Building Educational Equity Across the Border with guest Kate Curran
October 12, 2021
Building Educational Equity Across the Border with guest Kate Curran

There’s a lot of talk about inequity in the U.S. these days and from the educational perspective, the inequity is real. Our colorful, mismatched kids who don’t fit into the traditional educational setting typically have to look elsewhere for support.

But educational inequity on a global scale is equally troubling. There are schools and communities without technology, books, or even electricity, which makes teaching and learning an even bigger challenge.

Today’s guest decided to do something about that. After a series of life-altering events, she took a hiatus from her job as an attorney and traveled to South America to heal. What she discovered was a deep desire to help underserved communities and children. And School the World was born.

Listen in to hear how Kate is ensuring that equity is a conversation we’re having both in the U.S. and across the globe.


About Kate Curran:

Kate Curran left her career as an attorney in 2007 to travel the world. Her personal call to action followed the sudden death of her brother, father and mother in under two years. Her mother’s last words, “I’ve had a great life,” and her father’s lifelong commitment to public service inspired her to begin a journey to define “a great life” that took her across four continents.

For Kate, her year-long journey was a course in gratitude: gratitude for the majesty of the world evident in Patagonia’s Glaciers National Park, gratitude for the sacrifices of others so evident in Normandy, and gratitude for the sacrifices her parents made for her own education. But it was the 12 children sharing one pencil in a Tanzanian classroom, the young children working under the hot Andes sun, and the children crossing through crocodile-infested waters to get to school in a Zambian village who moved her to action. Inspired by that gratitude and the lengths to which the world’s children will go for an education, Kate founded School the World to fight extreme poverty at its roots by bringing quality education to the world’s poorest and marginalized children.

It was a vision founded in gratitude that led Kate to School the World. It is through dedicated supporters and partners that this vision became reality.

In 11 years, School the World has built 106 schools and 56 playgrounds, stocked 547 classroom libraries, empowered 7,119 parents to be their child’s “first educators,” extensively trained 3,980 teachers and educated 12,070 children.

Additionally, its newest program for middle schoolers has given scholarships to 506 young adolescents so that they can continue their education past elementary school and learn the digital and life skills necessary to build brighter futures for not only themselves, but their families.


Jump in the Conversation:

  • [1:50] Where creating equity in education started for Kate
  • [5:20] What kids in underdeveloped countries actually need
  • [7:00] 2021 Project Equity 
  • [12:54] Understanding the culture of Latin America to meet people where they are
  • [16:33] How we can be involved in North America–students, businesses
  • [21:13] The benefits of bonding over something meaningful
  • [26:20] Outcomes of students doing service work
  • [28:25] Turbo Time
  • [35:15] Kate’s Magic Wand


Links & Resources:

Thanks for listening! Don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Android. If you like what you heard, please leave a review on iTunes and share what you liked about the show.



Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:03  

Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education, evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of active, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely Committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  0:49  

If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:07  

Hi Kate, it is so good to have you here. 


Kate Curran  1:11  

Maureen, I’m very happy to be here.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:13  

And listeners, today I’m chatting with former lawyer Kate Curran. In 2009, she founded School the World to fight extreme poverty at its core by bringing quality education to children in Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama. Let’s hear Kate’s story. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  1:34  

So Kate, I feel like we’re becoming very aware of the lack of equity in our United States educational system. You see the incredible lack of equity in some of the poorest countries in the world? Where did this story of creating educational equity begin for you?


Kate Curran  1:53  

Wash, gosh, where to begin? For me, I was a lawyer at GE and executive and when I suddenly lost my brother and both of my parents in about 20 months time, and I was really exhausted and needing a break. And so I left my job. And I thought I had this irrational thought that if I believe in the country, bad things will stop happening. So I went on a trip to Argentina thinking I could afford to be away for a month. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  2:22  



Kate Curran  2:22  

And the month turned into a year of traveling on and off around the world. And, you know, in the beginning, I didn’t. I saw really sad things right away, you know, little children begging in the street. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  2:35  



Kate Curran  2:36  

like cardboard things just, you know, working hard when they should be in school. But I wasn’t ready to really think about it yet. But that, you know, journey, in particular continued. When I was doing volunteer work in Tanzania specifically, first, at least, you know, I would visit classrooms where two kids will be sharing art. I’m sorry, 12 kids will be sharing two pencils. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  2:59  



