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Education & Technology in an Age of Pandemics (revisited)

Michael Trucano's picture
consider this picture
MOOCs -- massively open online courses of the sort that can simultaneously enroll thousands, even tens of thousands, of learners simultaneously -- have been a hot topic of discussion for a few years now in both the worlds of education and 'international development' (and, for what it's worth, the subject of numerous related posts here on the World Bank's EduTech blog). Recent news that edX, one of the prominent MOOC platforms, is to start offering courses aimed at high school students suggests that the potential usefulness and impact of things like MOOCs may soon extend beyond the realm of higher education, out of which MOOCs originally emerged and where most related activity has occurred to date.
 
There is much (potentially) to be excited about here. Few would argue against having greater access to more learning opportunities, especially when those opportunities are offered for 'free', where there is latent unmet demand, and where the opportunities themselves are well constructed and offer real value for learners. As with MOOCs at the level of higher education, however, we perhaps shouldn't be too surprised if these new opportunities at the high school level are first seized upon *not* by some of the groups with the greatest learning needs -- for example, students in overcrowded, poorly resourced secondary schools in developing countries, or even students who would like a secondary education, but for a variety of reasons aren't able to receive one -- but rather by those best placed to take advantage of them. This has been largely been the case for initial adopters of MOOCs. (One of the first studies of this aspect of the 'MOOC Phenomenon', which looked at MOOCs from the University of Pennsylvania, found that students tended to be "young, well educated, and employed, with a majority from developed countries.")
 
As a practical matter, some of the first types of beneficiaries may, for example (and I am just speculating here), be homeschooling families in North America (while not necessarily comparatively 'rich' by local standards, such families need to be affluent enough to be able to afford to have one parent stay at home with the kids, and generally have pretty good Internet connectivity); international schools around the world (which can offer a broader range of courses to students interested in an 'American' education); and the families of 'foreign' students looking to apply to college in the United States (the edX course “COL101x: The Road to Selective College Admissions” looks, at least to my eyes, tailor made for certain segments of the population of learners in places like China, Korea, Hong Kong, etc.). In other words, at least in the near term, a Matthew Effect in Educational Technology may be apparent, where those who are best placed to benefit from the introduction of a new technology tool or innovation are the ones who indeed benefit from it the most.
 
Longer term, though, it is possible to view this news about movement of a major MOOC platform into the area of secondary education as one further indication that we are getting further along from the 'front end of the e-learning wave' (of which MOOCs are but one part) to something that will eventually have a greater mass impact beyond what is happening now in the 'rich' countries of North America and the OECD.
 
Learning with new technologies has of course been around for many decades but, broadly speaking, has not (yet) had the 'transformational' impact that has long been promised. "Gradually, then suddenly" is how one of Ernest Hemingway's characters famously describes how he went bankrupt. Might this be how the large scale adoption of educational technologies will eventually happen as well in much of the world?
 
I
black swan
black swan
f so, one credible potential tipping point may be a 'black swan' event that could push all of this stuff into the mainstream, especially in places where it to date has been largely peripheral: some sort of major health-related scare. (For those unfamiliar with the term, which was popularized by Nicholas Taleb, a 'black swan' is a rare event that people don't anticipate but which has profound consequences). One of the first ever posts on the EduTech blog, Education & Technology in an Age of Pandemics, looked at some of what had been learned about how teachers and learners use new technologies to adapt when schools were closed in response to outbreaks involving the H1N1 influenza virus: the 'swine flu' that afflicted many in Mexico about six years ago; and an earlier outbreak of 'bird flu' in China. I have recently been fielding many calls as a result of the current outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa asking essentially, 'Can we do anything with technology to help our students while our schools are closed?', and so I thought it might be useful to revisit, and update, that earlier post, in case doing so might be a useful contribution to a number of related discussions are occurring.
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Open data on the ground: Kenya’s Data Science

Samuel Lee's picture
How are individuals and organizations taking advantage of the data that governments are publishing? This is part of a series looking at how data are being used for social good.  Last time we covered Nigeria’s Follow the Money Initiative, this time we’re heading to East Africa.

In Kenya, Data Science, LTD (www.datascience.co.ke) is a data analysis and research company providing services to government, local organizations, and businesses. The company seeks to promote greater understanding and use of available data to gain insights for better planning, resource allocation, and entrepreneurship.  This blog post is based on a recent Google Hangout discussion with Data Science, LTD founder Linet Kwamboka.

So what is it like being a data analysis company in Kenya, and what can others learn from Linet’s experience?

Open data roots 
Linet worked on the World Bank supported opendata.go.ke as a project manager in the lead up to the initiative's launch in 2011.  The company works with clients seeking to utilize data to make better decisions.  They include private companies involved in marketing, jobs, retail, and consumer products. With government and civil society clients, the focus is to improve decision-making that lead to better public services and advocacy efforts.

