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Paying teacher salaries with mobile phones

Michael Trucano's picture

no worries, everything here and orderly and under control, all money is being accounted for in a clear and timely mannerI often find that a sure way to generate rather heated discussions in many quarters is to bring up the topic of teacher salaries. They're too low! or: They're too high! They should be linked to [insert some sort of 'performance indicator']! or: Attempts to link them to [insert name of a performance indicator] are misguided (and perhaps even dangerous)!

I'll leave it to others more informed and expert than I am to weigh in on such (often quite contentious) debates. However one might approach such discussions, and whatever conclusions one might draw from them, there isn't a lot of debate about one issue related to teacher salaries that has been well documented, and widely (and rightly) deplored.

Many teachers around the world suffer as a result of poorly-functioning systems to pay the salaries [pdf] they are due [ppt]. This is especially problematic, and notable, given that teacher salaries have for many decades constituted huge percentages of the overall education budgets in many countries. As a World Bank publication from a few years ago (Teachers for Rural Schools : Experiences in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda) laments, "Teachers in remote schools are [compared with their colleagues in more urban areas] more likely to be the direct victims of administrative failures, which undermine teacher morale and damage the system. One frequently mentioned administrative failure is the delay in paying teachers’ salaries and allowances." An 'administrative failure' of this sort can have many causes. Even where sufficient budget exists to pay teachers, flawed teacher salary systems, poor internal controls, logistical challenges related to transport, and corruption can conspire to ensure that in many places, especially in rural areas in poor countries, teacher salaries are sometimes paid only infrequently, often with great delay. The results of this can be devastating for education systems -- to say nothing of the impact on individual teachers, schools, students and local communities.

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Back when I worked with the World Bank's infoDev program, one of my responsibilities was to serve as a point person on 'mobile money' issues, briefing groups on emerging lessons and experiences from nascent activities to use mobile phones to transfer money from one person to another. I left infoDev in 2008, just as activities in this regard were really starting to heat up (Kenya's M-Pesa program, the best known 'mobile money success story', launched in 2007), but continued to meet semi-regularly with folks -- colleagues from the World Bank and other international donor agencies, government officials, NGOs and foundations, businesspeople, researchers -- who were interesting in exploring how new mobile payment options might be used in inventive ways to help address some longstanding developmental challenges. (Those totally new to the topic may benefit from watching this short video from CGAP, which demonstrates how mobile money activities look in practice.) Most of these conversations, as it happens, included considerations of how money transfers via mobile phones might be used to ensure that teachers got paid, in full and on time. As I prepare for a trip next week to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, I realize haven't fielded one substantive information request related to this topic in the past three years.

Up until about 2010, I met quite often with groups who were looking for creative ways to help address the 'paying salaries to teachers in rural areas challenge' and who had seized on the idea of taking advantage of the increasing ubiquity of mobile phones in such areas to help fashion some sort of 'solution'.  In the last three years, however, the volume around these sorts of discussions in many quarters has almost died out. Part of this might be explained by the fact that there are now many 'experts' on mobile money issues, people much more expert and well informed than I am about related issues, and so I simply might be 'out of the loop'. (Back in the 'early days' of work on this topic, I could never shake the nagging feeling that the reason that I was approached by so many groups for related information and advice was at least partially a result of the 'in the valley of the blind, the one-eyed man is king' phenomenon.) That said, given that a regular part of my daily work at the World Bank is to field questions related to the use of new technologies in education in all sorts of ways around the world, and that a lot of my job isn't so much about in providing answers, but about helping people formulate better questions, the fact that this question seems no longer to be a topic of much discussion makes me wonder:

Whatever happened to the idea of paying teacher salaries with mobile phones?

Bollywood Karaoke and Same Language Subtitling to Promote Literacy

Michael Trucano's picture

I'd like to teach the world to read, in perfect harmony ...While I have not seen any research evidence to support this particular contention, I have been in a number of presentations over the years about the 'Finnish success in education' in which the fact that Finnish children watch cartoons with subtitles is mentioned as a contributing factor to their literacy development. Even if there are no peer-reviewed journal articles about the impact of this practice in Finland (if anyone knows of any, please do feel free to send them along!) or many other places (subtitling on television has of course been a common practice in many countries of the world for quite some time), there is some pretty compelling evidence from a little initiative in India that has been reaching big audiences for over a decade that this sort of thing can make a small but meaningful difference in the lives of many illiterate and low literate people. Sometimes innovation is the result of doing something 'old' in a 'new' place (often with a slight twist).