Kate Curran  3:00  

And I thought This is crazy. This is crazy. And I went home from that trip. And in my mail with a pen with my name on it as like a marketing gimmick. And I thought this is the kind of thing we throw away. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  3:16  



Kate Curran  3:18  

And this is insane. Like, this is just crazy. But this is what the world is like. And, these are problems that can be solved. At least that side of the equation, the resource side of the equation can be solved. So that’s where it started.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  3:35  

Oh my gosh. Fascinating. It makes me think I was an international educator and was in a conference in Nepal. And we got to do a trek. And they said do not because people are like, Oh, no what I got you candy. We’ll give them pencils. I was like, No, if that eight year old earns three pencils a day, they’ll pull him from school and let him be a breadwinner. Do not. We contribute to a local school that we helped build. Give us money. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  4:01  

And one of the people that have been on a track before brought bubbles and would blow bubbles for the kids and stuff like that. But yeah, three pencils. And this kid gets pulled out of school. 2 pencils in Tanzania between 12 kids. Reality Check.


Kate Curran  4:14  

Right, right, right. Right, exactly.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  4:17  

So what did that experience lead you to create? 


Kate Curran  4:22  

So that experience by the end of that year, I kept traveling. And by the end of that year, I knew I had to start thinking about what I was going to do with my future. And I woke up literally like a couple days before I was going back home and thought I can do this. I can do it. And this was not really well defined at that point. I just at that point. I knew it’s just going to be for children, the poorest children in developing countries and but I quickly came around to education and started in Central America where I actually had relationships with my time at GE, and created school the world. 


Kate Curran  5:05  

which today is a nonprofit serving Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama, that has built more than 100 schools in the poorest parts of these countries. And we basically work at a very grassroots level organizing communities, parents, community leaders, teachers, around the power of education starting at early childhood, caring to at least lower secondary school. And we have a number of components, in our strategies at each level that are designed to make it possible for kids to really truly be able to learn things like a new school building things like books, things like trained teachers, or to have engaged parents transportation to get to a lower secondary school, things like that.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  5:58  

Yes, absolutely. I really appreciate that this isn’t a top down handout. But it’s a bottom up, grassroots, how do we get the players involved? And how do we look at their needs. I know, when I worked in Ecuador, we did service work out at a village consume a Baja, and they had to walk three miles each way. And up and down su Bay, Baja means up and down to get to the high school, because they are a little primary where they were but the high schools are harder, they’re less of them. And the time it takes to walk three hours, they’re three hours back and then be doing things in their village. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  6:39  

So things like transportation that we really don’t think about with our yellow school buses, or kids hopping on public transportation, to unpack the problems, and to be working with parents on education, qualified teachers. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  6:54  

Wow, can you tell us a little bit about I know one of your projects is 2021 project equity. Can you get just unpack that a bit for us? 


Kate Curran  7:06  

Okay, well, the pandemic struck there not long after it struck in the United States and schools closed. Not much later, maybe week at best. And there to go government turn to online learning online education. First, only 40% of the country, only about 40% of the country actually has access to online learning. And the kids were we serve? Forget it. They don’t have I mean, the government went from there, to television, to radio to printed guides over the course of four or five months. The kids that we serve for, you know, Wi Fi, forget it, internet laptops, forget it. TV, No, definitely not radio, they might have a radio only, it wasn’t even being broadcast in the department where our kids work. 


Kate Curran  7:07  

So, you know, after several months, some of them would get a printed guide from the government. And to think about, these are the poorest kids who have access to the least they don’t even have books in the home. They don’t have stimulating materials around them. They received the least. And in a country like Guatemala in particular, that is really a huge percentage of the population, a huge percentage of the population. So about that in equity. 


Kate Curran  8:40  

And that is, these are some of the most inequitable countries in the world. These countries have Latin America is the most unequal region in the world. Yes, think about what this what the pandemic, comet has exacerbated. inequity is really horrible. So we created project equity, which was basically an intervention to try to ameliorate the impact of the pandemic. 


