Two to three years ago, I found very little traction when trying to initiate discussions around the potential use of mobile phones in education with many counterparts in education ministries around the world. (And when this *was* discussed, talk usually centered on how to ban them from schools.)
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Kenya: Citizen Watchdogs Go Online
"Holding government officials accountable is the goal of a new project that solicits citizen reports via mobile phone. Through this Web-based public forum the government’s performance will be scrutinized – and, the hope is – improved."
Kenya - "In a new forum here for citizen complaints, one recent report complains about inadequate medical care: “No medicine, no nurse at Nyamira Hospital. I am tired of this.” Launched a month ago in test phase, the Web-based forum allows ordinary Kenyans to comment on the government’s success in performing basic functions. Using a mobile phone or computer, citizens can post comments which are then published on a public website. Called Huduma (which means “service” in Swahili), the platform solicits reports about government services in five areas: health, education, water, governance and infrastructure." READ MORE
Zafar is among millions of Pakistanis who do not give up hope in the face of adversity, and the harder the challenge, the more resolute they become in overcoming it. Zafar belongs to Utror, a back-of-beyond place in Pakistan’s north-west. Situated in one of the more inaccessible valleys of Swat in the Kyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the inhabitants of Utror could only dream of having electricity till Zafar, one of their own, returned home with skills of an electrician honed in Punjab where he had gone in search of education.
When my wife and I were looking for where to live in Washington DC, an important part of the decision was the quality of the local public school that our children would (eventually) attend. But how to judge quality? Talking to lots of people was the first step. Taking schools tours was another. But researching test scores was a key factor. We wanted a school with a good learning environment, a sense that parents had a positive feeling about the place—but also wanted to know that the school had a track record of good learning outcomes. Thankfully, the performance of public schools in Washington DC is accessible online and can be compared across schools. This information was an important input into our decision. And it remains an important way in which we monitor school performance. We pay close attention to our own children’s academic development, talk to their teachers regularly, and try to be attentive to the many subtle indicators of the quality of education that they are receiving. But the annually released test scores provide an externally validated stock-taking of one aspect of that quality.
Projects supported by results-based loans—of the breed of the current projects in education in Pakistan and counterparts in the Latin American and Caribbean region—are increasingly seen as a promising way for raising the effectiveness of Bank lending. In a seminar recently organized by the South Asia region, a proposal that such projects should be set as the default choice and quickly become the lion’s share in the region’s lending portfolio resonated widely with the participants.
While, in principle, linking loan disbursements to the achievement of results seems desirable, this step by itself may not be enough for project success. In this entry, and ones to follow, learning from the Pakistan results-based projects in education, I provide some insights on considerations that may increase the likelihood that such projects succeed. Some of these insights may also be relevant for other types of projects.
For countries with substantial numbers of workers in the Middle East, recent events have not only raised concerns for the repatriation and welfare of their citizens, but have also raised fears of a possible slowdown in remittances. Will remittance flows noticeably decrease due to recent events in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia?
For South Asian countries, remittances are among the largest and most stable sources of foreign exchange and their developmental impact have been remarkable. For example, in Nepal national poverty level has come down from 42% to 31% during 1996 to 2004, and to 21% today, largely on the account of remittances which finance household consumption as well as education and health expenditures. Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, were among the top 15 remittance recipients in 2009—with inflows being equivalent to 24% of the GDP in Nepal, 12% in Bangladesh, 8% in Sri Lanka, 5% in Pakistan and 4% in India.
Gulf States employ more than 11 million expatriate workers, an estimated 8 million or more from South and East Asian countries. Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E, and Qatar are top destination for South Asian migrants and are main sources of remittance inflows. The table as well as the country profiles below demonstrates the sheer magnitude of migrant workers in the Arab Gulf countries and their contributions to the labor force; sometimes greater in overall numbers and proportion than the respective labor force in the countries.
Mainstreaming a gender perspective is considered essential in assessing the implication of any development program, project or policy on men and women. This holds true of the modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) as well, as research studies are showing a significant gap between men and women in their access to and understanding of ICT opportunities.
For decades, the leading causes of mortality have differed between low income countries and high income countries. Those who have worked their careers in health and development probably never thought they would see the day when maternal/child health and communicable diseases would not be the leading health burden in many low income countries.
The new actor is non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which are characterized by chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease), along with injury and mental health which are now responsible for half the health burden in South Asia. Thus, the challenge now is how best to juggle this “double burden”.
Currently, many compelling reasons are pushing countries toward starting to tackle NCDs. From both a social and political standpoint, South Asians are 6 years younger than those in the rest of the world at their first heart attack. This type of trend threatens a country’s ability to fully capitalize on the demographic dividend from a larger mature working force because healthy aging is necessary, which in turn, requires tackling NCDs.
In a blog post some weeks ago, I talked about how chance events can end up shaping our entire lives—and sometimes the lives of others too.
An unmistakable sense of achievement and enthusiasm emanated through the halls of the 7th South Asia Economics Student Meet held in Colombo, Sri Lanka last month. The theme of Economic Freedom and Poverty Reduction in South Asia brought together 192 of the top economics undergraduates from universities throughout the region to showcase their economic knowledge and talent.
Demonstrating superior knowledge, creativity, and critical thinking skills; the participants exchanged ingenious ideas in exploring creative solutions to regional economic challenges while making new friendships to pave the way for greater mutual learning as emerging leaders and future policy makers.
Students from universities in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka participated in the 3-day conference focusing on economic freedom. As Professor Bishwambher Pyakuryal from Tribhuvan University in Nepal noted, “countries with higher degrees of economic freedom also tend to have higher incomes and levels of development.”