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December 2014

“Smart mobility” for developing cities

Ke Fang's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @KeFang2002
 

In many developing cities, transport infrastructure – whether it be roads, metro systems or BRT - is not growing fast enough, and cannot keep up with the ever-increasing demand for urban mobility. Indeed, constructing urban transport infrastructure is both expensive and challenging. First, many cities do not yet have the capacity to mobilize the large amount of funds needed to finance infrastructure projects. Second, planning and implementing urban transport infrastructure projects is tough, especially in dense urban areas where land acquisition and resettlement issues can be extremely complex. As a result, delays in project implementation are the norm in many places.

Therefore, solving urgent urban transport problems in these cities requires us to think outside the box. Fortunately, the rapid development of ICT-enabled approaches provides a great opportunity to optimize and enhance the efficiency of existing and new urban transport systems, at a cost much lower than building new infrastructure from the ground up.

Translating and implementing the Khan Academy in Brazil

Michael Trucano's picture
Khan has come to Brazil -- here's what's on offer
Khan has come to Brazil -- here's what's on offer
Last month saw the release of the latest annual Survey of ICT use in Brazilian Schools. Now in its fourth year, this initiative from Brazil's Center of Studies on Information and Communication Technologies (or CETIC, to use its acronym in Portuguese) is emerging as a model for how many other countries are considering conducting -- and funding -- regular data collection activities related to the increasing availability and use of various educational technologies within their education systems. The survey results, as well as a number of accompanying essays, are presented in one volume [pdf] in both Portuguese and English.

(Hint: If you're just looking for the data, start from the back of the report. And: Here's an earlier EduTech blog post about the first such survey effort in Brazil.)

In addition to offering a current ‘snapshot' of what's happening in schools, now that four years of data have been collected related to a number of common themes, the survey finds that some trends are becoming apparent. One trend which will come as no surprise to those who know Brazil is that there are some significant variations in many data by region. (Whereas municipal Rio de Janiero is in many regards a leader in educational technology use in South America, for example, the practical reality of ICT use in schools in northern and northeastern Brazil is much different.)

Some high level findings from this most recent survey:
  • Schools in urban areas have an average of 19 computers, serving an average of just over 650 students. Most of these are in administrative offices and dedicated computer labs. While classroom and mobile access are growing quickly, with 30% of teachers reporting that classrooms are now the main venue for computer use in their school, labs remain the main point of access to computing facilities overall. (For what it's worth, almost half of Brazilian households report having a computer.)
  • 95% percent of schools with computers are connected to the Internet (no word if any computer-less schools are connected!), although the speed of these connections leaves more than a little to be desired: Only 39% of schools meet the minimum target of 2 Mbps for schools in Brazil.
  • Almost half of public school teachers with their own laptops brought them to school, and most professional development related to technology use for teachers is a result of their own efforts (and thus not the result of government training programs).
For the first time, teachers were surveyed on the reasons behind their use of digital teaching and learning resources, and it appears that most of this use is self-motivated (i.e. a result of personal choice by teachers, and not something mandated, or necessarily even encouraged, by official education authorities). As the report states, "The ICT Education survey presents a scenario of relative autonomy for teachers in terms of educational content, given that the proportion of teachers that combine isolated contents such as images and texts is higher, surpassing access to video lectures and readymade presentations. The data indicate the importance of teacher initiative in the use of digital content in their teaching practices, as well as a concern for the demands of and benefits to students and colleagues. The reduced mention of institutionalized incentive – whether from the school administration or government authorities – indicates an important field for the development of public policies in the area."
 
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As public policies in this area continue to evolve across Brazil, the actions of a number of private foundations in supporting innovative uses of educational technologies are helping to suggest possible ways forward. A notable group in this regard is the Sao Paulo-based Fundação Lemann. Denis Mizne, who heads the Lemann Foundation (to use its English language name, which is how I'll refer to it here), stopped by the World Bank back in September and shared emerging lessons from initiatives supported by his foundation and partners to translate and implement the Khan Academy for use in Brazilian schools.