Kate Curran  9:10  

So we have done, you know, a broad range of things from printing our own Learning Guides and delivering them through emergency workers through from our own radio programs. We did a summer school when things were better for a short period when schools weren’t out of session. We did our own summer school, training the teachers and working with the kids for a couple of weeks. 


Kate Curran  9:35  

That was in January, we developed a phone tutoring program recruited university students to tutor groups of students over simple phones. You can put as many as five people on a simple phone in this areas. We have trained teachers extensively on how to assess learning loss how to determine where kids are And teach them at the levels that they are at, at the time and with, with techniques for catching kids up quickly in the curriculum. And we’re constantly pivoting and innovating. We had a classroom library program. We’ve now finally convinced, you know, school directors and teachers that it’s okay to let the books out of those classrooms. And in to get them into the homes. 


Kate Curran  10:28  

And to do it, you know, every two weeks to let them come and exchange, you get new books, so the kids have books at home. Those are the types of initiatives that are just constantly ongoing. At the very beginning, we were doing like WhatsApp groups with parents, so that every day we exam . This is how you can help your children, we do recordings, because a lot of them can’t read. Most of them actually. And these are simple things that you can do with your trial today. You know, ask them to draw a map of your neighborhood, use the kernels on the corn to count for you just very simple things. 


Kate Curran  11:05  

And also, we get WhatsApp groups with our lower secondary school students or scholarship students. Girls in particular, are at high risk during periods of crises. And so he started like support groups, you know, these are, if you are at risk, these are resources that are available to you that you can turn to educating them about their rights, things like that. Wow, he’s been really trying to keep the kids engaged, learning and, and, quote, in school.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  11:36  

Absolutely. Wow, Kate, there’s so many things, they’re just stepping back a bit as somebody that’s also lived in Latin America. It’s a two class system. And they say you’re either a maid or you have a maid, you notice. So there are so many people that are that working class illiterate, nobody read them bedtime stories, they can’t read them to their kids, education, super traditional wrote, Rose like 40 to 50 kids in a private Catholic school, 40 to 50 kids in a row in a classroom. And so it’s all about here’s what I am teaching you today, no sense of, we need to assess kids and figure out where they are. And then we need to start there. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  12:24  

Because it’s truly an assembly line. as frustrated as I get in the US about state testing and assembly line, textbook curriculum. Latin America is completely that way. So you are breaking so many paradigms. And whatsapp, I only started using that when I was in Central America. Here, I just text my buddies in the US. But whatsapp is such a fixture for free calls and texting and videos, right? 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  12:51  

So for you to really understand the culture, the lack of education, and that what’s app is widely used, and then to create, you know, parent tutorials that were recording, so they didn’t have to read and everybody has corn at their house and can count curls, for you to really meet families where they are, and meet teachers where they are. Instead of and and this is what I’m asking us to do for all of our students. You know, instead of here’s our program, and we have this textbook, and we will coach you through our program, instead, you’re doing it so intuitively in the way education needs to happen. Where are you? What are your gaps? What are your strengths? What are your resources? How can I help? 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  13:36  

What you’re doing is what I’m trying to say in a really long winded way is you are doing an amazing job of meeting people where they are with real time resources instead of good intentions or packaged programs. You mean well with I’m really impressed it all 


Kate Curran  13:54  

Thank you. But I have a really great team we have a almost entirely local team. So and I mean truly local we actually work in the rural areas, which are the situation with their big bunch of poor actually then urban areas they don’t have jobs as maids. These are people these are subsistence are people who maybe might get day labor a couple days a week for $5 a day. extremely poor. So the people that work for us are people who are from our communities or communities very much like ours, the vast majority of them, shall they are the best possible examples going into communities of what education can do. 


Kate Curran  14:36  

And so during particularly during the pandemic, and the pandemic hit, I had to say to them like this has to be on you guys. Like I have to focus on the money right now. And you know, they would come up with things like, well, how are you going to work with the parents? Well, the whatsapp group says right away for them. 


Kate Curran  14:56  

But then they came up with ideas like a we’ll turn our we’ll do our parent tree. Through a radio novella, so radio characters like about, you know, the daughter should have just as much of a right to be studying or reading a book as the sun, you know, she shouldn’t have to do all the, she shouldn’t have to do all the homework, you know, the to be going back and forth that was very creative.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  15:23  

What a brilliant idea is soap operas are so popular everywhere, especially in America to use that right method. Well, you have a brilliant team. 