Back in November, PlanetRead was awarded the first-ever 'International Prize' as part of the new U.S. Library of Congress Literacy Awards [disclosure: I am a member of the advisory board for these awards] in recognition of its pioneering work in the practice of Same Language Subtitling (SLS), "the idea of subtitling the lyrics of existing film songs (or music videos) on TV, in the ‘same’ language that they are sung in. Call it Karaoke on Bollywood for mass reading!  A deceptively simple innovation, SLS is already delivering regular and inescapable reading practice to 150 million weak-readers in India."

One notable characteristic of each of the three inaugural winners of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards is that they largely work outside of traditional 'educational' institutions as part of their efforts to promote reading. In the case of Reach Out and Read, this means connecting with parents and young children in pediatric exam rooms. 826 National supports store front writing and tutoring centers in local communities. PlanetRead focuses its outreach on a place where, like or not, many people spend a lot of their free time: watching television. Brij Kothari, the founder of PlanetRead, joked during the awards ceremonies at the Library of Congress, some people might say that TV is the enemy of reading, to which we reply: embrace the enemy!

Using video to improve teaching -- and support teachers

Michael Trucano's picture

smile and say 'PISA!'Much of the discussion related to how new technologies can be used in classrooms in low and middle income countries focuses on the use of PCs, desktops and tablets. Less discussed, I often find, is the strategic potential of various so-called peripheral devices, which are (in my experience) typically only considered within the context of how they can be used to enhance or extend the functionality of the 'main' computing devices available in schools.

Many education systems (for better or for worse) have specific 'hardware' budgets, and, when they are looking to tap these budgets to introduce more hardware into schools, in my experience they often look to buy more of what they already have, supplemented in places by things like interactive whiteboards, or networked printers, as a complement to what is already available in a school.

When talking with educational planners contemplating how to use funds specifically dedicated to purchase computer hardware, I often counsel them to think much more broadly about what they may wish to buy with these monies, within a larger context of discussing things like how such equipment can be utilized to meet larger educational objectives, what sorts of training and maintenance support may be needed, and how the use of this technology can complement other, non-technology-enabled activities in a classroom. As part of such discussions, I often find myself attempting in various ways to challenge policymakers and planners to think beyond their current models for technology use.

One general type of gadget that I only rarely hear discussed is so-called 'probeware', which refers to set of devices which are typically used in science classes to measure various things -- temperature, for example, or the pH level of soil, or the salinity of water. Despite the increasing emphasis in STEM subjects in many countries, and what is often a rhetorical linkage between the use of computers in schools and STEM topics, I rarely find that World Bank client countries are considering the widespread use of probeware in a strategic way as part of their discussions around ICT use in schools. That said, one suspects that such an interest is coming, especially once the big vendors direct more of their attentions to raising awareness among policymakers in such places (much like the interactive whiteboard vendors began to do a half-decade or so ago).

While probeware is a new type of peripheral for many education policymakers, there is another peripheral that policymakers are already quite familiar with, and which is already used in ad hoc ways in many schools, but which rarely seems to be considered at a system level for use in strategic ways. Once you have a critical mass of computers is in place, and in place of buying one additional PC, might it be worth considering (for example) utilizing video cameras instead? Video can be put to lots of productive uses (and some perhaps not-so-productive uses). Considering three concrete examples from around the world may shed some light on how video can be used to improve teaching -- and support teachers.

ICTs and Literacy (the old fashioned kind)

Michael Trucano's picture

lego ergo sum, or I read, therefore I amThe Library of Congress recently announced a set of literacy awards to recognize and honor pioneering efforts in the United States and around the world. That's all well and good, you might say, literacy is certainly a worthy cause, but what does this have to do with ICT use in education in developing countries, the topic explored on the EduTech blog? Potentially a lot.

Much is made these days of the need to foster the development of so-called '21st century skills'. Indeed, for the past few years I have sat through few presentations where this particular three word phrase has not been mentioned prominently at some point. Reasonable people may disagree about what these skills are, exactly (but there are lots of ideas), and/or about some of the groups promoting related discussions and initiatives. Whatever one's opinion on such things may be, however, there is no denying that ICTs -- and the ability to use ICTs (productively, effectively) -- are often prominently considered in many related conversations and advocacy efforts, which often also highlight the increasing importance of the acquisition of so-called 'new literacy' skills (variously defined, but often related to the use of ICTs in ways integral and tangential: computer literacy, media literacy, etc.) to ways of life that are increasingly impacted by the emergence of new information and communication technologies.