Overcoming gaps in data
Linet has learned that the tasks of sourcing, analyzing, and transforming data into more readily consumed and actionable forms can take a significant amount of effort and time.  In many situations, the data simply do not exist or are out of date.  
 

Open data on the ground: Nigeria’s Follow the Money initiative

Sandra Moscoso's picture

Follow the Money (http://followthemoneyng.org/) is a community action organization that leverages open budget and aid spending data from the Nigerian government and its aid partners.  The organization also advocates for specific issues that impact communities, most recently, in the Zamfara State. 
 
Follow the Money activists collect, publish, and visualize data, then connect findings to national and global social media networks in order to bring government attention to crises on the ground that require resources or immediate action. Once visualized, the data become a resource for citizens in affected communities to track government expenditures against actual outcomes.  
 
The team has tackled issues like lead poisoning, flood relief, and most recently, education. They also host partners with other organizations, like Indigo Trust U.K. to offer regular data literacy events for other non-profits, journalists, government officials, legal professionals, and open data activists.
 

The need to improve transport impact evaluations to better target the Bottom 40%

Julie Babinard's picture
In line with the World Bank’s overarching new goals to decrease extreme poverty to 3 % of the world's population by 2030 and to raise the income of the bottom 40% in every country, what can the transport sector do to provide development opportunities such as access to employment and services to the poorest?

Estimating the direct and indirect benefits of transport projects remains difficult. Only a handful of rigorous impact evaluations have been done as the methodologies are technically and financially demanding. There are also differences between the impact of rural and urban projects that need to be carefully anticipated and evaluated.

Can we simplify the methodologies?

Despite the Bank’s rich experience with transport development projects, it remains quite difficult to fully capture the direct and indirect effects of improved transport connectivity and mobility on poverty outcomes. There are many statistical problems that come with impact evaluation. Chief among them, surveys must be carefully designed to avoid some of the pitfalls that usually hinder the evaluation of transport projects (sample bias, timeline, direct vs. indirect effects, issues with control group selection, etc.).

Impact evaluation typically requires comparing groups that have similar characteristics but one is located in the area of a project (treatment group), therefore it is likely to be affected by the project implementation, while the other group is not (control group). Ideally, both groups must be randomly selected and sufficiently large to minimize sample bias. In the majority of road transport projects, the reality is that it is difficult to identify control groups to properly evaluate the direct and indirect impact of road transport improvements. Also, road projects take a long time to be implemented and it is difficult to monitor the effects for the duration of a project on both control and treatment groups. Statistical and econometric tools can be used to compensate for methodological shortcomings but they still require the use of significant resources and knowhow to be done in a systematic and successful manner.

Campaign Art: Ebola In Town

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Ebola virus is experiencing a break out summer. The latest outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is the worst ever, resulting in the death of almost 900 lives and infecting more than 1603 people across West Africa. The virus is also experiencing unexpected popularity on the dance floor.  

A new song, "Ebola in Town," recorded by a trio of West African rappers, warns of the dangers of Ebola over a catchy electronic beat. Residents of Monrovia and Conakry, the capitals of Liberia and Guinea, and have created a dance to go along with the song.  The lyrics warn "don't touch your friend" and "no eating something, it's dangerous," and the dance, fittingly, does not include any touching.

This advice is technically incorrect (you cannot contract Ebola virus from simply touching another person but rather through contact with bodily fluids) and may increase the social stigma that people recovering from Ebola face, an issue health workers are attempting to adress.  While the song is off-message, it may nonetheless be helpful in raising awareness. Many people in West Africa are not sure of the actual danger level, which may be exacerbated by illiteracy-  43.3% of adults in Sierra Leon, 42.9% in Liberia and only 25.3% in Guinea's are literate.  In these countries, music, theater, and radio are popular media to spread public information.

Pursuing job creation, citizen engagement and government efficiency through ICTs in Nigeria

Luda Bujoreanu's picture
Nigeria's Ministry of Communication Technology is
advancing a wide range of ICT initiatives,
​including a National Broadband
Development Plan. 
Nations cannot be competitive, innovate and generate tomorrow’s jobs without technology and digitally literate citizens. Similarly, organizations like the World Bank cannot achieve their objectives without fully utilizing the power and potential of technology. Here at the World Bank, we’re striving to reduce the extreme poverty rate to no more than three percent and boost income growth of the world's poorest 40 percent by 2030. These goals cannot be achieved without fully embracing the transformative powers of technology and innovation.  

Nigeria is home to Africa’s largest population (approximately 174.5 million) and the continent’s biggest economy (more than $500 billion in annual GDP). It is also the center for a wide range of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) activities, from policy to practice – many of which are supported by the World Bank.