Kate Curran  15:33  

We do. But that’s typically the kind of thing like, we work together. Well, you know, I might have said radio, and that’s what they came up with. So you really need that kind of fun, local insight. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  15:48  

Absolutely. Yeah, I’m gonna step it out a bit. In the last five years, I’ve taken my students to Guatemala and Nicaragua, to serve and to have homestays and experiences, I had to really especially the Nicaraguan fight to make it culturally relevant and to make it educational, it was it was pretty structured, but it had lots of good insurance and things that are important. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  16:14  

Um, so I’m really intrigued by how you help educate business people, my students. I definitely see us getting to sign up in the future with you instead of other organizations are going it alone. What is there for us here in North America or other places? How can we be involved?


Kate Curran  16:40  

Well, with us, definitely, there’s a way to be involved. If you are a high school student, you can participate in our high school students service learning program, if you’re a business, you can participate in our corporate trip service trips where corporations send employees kind of as rewards or they might do it as some kind of competition or variety of, or a business development. They’ve done it, used it as business development and sent people with clients that they work with. 


Kate Curran  17:13  

But the most important thing is, really to note, if you’re going to do a program, like the service program, be careful, be very careful what you choose, you know, think, learn about it, and learn about the differences. So with us, I had done a program in Tanzania during that year off. And that’s where I visited that classroom. And I really left feeling like I had gotten so much out of it, all of us, the volunteers have gotten so much out of it, but we hadn’t actually contributed very much. on it, I really felt like it was wrong. And there were volunteers coming in and out, in and out, in and out. 


Kate Curran  17:49  

So it’s the, you know, the white person, the Muslim girl coming in and out. And so I also saw the benefit, and I really wanted to particularly bring the benefit to young people in the United States. So I thought long and hard about how to design this once we had the infrastructure in place. And so in our case, for example, every group of 25 kids, or every corporate group, Fund, the construction, the school building, three classrooms, school, building two classrooms, very simple, but the best building in the community, and a playground. 


Kate Curran  18:21  

And then they spend the whole week in the community working from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon doing hard labor, working alongside the parents and, and the community leaders and the teachers and the kids to finish that built. And I truly believe that this is something that you because this is something that community truly wants and truly values. It’s a different kind of experience. And so real high impact exchange for everybody. And most of the kids, for example, some of the corporate participants to raise the money for the school and to build the school on the playground. 


Kate Curran  19:01  

So they feel like they’ve actually done something themselves to it’s a very equal footing. The community donates all the labor and, and so you they start from a place of empowerment, because the community has built most of the school by the time we arrive. I mean, my team, they’re working the whole time. But in terms of the participants in this program, and they arrived, the community has already contributed significantly. So I personally believe it’s a very well designed program. I learned eventually, from my own staff, that it was having a very high impact on girls in particular. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  19:41  



Kate Curran  19:42  

That for them to see these American girls who were really flipping roles. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  19:48  



Kate Curran  19:48  

And making cement, actually doing heavy labor. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  19:54  



Kate Curran  19:55  

was a total role reversal. They were, you know, seeing very confident Girls, girls, women and girls and in these cultures, as you know, are really at the bottom. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  20:05  



Kate Curran  20:06  

So to See these girls with a lot of confidence and very vocal was, from what I understand from our own staff, showing them that there was another way. Our team loves these trips, loves them. They love participating in them. for local team loves, when they get to participate, be one of the kind of guides for the week was


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  20:31  

Yeah, yeah, my my first trip we were super involved, but we were kind of going in alone with a local teacher would Ben and Guatemala tons of times. Next time we did more of a school trip, and we had the right insurance and the right protection and everything. But I had to fight to get my students any contact with local kids. And because our spring break is tied into the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere, kids weren’t around as much. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  20:59  

So our kids, really I had to add in a lot of extras and demand stuff, or we’ve been our kids going down and laboring, they didn’t even get to stay in homestays. So they were isolated. So what you’re saying, to me sounds like the best of Habitat for Humanity, where families help build their own homes, they have an investment I am buying, I want to make sure it works. And the best of international coming together. And I love that because my students with fledgling Spanish are using sign language. And 