Support for the Khan Academy is one of a number of projects from the Lemann Foundation that are exploring innovative answers to the question, "How can we make sure we are making the best use of the short time available for instruction within schools in Brazil?"

I have transcribed my notes from the Mizne talk below, together with some short explanatory background as might be relevant, in case they might be of interest to a wider audience than just those who attended the related presentation in person at the World Bank.

#7 from 2014: Being a Guide Can Be More Rewarding than Running a Marathon on One's Own

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on November 17, 2014


I'm often asked what I think about as I run. Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I'm running? I don't have a clue.”    ― Haruki Murakami
 
This reflection was inspired by the contemporary Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, in his 2009 memoir on his obsession with running and writing while training for the New York City Marathon entitled “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”
 
I only read two books in my life in one sitting: Quo Vadis by the Polish Novelist and Nobel Prize Laureate, Henryk Sienkiewicz, and now Marakami’s funny and sobering, playful and philosophical personal contemplation. One of the reasons why I enjoyed the story is the fact that Tokyo, New York City and Boston are cities to which I have special sentiment. Tokyo due to its magnificence as the Mega City, The Big Apple is a place where both of my kids were born, and Boston due to my daughter’s Alma Mater, which instilled in her the joy of running along the Charles River banks in Cambridge.
 
I am a former track cyclist, where speed is the winning factor; as such endurance competition translates to me as boredom and long, self-imposed unnecessary torture. My relationship with sport is love-hate mixed with a lack of interest on a good day, but when I am in, I am into it big time. In my wildest dreams, I would not have dared to envision myself as a marathon runner, but what is so appealing in it: to do something which seems impossible. I was always fascinated with the notion of turning the impossible into the possible, and I was blessed to get a semi-regular taste of these sweet moments in my life.

Managing EU Funds – What We Can Learn from Slovenia

Maya V. Gusarova's picture
Effective management of European Union (EU) funds is not only high on the agenda of the new EU member states but also of the Western Balkan countries that are progressing in the EU integration process. As such, these countries face several important challenges and questions today.

On becoming an EU member, how much will the budget calendar and its preparation need to change? How best to plan and execute projects which are pre-financed? How to record unspent EU funds in the next fiscal year? To what extent should the Ministry of Finance be involved in the process before the signing of financial agreements with the EU? These and other questions arise in relation to the impact on a country’s fiscal position, co-financing obligations, pre-financings and bridging resources, and payment of errors.

Big Data comes to transport planning: how your mobile phone helps plan that rail line

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Understanding peoples’ travel activity patterns, and ideally understanding the motivations and choices underlying them, are at the heart of what transport planners do. 
 
An understanding of trip origins and destinations – and how trip-makers select routes, modes and destinations – are required to plan extensions or changes to a road or public transport network; to assess the viability of a new investment; and to assess how well the existing transport system is serving the population and businesses in a specific area.

​Indeed, in our roles as transport specialists in the World Bank, much of our job is about supporting clients’ ability to develop this understanding and to use the results to evaluate and appraise investments.
 
At the core of this process is an Origin-Destination (OD) survey: essentially a matrix of trips between different zones of a region (referred to as an OD matrix).  Traditionally, getting this information in the context of an urban area has been a difficult, expensive and time-consuming process. We are often talking about millions of dollars for trip activity surveys of thousands of households, complemented by extensive analysis of socio-economic data. We also count data at strategic points on major roadways and transit routes to calibrate the results. 
 
This process can take up to a year, and many stages need very specific technical skills and a lot of quality control.  Survey design, sample design, training the surveyors, ensuring they are accurate (not making up data, not entering data erroneously), and subsequent stages of analysis all require significant technical capacity to implement, as well as an almost equal level of technical skill to supervise the work. 
 
All of us who do this have horror stories from processes on which we have worked. The result is that the basic information needed to test alternatives and make decisions about transport investments is collected too rarely – at best no more than once every decade – and even the results of existing surveys have suspect deficiencies.

Managing EU Funds – What We Can Learn from Slovenia

Maya V. Gusarova's picture
Effective management of European Union (EU) funds is not only high on the agenda of the new EU member states but also of the Western Balkan countries that are progressing in the EU integration process. As such, these countries face several important challenges and questions today.

