Amidst all the noise of the 24-hour news cycle and current events competing for our attention there lurks a danger that we lose sight of our mission: the fundamental issues in development that we are committed to solve remain urgent and obviously relevant. Now more than ever, the World Bank and DEC (home to the Bank’s research unit) in particular should focus on core research questions whose answers can help end poverty and improve countless lives. These questions rise above the ebb and flow of the political tide and are deeply important to the millions of people that we strive to raise up.
We are living in a learning crisis. According to the World Bank’s 2018 World Development Report, millions of students in developing countries are in schools that are failing to educate them to succeed in life. According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, there are 617 million children and youth of primary and secondary school age who are not learning the basics in reading, two-thirds of whom are attending school. The urgency to invest in learning is clear.
The elusive quest to scale
Some 15 years ago, I was in a small town in Hoshangabad district (India) attending a workshop with government schoolteachers, where we were examining student test scores. Instructors from Eklavya, a non-profit supporting the government, were skillfully leading teachers through an intensely engaging session on why a child might have written a particular answer, what was right and what was wrong with the answer, how to grade it, and how a teacher could help the child improve. Everyone was sharing lessons and learning.
The 2018 World Development Report (WDR), Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, launched this week. While it draws on research and collective experience—both from within and outside the World Bank—it also draws on the personal experience of the team members, including the two of us. What inspires the focus on learning for all is that we both have seen the possibilities of widely shared learning, but we’ve also seen what happens when those possibilities aren’t fulfilled.
Access to schooling and quality learning can be undermined by various manifestations of fragility, conflict and violence (FCV). The effect of different elements of FCV on education has both immediate and long lasting impacts on children’s learning, their well-being and their future prospects.
In different forms, FCV manifestations contribute to a denial of the right to education, whether from government failures, a violent ecosystem, and the treatment of displaced children and divisions within schools, attacks on schools or the language of instruction. This can include the ways in which teachers and principals treat lower castes, children with disabilities, or minority groups; the threat or real violence against girls; as well as how textbooks portray history and culture. These issues exist globally, not just in ‘fragile states’.
Over the past two decades, greater attention has focused on the impact that long-term complex humanitarian emergencies, fragile states, and contexts of protracted crises on education. What has received less attention is the aggregate impact of various forms of negative conflict and intra-personal violence.
There are three entry points to consider for FCV: protracted crises; conflict as the basis of exclusion; direct and indirect forms of intra-personal violence.
India is the fastest-growing major economy in the world with significant Government investments in infrastructure. According to estimates by WTO and OECD, as quoted in a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, India: Probity in Public Procurement, the estimated public procurement in India is between 20 and 30 percent of GDP.
This translates to Indian government agencies issuing contracts worth an estimated US$ 419 billion to US$ 628 billion each year for various aspects of infrastructure projects. Ideally, in contractual agreements no disputes would arise and both sides would benefit from the outcome. However, unexpected events occur and many contracts end in dispute. Contractual legal disputes devoid project benefits to the public as time and resources are spent in expensive arbitration and litigation. As a result, India’s development goals are impacted.
If you speak to any African parent, she or he will usually very quickly point out how important it is for her or his children to attend school. Literacy and education do not only confer social status, but also crucially, improve livelihood opportunities and incomes, and lead to better health and well-being. Indeed, when the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and its partners asked community members in hundreds of locations of the Eastern DRC about their top local priority, better education consistently came first.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
World Humanitarian Summit: three tests for success
Thomson Reuters Foundation
After months of feverish consultation, preparation and speculation, the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) will finally kick off in Istanbul on May 23. The two-day Summit will convene 6,000 aid leaders to decide on how better to respond to today’s defining crises. So, what will mark the difference between an anti-climactic letdown and a rallying achievement? Here are my three measures of success.
World Employment and Social Outlook
Over the past two decades, significant progress has been made in reducing poverty in the majority of countries. In emerging and developing countries, taken as a whole, it is estimated that nearly 2 billion people live on less than $3.10 per day (adjusted for cost-of-living differences across countries). This represents around 36 per cent of the emerging and developing world’s population, which is nearly half the rate that was observed in 1990, when the initial international commitments to reduce poverty were undertaken. During the same period, extreme poverty – defined as people living on less than $1.90 per day – declined at an even faster rate to reach 15 per cent of the total population of emerging and developing countries in 2012, the latest available year
In addition, development professionals must become knowledgeable about the reality of the communities in which they work to avoid designing implementation plans that don’t always work out as intended. For example, we have all heard the stories of cook stoves or toilets that are introduced into communities, but are used as storage objects. This attention to personal, political, and social factors affecting project design and implementation is precisely what the Collaborative Leadership for Development Program helps operational teams achieve and maintain, to get desired results.
In the 2015 World Development Report on Mind, Society, and Behavior, the World Bank identifies three kinds of thinking we all do by reflex.
- Thinking automatically, rather than carefully and deliberatively – we typically do not bring our full analytical prowess to bear on the issues and experiences of our daily lives;
- Thinking socially, or in ways that are related to how others around us think – the influence of peer-pressure on our thought process is an example; and
- Thinking with mental models generated by societal norms and the culture in which we live that tacitly influence how we perceive and think about our world.
These ways of thinking, research suggests, are implicit and fundamental and they shape human behavior, including interpersonal and collective interactions and decision making. This insight has enormous implications for our development work. If we do not account for and bring to the surface such social, cultural, and psychological realities in the design and implementation of projects, we can expect to be setting ourselves up for failure. Most challenges today are a complex mix of technical problems and behavioral or adaptive challenges.