Kate Curran  21:30  



Maureen O’Shaughnessy  21:31  

and little kids are creaming them at soccer, you know, and they’re, so there’s so much that you don’t need the language, but then you pull out the language, you have to create communication, right? It’s such a win win, 


Kate Curran  21:44  

don’t need to speak Spanish, the kids don’t, most of them don’t. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  21:47  



Kate Curran  21:47  



Maureen O’Shaughnessy  21:48  

So and then talk about team building, it’s like one thing for a corporation to take their team to high ropes for a day, it’s nice. And you might try something and bond a little bit, but to bond over something meaningful. I know there are businesses locally that get a day off, and they all go out in the community and serve. What if more corporations could say we’re going to spend a week or we’re going to take our client, and we’re going to give together and get to know our client better. 


Kate Curran  22:15  



Maureen O’Shaughnessy  22:16  

See, the good, right, that happens for everybody, you have a win win built in, in this wonderful model. 


Kate Curran  22:25  

The company that started this with me really has a very young workforce, millennial workforce. And the leader of that company really wanted to do something that would be meaningful to them. Like he knew this is my audience. And they This is something that they will truly love. And the other kind of feedback that I’ve gotten from some of the sponsors is I’ve literally had one tell me this is the best return on investment I’ve ever gotten from something that they have done for employee morale, employee loyalty, they love it. They really just really, really loved the whole experience.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  23:03  

Yes, yeah. And these are the things that have so many transferable lessons. And, and I think that we in the US doing things like this, we, as always get so much more than we give, right? Because I’ve been there in Nicaragua with girls digging deep holes, and like you said, mixing the cement. And yeah, they never got that experience in Seattle. And so of course, they were willing to dive in and with their buddies, they were like, gonna keep up with the guys. Of course, they were gonna insist. 


Kate Curran  23:38  



Maureen O’Shaughnessy  23:38  

They came back talking about Did you know, I can do this, this this? And yeah, I just think it’s transformative for anybody to be in a different culture and creating and serving and teeming with people from other countries. Wow, this,


Kate Curran  23:57  

Yeah. We also get, sometimes you have parents as chaperones on the student trips, yeah, let’s them. Some kids are new. But sometimes the child lets them and especially when it’s a parent who hasn’t done this kind of travel. It’s amazing to watch. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  24:16  



Kate Curran  24:17  

watch them. We one year we had six parents from the same town. And they just it was such an experience for them. They went home. They had a like a gala for a local charity the following weekend. And we were it was all they could talk about and everyone else from the towns like no, I want people to stop talking about school while they’re sick of hearing about this strep, or whatever. But they were so blown away by the whole thing. And I love it when we do get parents because they come back and become our best advocates. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  24:48  



Kate Curran  24:48  

some of our biggest supporters. I just have to convince more kids to let their parents come. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  24:53  

Yeah, yeah, that’s 


Kate Curran  24:55  

they think. They think, oh, that’s not a vacation. Like I wouldn’t do that. You know? 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  24:59  



Kate Curran  24:59  

I’m good. And the ones are calmer, like, wow, they come home. And the kids too. I always say like, they see stuff that is sad. There’s no question. They seem really difficult, sad stuff, but they come home high, like really?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  25:14  

Well, in our school system really doesn’t have a lot of relevant learning going on, like I turn in a paper to the teacher get a grade. How did that change the world? So for many youth, this is the first time it’s like, I make a difference. I contribute what an important right message to empower our youth and oh, my gosh, I am spoiled. I knew I kind of had a lot. I knew I was privileged, but the people next to me have more. So I didn’t. And now it’s like, Whoa, I have to step back and re examine.


Kate Curran  25:48  

Right. There are many things like it builds confidence for kids that are low confidence levels to go places like this. It builds. I’ve watched kids from like very intense suburbs and high schools. You know, who think the world’s gonna end if they don’t get into a top college? 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  26:06  

Mm hmm. 


