If you are a parent in Armenia, what worries you more: getting a better education for your kids or ensuring their safety in school? For countries like Armenia – prone to disasters such as earthquakes, and with vulnerable housing and school building stock – this is not a rhetorical question! It’s a problem that parents seriously worry about and governments grapple with.
Armenia has always been vulnerable to earthquakes. The devastating Spitak tremor in 1988 took 25,000 lives, injured another 19,000 people, damaged half a million homes, and caused a US$15-20 billion loss to the country’s economy. More than two-thirds of that tragic human toll in 1988 was children – with most school-age children sitting in class when the quake struck.
While it is true that disasters generally occur unannounced, risks can nevertheless be managed in order to reduce the loss of lives, homes, infrastructure, and economic activity. But, governments have difficult choices to make: should they spend scarce investment resources on preparing for disasters, forgoing other top priorities, or should they hope for the best and deal with the consequences after disaster strikes?
In Armenia, we are now seeing a stronger recognition that natural hazards threaten the country’s development, and a shift to prioritizing disaster risk management. This move toward proactive disaster risk reduction has seen a wide range of stakeholders – communities, government agencies, donors – mobilize together. Disaster preparedness and risk management requires capacity, finance, knowledge, information and cooperation, and no government can succeed alone; it takes a strong partnership.
Since October 29, 2015, Central Asia experienced fifteen earthquakes of moment magnitude 5.0 or greater, which on average amounts to an earthquake every 6 days. Among these events are two notable ones that occurred on December 7th and 25th of 2015. The first earthquake was a 7.2 magnitude event in Murghob district of Tajikistan.
This was the largest earthquake in the country since the 1949 Khait earthquake and it brought widespread damage throughout the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, Tajikistan's largest province located in the Pamir mountains. Losses consisted of 2 fatalities caused by landslides, multiple injuries, complete or partial destruction of over 650 houses and 15 schools and kindergartens, damages to several health centers and a small hydroelectric power station, and loss of livestock. Estimates suggest that 4,000 people have been displaced and over 124,000 were affected by the earthquake, leaving many people homeless over the harsh winter period.
We recently undertook a Jobs Diagnostic in the Kyrgyz Republic to help the country move away from a migration-led development model. The jobs challenge in the Kyrgyz Republic extends beyond creating more jobs. The country also needs better jobs in terms of higher productivity and wages. Many Kyrgyz have moved abroad to find jobs. The incomes of these migrants and the remittances they sent allowed the country to pull itself out of the deep economic collapse following independence. But the country now needs policies that allow these workers to stay home.
Digital technology dominates our everyday lives, and with each passing day, even more so. How can the global community benefit from the new digital era?
The World Bank’s World Development Report2016 (WDR 2016) provides a useful framework and guidance for harnessing the potential of the internet for development. “To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on regulations, skills and institutions—by strengthening regulations that ensure competition among businesses, by adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy, and by ensuring that institutions are accountable,” says the Report. This may sound familiar, but it is not. Let me explain.
I’m back in Kazbegi and writing a blog again - what a nice coincidence! Georgian mountains possess a certain magic: they can help you forget about the office routine, bring out your social side, and enable you to more freely express yourself. Clearly, it was a very smart decision by the State Audit Office of Georgia (SAOG) to choose a location near Mkinvartsveri Mountain for its two-day workshop for media representatives.
With a view to helping journalists – the so-called Fourth Estate – broaden their knowledge in the field of audit, the head of the SAOG together with his colleagues hosted 20 media professionals from leading Georgian outlets, including TV, print and digital – all vital channels of external communication, and essential for ensuring transparency and accountability.
Over the past several years much has been written about the significant potential for solar energy generation in the Middle East and North Africa, where there is no shortage of sunshine. The International Energy Agency estimated that the potential from concentrated solar power technology alone could amount to 100 times the electricity demand of North Africa, the Middle East and Europe combined.
In the wake of commitments at the Paris climate conference (COP21), it is time to develop this rich source of low-carbon energy sitting close to Europe’s southern shores, and bolster efforts to agree on a framework to import clean, sustainable energy from North Africa.
As recently as 2012 there have been efforts to adopt a framework that would allow importing renewable energy from Morocco to Germany—through France and Spain—but electricity trade between countries typically becomes reality when there are economic benefits for all sides. Electricity trade has the added benefit of fostering closer political ties.