Since the establishment of the Ministry of Communication Technology in 2011, the Nigerian government has made notable progress in advancing its ICT agenda. The government has catalyzed significant efforts in the area of policy and regulation, with an ICT Policy developed in 2012, a National Broadband Development Plan developed in 2013 and an e-Government Strategy now in the works.

Lives on the line: reducing under-five child mortality rates in Africa

Dereje Ketema Wolde's picture
As countries all across Africa recognize International Day of the African Child today, I thought it would be a timely opportunity to blog about the progress of under-five child mortality rates over the past two decades.  But first, some data for us to understand the big picture:
  • On a global level, the rate of under-five child mortality has been cut in half, from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 48 per 1,000 in 2012.  The estimated annual number of under-five deaths has fallen from 12.6 million to 6.6 million over the same period.
  • Since 1990, 216 million children worldwide have died before their fifth birthday — more than the current total population of Brazil, the world's fifth most populous country.
  • Disparities between children in the high-income and low-income countries have narrowed, but many gaps still remain.  Case in point: In Luxembourg, the under-five mortality rate is just 2 deaths per 1,000 live births; in Sierra Leone, it is 182 deaths per 1,000 births.

As we stand a year away from the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 – which aims to reduce the global under-five child mortality rate by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015 – the pace of reduction would have needed to quadruple in 2013-2015 to achieve this goal, according to the United Nations Children's Fund's (UNICEF's) Committed to Child Survival: A Promised Renewed – Progress Report 2013.

A closer look at regional rates
Now let's take a look at the regional and country level data by viewing the World Development Indicators (WDI) 2014 and the indicator under-five mortality rate. The WDI also features a short progress report on MDG 4, which complements the detailed analysis of the World Bank Group's Global Monitoring Report.  This report uses the same methodology to assess whether countries are on track or off track to meet the 2015 targets.

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where one in ten children die before the age of five, faces the biggest challenges in achieving MDG 4, followed by South Asia.  The SSA region reduced its child mortality rate by 45% during 1990 to 2012, the only region to reduce its under-five mortality rate by less than half during this time.  SSA also lags behind other regions in its pace of decline in the total number of under-five deaths.

Figure 1

A Happier Story about Education in Nigeria

Elizabeth King's picture


A few weeks ago news broke about another horrendous attack in schools in Nigeria. More than 200 teenage girls were abducted from a school in the remote north-east of the country. In November last year more than 40 schools were burned and destroyed in an attack that also killed around 30 teachers. Those attacks belie strong national support for education and its strong link to the country’s economic growth and poverty reduction. This support was expressed compellingly by students, employers and national leaders at the Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja in March. The message was that transforming education will determine Nigeria’s place in Africa and in the world.

What can data tell us about Nigerian girls' educational opportunities?

Leila Rafei's picture
You might have heard the horrific news that almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were recently kidnapped by members of the militant group Boko Haram, who abducted them from their school while decked in military uniforms.

Their offense? Going to school.

This grim story highlights the pressing issue of education in the developing world.

So I thought I’d look at the stats. First: primary completion rate, which is the number of students in the last year of primary compared to the number of children of the correct age for that year – and one of the measures that is used to assess progress to “MDG2” – to achieve universal primary education. As of 2010, the estimate for Nigeria was 76%, higher than the Sub-Saharan Africa average of 69%, but well below the world average of 91%. And Nigerian girls were almost 10 percentage points behind Nigerian boys’ primary completion rate in that year. Interestingly, in 2006, the primary completion rate was as high as 90%, putting Nigeria slightly above the world average. The rate has since declined, possibly due to a steady increase in the size of Nigeria’s youth population, which can put a strain on resources linked to education. About 44% of the population was under 14 years of age in 2012.
Primary completion rate, total (% of relevant age group)

Moving Toward Gender Equity: It Takes Strategy and Opportunity

Sammar Essmat's picture



“Maybe in the Middle East … but in our part of the world, there is no gender inequity.” As an Egyptian, I wasn’t surprised to hear such assertions from colleagues when I arrived in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region to deliver a program aimed at creating opportunities for women in the private sector. With its socialist legacy, the region prided itself on gender equality. Women were historically well-represented in the state-run economic systems. I looked at legal frameworks and the Women, Business and the Law indicators and found little evidence of discrimination. Laws on the books were overwhelmingly gender-neutral. I was puzzled.
 
Then I studied data from the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys: Women’s rates of participation in the private sector told a different story. Women’s status seemed to be collapsing with the state systems and falling as markets started opening. For instance, now, only 36% of firms in the region are owned by women; that is a lower percentage than in East Asia (60%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (40%). Only 19% of companies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have female top managers, compared to 30% in East Asia and 21% in Latin America and the Caribbean.
 
So I faced the daunting task of delivering a gender program in a region where few believe that there are gender issues to address.


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