When Finnish students scored amongst the top in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA, a very influential international assessment administered by the OECD) in 2001, many people in the field of education were intrigued. How could this small nation, which had not been characterized by surprisingly high results in the past, be on the top? Finns themselves were surprised. When students continued scoring above expectations year after year, educators and leaders all over the world began studying the country as an example of how to build effective education systems. Not only do students consistently attain high performance, but the achievement gaps between pupils and regions are amongst the narrowest in the world. Equity with quality.
That's why the United Nations theme for International Youth Day this year focuses on “Safe Spaces for Youth.” These are spaces where young people can safely engage in governance issues, participate in sports and other leisure activities, interact virtually with anyone in the world, and find a haven, especially for the most vulnerable.
Countries with the best education outcomes are those in which society places high value on the teaching profession. That value is reflected in the relationship between the state, society, and the teacher; in the support given to teachers (including reasonable salaries), in the trust placed in them; and in the recognition bestowed upon them by society, parents, and the community as well as the value they place on the tremendous responsibility that they bear.
Collecting data in education can be a tricky business. After spending considerable resources to design a representative study, enlist and train data collectors, and organize the logistics of data collection, we want to ensure that we capture as true a picture of the situation on the ground as possible. This can be particularly challenging when we attempt to measure complex concepts, such as child development, learning outcomes, or the quality of an educational environment.
Data can be biased by many factors. For example, the very act of observation by itself can influence behavior. How can we expect a teacher to behave “normally” when outsiders sit in her or his classroom taking detailed notes about everything they do? Social desirability bias, where subjects seek to represent themselves in the most positive light, is another common challenge. Asking a teacher, “Do you hit children in your classroom?” may elicit an intense denial, even if the teacher still has a cane in one hand and the ear of a misbehaving child in another.
With its youthful workforce and the aspiration to be a developed country by 2041, Bangladesh emphasizes skills development to provide its people the ability to transform the country into a high productivity economy. To accelerate progress in this area, the government has been actively tapping into greater South-South cooperation, especially with other Asian countries.
Bangladesh and the China’s Yunnan Province’s partnership on the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP) is one example. Following the International Skills Conference held in Dhaka held in March 2018, a Bangladesh delegation, led by Mr. Md. Alamgir, Secretary of the Technical and Madrasah Education Division of the Ministry of Education, visited technical education institutions in Yunnan that are expected to receive students from Bangladesh.
Expert trainers in China will help their Bangladesh counterparts improve in the areas of student exchange, teachers’ professional development, and knowledge sharing among others. The agreement will mean that that the first cohort of 85 Bangladeshi students will be enrolled in the partnered Yunnan institutions with scholarships by September 2018.
In my experience working with education officials around the world over the past two decades, the confidence of senior leadership in an education system's approach to computer and data security is often inversely proportional to how much time, energy and expense have been devoted to considering security issues, to say nothing of the robustness and comprehensiveness of related approaches being deployed.
As part of my job at the World Bank, I help ministries of education think through issues related to the use of new technologies in education. Along the way, there has been, in my experience and generally speaking, comparatively little attention, energy and resources paid to issues of computer and data security as part of the rollout of digital technologies in education in many parts of the world, and especially in middle and low income countries, where I spend the bulk of my time.
At a basic level, this should not be too surprising. Resources are often quite scare, as is related know-how. Most initiatives focus first on introducing computers (and later tablets and other gadgets) into schools, and on rolling out and improving connectivity. Many countries new to the use of computers in schools are challenged to adequately handle some of the most basic security-related tasks, like installing (and keeping updated) anti-virus packages on individual devices. And to be honest: The initial stakes are often quite low. Only over time, once a critical mass of infrastructure is in place -- and is being used -- do thoughts turn to any significant extent to issues of computer and data security. But still: Unlike passing out shiny new tablets to schoolchildren or cutting the ribbon on a new educational makerspace, strengthening an education system's security practices typically doesn't make for compelling photo opportunities. For education ministers who typically enjoy short tenures in their jobs, it's often quite logical to leave such issues for the next lady (or guy) to handle.