Expanding regional trade between North Africa and Europe has also been hindered by inadequate physical electrical connections between the two continents and poor physical integration in European electricity grids. There is currently only one electrical transmission interconnection between North Africa and Europe, namely the Morocco-Spain connection. Further, Spain’s interconnection with the rest of Europe is limited, with no new transmission projects undertaken to expand this capacity for the past three decades. At the same time, Spain had excess generation capacity because of the economic downturn experienced in Europe over the past several years. That made impractical the notion of allowing North African renewable energy into the Spanish market. Italy, another potential electricity gateway from North Africa, was in a similar situation.
In 2015 the world saw great momentum for climate action, culminating in a historic agreement in December to cut carbon emissions and contain global warming. It was also a year of continued transformation for the energy sector. For the first time in history, a global sustainable development goal was adopted solely for energy, aiming for: access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. To turn this objective into reality while mitigating climate change impacts, more countries are upping their game and going further with solar, wind, geothermal and other sources of renewable energy. As we usher in 2016, these stories from around the world present a flavor of how they are leading the charge toward a climate-friendly future.
For the past seven years the World Bank's EduTech blog has sought to "explore issues related to the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to benefit education in developing countries".
While there are plenty of sources for news, information and perspectives on the uses (and misuses) of educational technologies in the so-called 'highly industrialized' countries of North America, Europe, East Asia and Australia/New Zealand, regular comparative discussions and explorations of what is happening with the uses of ICTs in middle and low income (i.e. so-called 'developing') countries around the world can be harder to find, which is why this remains the focus of the EduTech blog.
The term 'developing countries' is employed here as convenient (if regrettable) shorthand in an attempt to reinforce the context in which the comments and questions explored on the blog are considered, and as a signal about its intended (or at least hoped for) audience. That said, given how much we still don't know and the fact that things continue to change so rapidly, when it comes to technology use in education, as a practical matter we all live in 'developing countries'.
When speaking about some of the early EduTech blog posts, one rather prominent and outspoken commenter (rather comfortably ensconced at an elite U.S. research university, for what that might be worth) said basically that 'there is nothing new here, we've been aware of all of these issues for some time'.
This might possibly be true – if you are a tenured professor sitting in Cambridge, perhaps, or a technology developer working out of Helsinki, Mountain View or Redmond.
(One could nonetheless note that being aware of something, and doing something useful and impactful as a result of this awareness, are not necessarily the same thing, a lesson that seems to need to be learned and re-learned again and again, often quite painfully and expensively, as 'innovations' from 'advanced' places are exported to other 'less advanced' places around the world with results that can at times be rather difficult to determine. It is also perhaps worth briefly recalling the insightful, if ungrammatical, words of the U.S. humorist Mark Twain, who observed back in the 19th century that, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.")
However, these are often relatively new discussions – and often very different discussions, it should be noted! – in other, less 'economically privileged' parts of the world. As computing devices and connectivity continue to proliferate, practical knowledge and know-how about what works, and what doesn't, when it comes to technology use in education is increasingly to be found in such places. It is to participate in, learn from and help catalyze related discussions that the EduTech blog was conceived and continues to operate.
While the posts in 2015 were published less frequently, they were on average much longer than in the past ("too long!", some might say) and largely explored themes (e.g. 'tablets', 'teachers', 'coding') drawing on experiences across multiple countries, rather than profiling specific individual projects or activities in one place, which was often the case in previous years.
It perhaps shouldn't need to be said (but I'll say it anyway, as I am obliged to do) that, whether taken individually or collectively, nothing here was or is meant to be definitive, exhaustive or 'official' in its consideration of a particular topic or activity. The EduTech blog serves essentially as a written excerpt of various ongoing conversations with a wide variety of groups and people around the world and as a mechanism for 'thinking aloud in public' about these conversations. Nothing is formally 'peer-reviewed' before it appears online, and the views expressed are those of the author(s) alone, and not the World Bank. (If you find a mistake, or just really disagree with something that appears on the EduTech blog, please feel free to blame the guy who writes this stuff, and not his bosses or the institution which employs him).
With those introductory comments out of the way, here are the ...