Kate Curran  26:07  

Realize, like, I’m really fine. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  26:09  

Yeah. Yeah, 


Kate Curran  26:11  

The biggest thing, of course, is the poverty and education, like realizing how fortunate how we take it for granted. Those are the previous impacts, but there are many, many more. Yeah, sure, we do debrief and make sure they understand like, they leave understanding that the difference between just showing up somewhere, yeah, actually contributing something of real value, they learn the difference between just like building a school and staying, like, the fact that we stay, we don’t just build the school and move on we stay. 


Kate Curran  26:48  

This is just one element of a larger program. Yes, they have to reflect a lot on poverty and the causes of poverty. And what does it mean that everybody seems so happy, and yet they live? Under just crushing circumstances? What does that really mean? Does it mean their content? No, you know, it really doesn’t. But basically, it’s a lot. There’s a lot of reflection, difficult issues.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  27:16  

I love that I think we really do need to make sure we give everybody time to unpack, power, right learning. And I just want to throw out for the listeners. As I of course, I get so much out of hearing from my guests. I’m thinking, wow, I’d love to be able to tap into this, but it might only be four or five kids. But your model, like the close up DC model allows for kids from different groups, so I don’t have to come up with a group of 25. To do school, the world’s to get my kids involved, right?


Kate Curran  27:47  

That’s right. I mean, you can if you want to, we do have one school that basically has enough kids every year that they go as a school, or we have a couple maybe. But mostly, it’s great, you know, five, here, five, year five, they’re coming together. And that’s rich. Love it. They love me from other schools. Yeah. Yeah. The beginning one of the first schools with teachers they were they wanted to keep the kids separate. And the kids really wanted to, you know, they’d find ways because they really wanting to connect with other kids. Yes,


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  28:20  

yes. Well, Kate, before we end, I really want to get to know you a bit is your work is amazing. But it’s also fun to know the person behind the school the world. So I’m going to ask you a few turbo time questions. 


Kate Curran  28:36  



Maureen O’Shaughnessy  28:38  

So the first one is, what is the last book you read?


Kate Curran  28:41  

The last book I read was the four winds by Kristen Hanna. It was fiction. And it was the historical context was the dust bowl and the Great Depression. And I loved it, read it very quickly. I typically I don’t read a lot of fiction. I read mostly nonfiction, a lot of articles. And but in the summer, I always make sure I read at least one piece of fiction, and I love historical fiction. So that was,


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  29:11  

That is great. How about the biggest thing you wish folks knew about equity from a global perspective? 


Kate Curran  29:20  

Well, obviously equity is a very important topic right now in the United States. And, you know, it’s a really a good thing that it’s been brought to the forefront so much during the pandemic. But the truth is that latin america is the most inequitable region in the world. The greatest inequities that exist there, and when you think about what, for example, happened to indigenous people there, you know, more than 500 years ago, you know, people who have been really persecuted for more than 500 years. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  29:58  



Kate Curran  30:00  

They live under really. The poverty in many parts of the world is just crushing. And the thing I hear all the time from people I bring, who’ve never been to places like this before, is, which is most people to be honest. Because we don’t, we’re not just working in, we’re not working in urban areas, we’re working with the poorest of the poor. So it’s most people is that you really, you know, they see you can’t understand it till you see it. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  30:28  



Kate Curran  30:30  

So yeah, know that, however bad you think things are here in terms of poverty? You really can’t even comprehend what it’s like for people in other parts of the world.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  30:42  

Yep. How about a pet peeve of yours? 


Kate Curran  30:47  

A pet peeve of mine really makes me crazy, particularly with women when they won’t order dessert. Like they will order dessert and they’ll be like, Can I bite? Can I bite? The fork will be right there. And I’ll be like, no, order your own. makes me crazy.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  31:05  

I personally ascribed to eat dessert first. Life is short. Love that one. How about your favorite thing about working internationally?


Kate Curran  31:17  

I guess it’s just a you’re always learning, particularly when we do something. We’re in a new community, a new region, a new country, you’re always learning. You’re always getting to meet really amazing people. And you’re realizing you see all the time, that no matter how different people are, we’re all alike in fundamental ways.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  31:42  

Yeah, that human connection and growth feels good. So right.


Kate Curran  31:47  

Yeah. And then the funny things like I remember, gosh, when I was in Tanzania, learning things like, there’s a compliment to be called fat. I just laughed, because it meant you’re doing really well, if you were fat. I remember telling my niece that she was like, I think she was like six or seven. She was like Why?


