“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.
Laura Tuck, Vice President for the World Bank's Europe and Central Asia region, shares her impression on her trip to Kazakhstan, its economy growth, progress in development, and the World Bank's partnership with the country.
Some 135 countries have constitutional provisions for free and nondiscriminatory education for all. Seventy-three countries guarantee the right to medical services. And 41 countries have either enshrined the right to water in their constitutions or have framed the right in national legislation. All of these actions are aimed at protecting the rights of poor people.
Yet, it is poor people who are losing out on access to these services. In Mali, whereas almost everyone has access to a primary school, and 67 percent from the richest quintile complete primary school, only 23 percent from the poorest quintile do. The percentage completing higher levels of education is in the single digits. In rural India, in the period since the Right to Education act was passed, student learning outcomes in public schools have been declining. Equatorial Guinea, with a per-capita income of $20,000, has a child mortality rate of 118 per 1,000 births, comparable to that of Togo with a much lower per-capita income. As a result of intermittent (or nonexistent) water supply through networks, poor people in South Asia and Africa have to buy water from vendors at 5-16 times the meter rate.
Some Myths about Informal Trade in Developing Countries
By definition, informal trade is difficult to measure because even if everyone has seen it, there is no evidence of it in official statistics. Thus, estimates are often difficult to arrive at and quite costly because they require the collection of data from several sources (customs data, data from border surveys, local economic and social statistics, interviews with actors and stakeholders in the sectors concerned).
However, such efforts appear to be bearing fruit: as information and data production improves, a number of assertions based on rumors or even beliefs are contradicted by actual figures. It is especially interesting to note that the phenomena and characteristics of informal trade are the same, whether in central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, or North Africa.
As part of my job at the World Bank helping to advise governments on what works, and what doesn't, related to the use of new technologies in education around the world, especially in middle- and low-income countries, I spend a fair amount of time trying to track down information about projects -- sometimes quite large in scale and invariably described as 'innovative' in some way -- that were announced with much fanfare which received a great deal of press attention, but about which very little information is subsequently made widely available.
Most of these projects prominently featured some new type of technology gear, whether low cost laptops for students or new ways to connect people in remote places to the Internet or low-power e-reader devices. Other projects featured new software (English learning apps for phones! Free science curricula for teachers! A learning management system that enables personalized learning!). A sub-set of these projects -- the really ambitious and 'visionary' ones -- combined both hardware and software, and a variety of services to support their introduction and use.
I do this follow up for two very basic reasons:
(1) I am generally interested in learning from these sorts of projects, wherever they may be happening; and
(2) I am asked about them a lot.
These conversations generally go one of two ways:
"Whatever happened to that project in [fill in country name] -- how are things going there these days?"
"Things are proceeding [well / not so well], and a bit more slowly than originally envisioned. Here's what you need to know ..."
"Can you give me an update on the exciting stuff that is happening with computers in schools in ___?"
"You mean the ___ project? Actually, that never actually happened." "No, that's not true, I read that ---"
"Yes, you probably did read that. You may well have heard about it during a presentation by [insert name of vendor] as well. But I assure you: I talk regularly with [the ministry of education / companies / NGOs / researchers] there: Nothing actually happened there related to this stuff in the past, and nothing is happening there related to this stuff now. Will something happen there in the future? Undoubtedly something will ... perhaps even something as potentially 'transformative' as was promised ... although whether it happens in the way it was originally marketed or advertised: Your guess is as good as mine."
In retrospect, the rather short half-life of an unfortunate number of such aborted projects can largely be measured not by things actually implemented 'on the ground', but rather by PowerPoint presentations and press releases. (A rather charitable characterization of what happened in some such cases, but one that is not always or necessarily more accurate, might be that people were 'overly optimistic' or that someone or some group 'was simply ahead of her/their time'. Technology folks sometimes just dismiss such efforts as 'vaporware'.)
When it comes to educational technology projects, most of the press attention tends to come when new initiatives of these sorts are announced, with some momentum continuing on for awhile in the early days of a project, especially when, for example, kids get new tablets for the first time, an occasion that presents a nice, and ready-made, photo opportunity (not that such things are ever conceived of as photo opportunities, of course!). Then, often: Silence.
Projects that do get implemented, and last for awhile, tend eventually to be crowded out of the popular consciousness by the latest and greatest new (new!) thing -- and, when it comes to the use of technology in education, one thing can be certain:
There is always a next new (new!) thing.
(In addition to lots of press attention, the well-known One Laptop Per Child project was the subject of many papers and presentations from academics in the early days that were largely speculative -- e.g. here's what could happen -- and theoretical -- e.g. here's a pedagogical approach whose time has come. Only recently have we started to see more deliberative, rigorous academic work looking at actual implementation models, and what has happened as a result.)