What it means to be 'literate' in 2013 may be different than it was in 1913 or 1963 (and it will perhaps be different still in 2063). That said, there is little argument that, whatever the year, and wherever you are, basic literacy skills are fundamental to one's education and ability to navigate successfully through life.

What do we know about the use of ICTs
to help promote and develop literacy?
 

(I am not talking about such things like 'computer literacy', mind you, but rather literacy of the old-fashioned sort: the ability to read and write.)

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

International Center for Journalists
Digital Map to Track Corruption Launches in Colombia

“A new digital mapping tool to track and monitor corruption in Colombia on a national scale, launched July 24th a result of our partnership with the Consejo de Redacción, a country-wide organization of investigative journalists.

The "Monitor de Corrupción" (or "Corruption Monitor") will provide journalists and citizens a platform to submit reports that will expose and map incidents of corruption.

It’s a project I anticipate will contribute to making Colombia a more transparent and stronger society. The idea for this grew out of another similar project by Knight Fellow Jorge Luis Sierra.”  READ MORE 
 

AIDS Debate Poses Tough Funding Questions to Top Thinkers

Donna Barne's picture

AIDS Debate

The question was on the pros and cons of HIV/AIDS funding and the tools were sharp insights and passionate views as some of the most influential figures in the fight against AIDS and poverty participated in a lively debate before a packed World Bank auditorium July 23.

The webcast event, co-hosted by the Bank, U.S. Agency for International Development/ U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the medical journal The Lancet, asked a panel of experts to weigh global funding for HIV/AIDS in a fiscally strained, post financial crisis environment. The debate was part of the first International AIDS Conference to be held in Washington in 22 years.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

USAID
Two Guides You Must Read Before Using Mobile Technology for Behavior Change

“As the desire to utilize mobile phones in international health projects has increased in the last few years, organizations continually ask a similar question, “We want to use mobile phones. Now what?” But the decision to introduce or start a mhealth project needs to come after answering many questions before “now what?” especially when dealing with behavior change communication projects. Enter Abt Associates, FrontlineSMS, and Text to Change. Two guides have recently been released to help organizations assess whether or not mobiles are the right tool, and if they are, the process moving forward. One is from Abt Associates and is entitled mBCC Field Guide: A Resource for Developing Mobile Behavior Change Communication Programs. The other one was created in collaboration between FrontlineSMS and Text to Change and is entitled Communications for change: How to use text messaging as an effective behavior change campaigning tool.”  READ MORE

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

CIPE Global
20 Empowered Women that You Should Be Following on Twitter

“Men are from Mars, women are from Venus – we’ve all heard that before.  It’s no secret that the men and women are treated differently, but when it comes down to the heart of the matter, women are just as capable of success, if not more so, than their galactic counterparts.

With International Women’s Day fast approaching, CIPE is highlighting ways to help the movement for women’s empowerment. CIPE’s programs approach women’s empowerment through institutional reform, economic and political empowerment, and working with partner organizations to look beyond financial assistance – by helping women build leadership and business skills, CIPE focuses on preparing women for participation, whether they’re running a business, advocating legislative reforms, or simply making the world a better place for taking care of their families.” READ MORE

Mobile learning in developing countries in 2012: What's Happening?

Michael Trucano's picture

might mobility enable new approaches?In recent chats with officials from [an un-named country], I learned of the desire of educational policymakers there to leap frog e-learning through m-learning.  This made an impression on me -- and not only because it succinctly was able to encapsulate four educational technology buzzwords within a five-word "vision statement". In many ways, this encounter helped confirm my belief that a long-anticipated new era of hype is now upon us, taking firm root in the place where the educational technology and international donor communities meet, with "m-" replacing "e-" at the start of discussions of the use of educational technologies.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The Guardian
Why eliminating corruption is crucial to sustainability

“Ethical business practices are a critical aspect of sustainability, yet progress towards eliminating bribery and corruption appears to be elusive in the face of persistent headlines such as the recent forced resignation of Avon CEO Andrea Jung, the IKEA incident in Russia and the conviction of former French president Jacques Chirac.

Corruption continues to have a dire effect on the global economy. In fact, The World Bank and the World Economic Forum estimate that corruption costs more than 5% of global GDP ($2.6tn) annually, and estimate that more than $1tn is paid in bribes annually. These organisations suggest that corruption adds 10% to the total cost of doing business globally, and a staggering 25% to the cost of procurement contracts in developing countries.”  READ MORE


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