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  32:12  

It’s so funny. I took my mom, we lived in the Philippines, and that she came and visited. And they called her grandma. And you have to ask her how old she was. And that, that was like, so it was like engaging and grandma was a term of endearment and respect and, huh, who knew? 


Kate Curran  32:29  

Yeah, Somebody called me grandma. And I was only like, 45, I think 46. And I was like, What? And they were like, Oh, that’s a sign of respect. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  32:41  

Yes. Oh, yeah. Funny 


Kate Curran  32:44  

That’s what we say to people who are older, you know, meaning you’re not 20 or 18 or 15. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  32:49  



Kate Curran  32:50  

And it’s respect. But if you see things like that all the time, I always, you know, get your brain going.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  32:57  

How can others be activists in building equity in education? 


Kate Curran  33:03  

Well, I think the first thing is to be aware. But I think so few people are aware of it. So few people, even what they are aware of it, think about it. So think about even like right here in the us the difference between kids in here. It’s the world urban and rural, depending on what state you’re in. Think about what it’s been like for them during the pandemic. Compared to the most elite schools and the most privileged families, even those in the middle middle class compared to kids coming from low income areas, be aware of it. 


Kate Curran  33:40  

And given some consideration support organizations that do the work if you can, but one very simple thing that you can do is share your awareness with others. The pandemic has brought the inequity in education to the forefront. And so I think it’s the subject is coming up. So to the extent that you’re aware of it, share that awareness with others salutely read things you’ve thought about 30 things you could do. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  34:10  

And everybody these days seems like they’re on social media so it’s very easy to share and influence beyond who we might see on a daily basis.


Kate Curran  34:18  

Right? Yes.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  34:19  

Last question for turbo time. What is something about you that most people don’t know?


Kate Curran  34:26  

Well, my friends know, people in my colleagues know but my real name like on this interview you introduce me as Kate curran. My real name is Mary Kate. I have always gone by kate. My sisters are all Mary in one way, shape, or form. And the youngest of us used to just use our second names, which are actually. My name is Mary Kate, she was Mary Ellen and we were Kate and Ellen to the other sisters. where one was Moira which means Mary and an in Gaelic and the others Mary Pat, she’s always been MAry Pat.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  35:02  

I love that.


Kate Curran  35:03  

I know it’s funny, I interviewed someone the other day who was exactly the same way. Somebody from Guatemala, her sisters, were all Mary as well. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  35:11  

Love it.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  35:13  

So, Kate, I like to end my interviews with a magic wand moment just dreaming of possibilities. Because when we say things out loud, that kind of starts becoming a reality. So if you had a magic wand, and could change the educational landscape, in these poor countries and all countries, what would you wish for?


Kate Curran  35:41  

If that’s easy, it would be teacher motivation, and teacher belief in their own students. In countries like this in rural areas. Teacher motivation is probably a bigger problem, even in my view, than teacher capacity. You have teachers who take advantage, the situation of parents who aren’t really informed of their rights or empowered, and most simply, in many cases, not show up two days a week, they might even have another job. On those days, they’ll come late every day. 


Kate Curran  36:22  

At one point, we were training 100 teachers, and there was not one who was coming on time. These are public school teachers. And there’s a huge amount of energy and time that goes into turning that situation around school by school, right now, to tell you the truth. And if we could change that, think about the transformative difference that that would make. If teachers, you know, arrived at school of all teachers, there are many that are motivated and care deeply, of course. 


Kate Curran  36:53  

But if all teachers arrived at school motivated and believing in their students every day, I think it could be transformative.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  37:02  

I love that. And I’ve seen in narrow areas, if there is a qualified teacher, it is short term, and they are scrambling to get a better job in a location that has running water in the school. And it’s so hard to retain, let alone that whole motivation piece we don’t even think of in the same way in the US because teachers are there on time. Maybe they’re not ever-. Exactly.


Kate Curran  37:31  

Yeah. Yeah. Imagine not showing up.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  37:34  

Absolutely. Right. Kate, what you are doing is so important, and that you saw a need in the world and changed your whole life, created school the world, and are doing all of this work with best practices, engaging people in the country and collaborating closely with them. There’s just so much you’re doing that is beyond impressive. Thank you for your hard work and for being our guest today. 