On becoming an EU member, how much will the budget calendar and its preparation need to change? How best to plan and execute projects which are pre-financed? How to record unspent EU funds in the next fiscal year? To what extent should the Ministry of Finance be involved in the process before the signing of financial agreements with the EU? These and other questions arise in relation to the impact on a country’s fiscal position, co-financing obligations, pre-financings and bridging resources, and payment of errors.

#8 from 2014: The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State

Sina Odugbemi's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2014.
This post was originally posted on July 10, 2014

 

Can liberal constitutional democracy run the state in a manner that is both responsive and accountable to citizens without succumbing to incurable elephantiasis precisely because it is democratic? Does democratic governance inevitably lead to government as an ‘all-you-can eat- buffet’ (allegedly per Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore), and, therefore, bloat, fiscal crises and collapse? These crucial questions are taken on in an important new book by two of the leading minds around the Economist Magazine: John Micklethwait is the Editor of the Magazine, and Adrian Wooldridge is the management editor, who also writes the Schumpeter column. The book is: The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State.

The authors argue that there have been three and half revolutions in governance in the West, and each one is linked to an emblematic political thinker/economist. The first revolution was the rise of the nation-state, and the paradigmatic thinker is Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan. The second revolution was the rise of the ‘liberal state’, and the focus thinker here is John Stuart Mill. (Objection from a Bentham scholar: the authors do not do justice to the role of Jeremy Bentham).  The third revolution was the rise of the welfare state, and the authors discuss the ideas and efforts of Beatrice Webb.  According to the authors, these first three revolutions in governance were completely successful. The fourth revolution, the effort to roll back the bloated welfare state – the focus here is the economic thought of Milton Friedman – was only partially successful. The authors argue, I believe, that this revolution needs to be completed.

Building on Central America’s Strengths

Oscar Calvo-González's picture



Soon will be January 1, 2015. Most of us will make New Year’s resolutions and most of us will fail to keep them. Keeping New Year’s resolutions is hard. But it turns out that we are much more likely to make good on our resolutions if we decide to build upon our strengths rather than focus on fixing what’s wrong. This insight is all the more important if we combine it with the intriguing view that it is the depth of our strengths, not the absence of weaknesses, which makes us successful. People are successful not because they are perfect but because they have deep strengths. What if this was also the case for countries?

With this in mind I turn my attention to some of the strengths of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, three countries that have recently put together their Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle.” The Plan is in part a response to the well-known security challenges facing those countries and the challenges posed by the surge in unaccompanied migrant children but it is also an opportunity to focus on the strengths of the Northern Triangle of Central America and how to develop them even further. And when one goes beyond the headlines one discovers a variety of success stories.

Broken Windows: Mending the Cracks

Leonard McCarthy's picture

When the World Bank investigates and sanctions a major corporation for corruption related to one of its project, the deterrent impact is readily apparent. However, not every case the World Bank investigates is a major corruption case. In the past year, the World Bank Integrity Vice Presidency (INT) received many complaints related to fraud, and it is important to demonstrate responsiveness to complainants who report credible allegations as well as fix the weaknesses identified. Sanctioning cases of fraud also sends a strong message about abiding by high integrity standards in World Bank-financed projects. 

Left unchecked, fraud erodes development effectiveness. It often coincides with poor project implementation, which can result in collapsing infrastructure or the distribution of counterfeit drugs. It causes costly delays and can lead to direct financial losses for countries which cannot afford it. Fraud also fosters a negative enabling environment, creating opportunities for more serious and systemic misconduct to occur.

The labor distortion and productivity puzzle

Hugo Hopenhayn's picture

Total factor productivity (TFP) is considered a measure of the current level of technology. Hugo Hopenhayn (Professor of Economics, UCLA) explains how recent studies show the relationship between country-level TFP disparities and the big income gaps between them. According to Hopenhayn,  low TFP can be explained by borrowing constraints and high costs of doing business.

Photo: Flickr@ wwworks (Woodley Wonder Works)


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