That said, as connectivity spreads and improves, and as education systems move beyond a patchwork of often small and uncoordinated pilot projects to become more dependent on their ICT infrastructure at the classroom, school and system level, 'security' is gradually added to the list of responsibilities of a few staff, related budget line items are established, and sometimes small units are formed inside education bureaucracies.
Even then, though, digital security concerns usually tend not to be prioritized by ministries of education, and much of what is done is reactive in nature. In my experience, only when one of two types things take place do computer security issues get real attention: (1) when there is a move to computerized, especially online, testing; and/or (2) when something important is 'hacked'. (There is a third catalyst for action -- government regulation -- but that typically occurs only after one or both of these first two things have occurred.)
During dialogues with government around 'edtech issues', it's been my standard practice to try to insert a bullet point related to 'security' onto the formal agenda. For the most part, this has been tolerated ("of course we think security is important!"), but (if I am being honest) not always particularly welcome, and it is often the last agenda item, the kind of thing where the related discussion gets cut short and people close by saying, "We wish we had more time to discuss this."
In the past two years, however, things have begun to change a bit. While still never the focus of our discussions, people from a number of ministries of education with which I have worked have begun to bring up this issue proactively. Often, related exchanges begin with some form of the question, "We are thinking about introducing online testing but are wondering if we might get hacked -- how worried should we be, and what can we do to prevent this from happening?"
My response to this sort of question is usually is something along the lines of, "You are right to be worried, and there are a lot of things you can and should be doing as a result." (Whether or not online testing is actually a good idea is a separate question, and discussion.) We then quickly talk through a number of the standard high level issues, topics and concerns, touch on the feasibility and cost of a number of related first (and second, and third, and fourth ...) steps that need to be taken, and at the end draw up a list of names and organizations for potential follow-up. Before the discussion 'ends' (a discussion about computer security never actually 'ends', of course; once opened, Pandora's Box can never be fully closed), I make sure to make the following statement, and pose a related question:
Prevention is important. Obviously! I am glad to see that this is increasingly prominent on your agenda. If you have a checklist of things you are concerned about, and a list of how you are addressing them, we can take a look at it and talk through some potential related issues, to the extent that this might be useful. We can also talk about some other countries where some bad things have happened, in case any of those stories might be of interest.
But, no matter how successful you are when it comes to protecting your digital infrastructure and your data, if you are using connected digital technologies in your education system, at some point in the future:
Guest blog by: Margo Hoftijzer, formerly a Senior Economist in the Education Global Practice of the World Bank.
Work-based learning is a hot topic when discussing the transition of young graduates from school to work. Whether we talk about apprenticeships, dual vocational education and training, or work placements, it is recognized worldwide that there are strong benefits when students gain real workplace experience before they join the workforce.
The many benefits of work-based learning
When implemented effectively, students don’t only gain relevant practical skills, but they also strengthen essential socio-emotional skills, such as the ability to work in teams, problem solving, and time management. Firms benefit as well. They can tailor the programs to ensure that students acquire those skills that are most relevant for their enterprises, and they get to know their trainees well so that they can select the best for recruitment later. Moreover, during the period of work-based learning itself, firms benefit from the trainees’ contributions to the work processes of the enterprise, usually at low costs.
Our starting point is to deal with what we know – and the biggest challenge that the future of work faces – and has faced for decades – is the vast numbers of people who live day to day on casual labor, not knowing from one week to the next if they will have a job and unable to plan ahead, let alone months rather than years, for their children’s prosperity. We call this the informal economy – and as with so much pseudo-technical language which erects barriers, the phrase fails to convey the abject state of purgatory to which it condemns millions of workers and their families around the world.
We all hear about the importance of “socio-emotional skills” when looking for a job. Employers are said to be looking for individuals who are hardworking, meet deadlines, are reliable, creative, collaborative … the list goes on depending on the occupation. In recent years, it seems, these skills have become equally important as technical skills. But do employers really care about these soft skills when hiring? If so, what type of personality do they favor?