Kate Curran  38:04  

Thank you. I love speaking to people who understand the work it’s, it’s particularly enjoyable to do that. So thank you for having me.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  38:13  

My pleasure.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  38:23  

It was so fun talking to Kate, for somebody to set their whole profession aside. To answer the call of a greater need is heroic. And I was completely impressed by her diligence and that she’s been at this for over a decade. At lead prep, we’ve worked with our students to help them discover their Iki guy in the Japanese culture that is the reason for jumping out of bed in the morning, and leads to longevity and happy productive lives. Part of the Iki guy formula is identifying personal strengths. Another is aligning with passions. And the third ingredient is looking at what’s out there in the world, breaks our hearts and calls us to be of service. Kate has definitely found her Iki guy in the world of nonprofits. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  39:24  

There are many generous ideas meant to help a population with a need. When I lived overseas, I saw many of these NGOs, non government organizations in action. Unfortunately, many of these efforts are top down and not scalable or sustainable. So it’s really impressive that Kate has taken on educational equity in our poorest countries. from such a holistic perspective. Not only is a bottom up with lots of grassroots involvement, and the vast majority of the school the world employee Being local hires. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  40:02  

But it also looks at facilities and teacher training, educational systems, government funding the corruption in some of those systems to see how students can get consistent quality education. And we know teacher retention can be tricky in any school. But in remote schools with few resources, it is a crisis. Her magic wand wishes the teachers would be motivated and believe in their students is powerful. Locally, we just expect our teachers to be on time to show up every day to complete their contract. And we hope that they believe in each of their students. So raising the bar to this level in all schools around the globe, is an important goal. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  40:55  

I also appreciate the myriad of ways that Kate takes on the education problem. It is super creative and effective. The strategies that she has developed, it also takes knowing her audience really well. We talk about the digital divide here in the United States. And it is even more profound in places where there isn’t Wi Fi, or computers, where technology is not readily available. And sometimes there isn’t electricity, running water, or even any school within five miles. So for them to use whatsapp, the very popular international free app for phone calls, chatting and videos to provide their learning is a brilliant strategy. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  41:45  

My guess is that most families have a phone and have this app because phones are something globally that are a high priority for communication. And their idea to use radio, and soap opera style instruction is another masterpiece. I remember learning Spanish through telenovelas and these soap operas are a big part of any culture. We love stories and dramas. Packing learning into stories that make the learner excited to come back is a brilliant idea.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  42:24  

Kate goes on to remind us that our awareness of educational inequity needs to take on an international lens, and that we can increase this awareness by sharing what we learn on our social media networks. And with those around us. There are so many ways we can get involved and make a difference. Whether it’s fundraising to help build a school, or sending a group of students or business people to work at a school, we can be a part of the solution. And those that travel and serve internationally. Their lives are transformed. I’ve experienced it. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  43:00  

And I’ve seen it in my students over my career as we’ve taken international trips. Not only does it do us good, and is a wonderful return on investment. But raising the literacy rate around the world benefits all of us. Everybody deserves a chance to learn and have a brighter future. Human potential is not something to squander or overlook. I’m definitely going to look into her program for the next time my students get to serve on an international trip. In the past, I’ve really had to nudge to get as much cultural interaction as I would like. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  43:37  

So to join her program, and have a profound learning opportunity for my students, and really deep cultural interaction would be a win-win. And I encourage you to think about how you might become involved in making sure educational equity is a goal both in our country and on our planet. All of our precious youth deserve a quality education, and many possibilities to thrive and contribute in their futures. Thank you for being a part of the education evolution.


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  44:23  

I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community. I spent years traveling working with schools around the world on creating learner centered programs and it always struck me on how much schools were able to get them with the right tools and guidance. If you’re ready to make changes like this in your school, or to start a new school, let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit for a free 15 minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit for more work together


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  45:08  

Education Evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued and thriving. We need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. Leaving a rating and review for this podcast lets others know that you find it a value and it gets in the earbuds of more educational leaders like you. 


Maureen O’Shaughnessy  45:35  

Thank you listeners, signing off. This is Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.


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