For me, the most interesting part of the use of technology in education isn't the planning for it (although I spend a lot of time helping people who do that sort of thing) nor the evaluation of the impact of such use (I spend a lot of time on that stuff as well).
The most interesting part is implementation -- because it's so messy; because a fidelity to certain theoretical constructs and models often comes into rude collision with reality; because that's where you really *learn* about what works, and what doesn't, and what impact the whole enterprise may be having. How are kids, and teachers, actually using the stuff? What unexpected problems are people having -- and how are they being addressed? What is changing or happening that is interesting or surprising that wasn't part of the original plan, but which is potentially quite exciting?
One place where things have actually happened related to technology use in education, and where they continue to happen, at a rather large scale, is Portugal.
Back in 2012, we had a small event here at the World Bank that attempted to share some of the lessons learned from recent Portuguese experiences in introducing new technologies into the education sector (seeAround the World with Portugal's eEscola Project and Magellan Initiative). The U.S.-based Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) released a report last month as a follow-up to a study visit to Portugal in late 2013. While written from a North American perspective and for a North American audience, "Reinventing Learning in Portugal: An Ecosystem Approach" provides a useful lens through which an outsider, regardless which continent she calls home, can start to take stock of some of the high level lessons from the ongoing Portuguese experience.
(Side note: I would also be quite interested to read a companion report at some point that focuses on what went wrong in Portugal, and what changed as a result; I am a big believer in the power and value of learning from failure.)
Countries interested in learning about the 'impact' of efforts to introduce and sustain the use of technologies to benefit education in Portugal might do well to understand the context of what has happened in Portugal, and the circumstances that may make it either unique, or a good comparator, to their own national circumstances.
This is a surfer’s dream: catching a great wave, far from the shore, and riding it for long beautiful moments as it stretches further and further gathering momentum until the very end, when it breaks right at the beach. This is how my generation, born in the 1970s (when the Beach Boys released their iconic Surf’s Up album), should feel, as we are riding on a “global demographic wave” which keeps extending further and further.
A puzzle: Sanitation is one of the most productive investments a government can make. There is now rigorous empirical evidence that improved sanitation systems reduce the incidence of diarrhea among children. Diarrhea, in turn, harms children’s nutritional status (by affecting their ability to retain nutrients). And inadequate nutrition (stunting, etc.) affects children’s cognitive skills, lifetime health and earnings. In short, the benefits of sanitation investment are huge. Cost-benefit analyses show rates of return of 17-55 percent, or benefit/cost ratios between 2 and 8.
But if the benefits are so high (relative to costs), why aren’t we seeing massive investments in sanitation? Why are there 470 million people in East Asia, 600 million in Africa and a billion people in South Asia lacking access to sanitation? Why are there more cellphones than toilets in Africa?
The epic battle of man against machine has been fought on many occasions. One of the most memorable encounters was the chess game between IBM’s Deep Blue and Gary Kasparov. Deep Blue was the first computer to beat a reigning chess champion in 1996 (the machine still lost 2 to 4 after six games). A year later, at their “rematch”, the machine won on the overall score: 3.5 to 2.5.
However, it is surprising that, 18 years later, we still have not figured out the ultimate winning strategy in chess. Any game with limited combinations and full disclosure of information must have ‘safe strategies’ and can be ‘solved’ (as has happened with the game checkers in 2007). The solution, in chess, would from what we know today involve strategies whereby the white player would win or the black player would force a draw. Yet no human or super computer to date has managed to solve chess’ mathematical puzzle. How much more computing power do we need to succeed?
The EU-Turkey customs union (CU) has been a key catalyst in the economic transformation of Turkey over the past two decades and an effective mechanism for deeper integration between the two parties, according to a new World Bank evaluation of the CU.
While its supporters and critics may continue to debate in the political arena, this much is now clear: the CU has brought enormous benefits to Turkey and has done more to facilitate trade than a free trade agreement (FTA) would have. But more can still be done to both modernize the agreement and deepen trade integration between the parties.
If I had to pick one critical source of exports and a key driver of economic growth for Armenia, I would pick mining.
But mining is a risky business and is fraught with hurdles. Exploration often comes up empty. Investments are very large, in excess of hundreds of millions dollars. Commodity prices can change dramatically and governments can change policies and taxes. Moreover, there can be large environmental and social risks associated with things like tailings, dams, and resettlement policies.
A risky business does not, however, mean that mining is or should be an irresponsible business. Many of these risks can be mitigated or eliminated. This requires proper policies, laws, regulations, careful implementation, and planning for life when the mine closes – all of this even before the mine opens. Supporting policies, such as easy access to updated geological information and predictability in transferring licenses, reduce the risk in exploration.