largely considered to be the Nobel Prize of agronomy. Sanchez was recognized for his pioneering work to restore fertility to some of the world’s poorest and most degraded soils. A $250,000 cash award accompanied the prize, which they invested and is now being used for the new scholarship fund.

"I believe that linking the Sanchez-Palm Girls Scholarship Fund with the Connect to Learn initiative is the best platform we have today for reaching girls in remote areas with secondary education using 21st century technology," said Sanchez. "Cheryl and I are proud to play a part in advancing girls education, because we know an educated girl can have a profound impact on the development of a community."

Universal secondary education, especially for girls, has major implications for the development of a community and society. In the poorest parts of the world where girls are still not in secondary school, they are married at a young age and have six to eight children on average. Those who stay in school end up marrying much later—perhaps in their early to mid-20s—enter the workforce, and have two to three children. Education is an essential element for social change and sustainable development that is more likely to reduce poverty.

Despite the indisputable value of education and the progress made thus far, many children still do not complete primary education, and even fewer continue on to secondary school. Currently 84 percent of children worldwide attend primary school; however the participation rate drops to 60 percent for secondary school. Female attendance rates are especially low, with only 17 percent of girls enrolled in secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Connect to Learn seeks to provide scholarships to deserving individuals that would not be able to attend secondary school and to link those schools, teachers and students in remote areas of Africa to a global community of teachers, information and teaching resources through internet connectivity," said Cheryl Palm. Through a partnership with Ericsson, secondary schools throughout the Millennium Villages in Africa are increasingly becoming more connected, providing an unimagined opportunity for these communities .

Pedro Sanchez is the director of the Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program, and a senior research scholar and director of the Millennium Villages Project at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.  He also directs AfSIS, the African Soils Information Service that is developing the digital soils map of the world. Sanchez is professor emeritus of Soil Science and forestry at North Carolina State University and served as director general of ICRAF - the World Agroforestry Center from 1991-2001. He is the 2002 World Food Prize laureate and a 2004 MacArthur Fellow.

Cheryl Palm is a senior research scientist in the Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program of the Earth Institute, where she is also the science director of the Millennium Villages Project. A tropical ecologist focusing on land use change, Palm received her Ph.D. in soil science from North Carolina State University after completing her bachelor's and master's degrees in zoology at the University of California, Davis.