The global #16Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign started on November 25 with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and ended on International Human Rights Day, which was celebrated on December 10.
Throughout those #16Days, the World Bank’s message was clear: Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) is a global pandemic that has or will affect 1 in 3 women in their lifetime. Violence is not only a personal struggle for the victims, but also has severe consequences on social and economic outcomes.
How do large-scale student assessments, like PISA, actually work? What are the key ingredients that are necessary to produce a reliable, policy relevant assessment of what children and young people know and can do with what they know? A new report commissioned by the OECD and the World Bank offers a behind-the-scenes look at how some of the largest of these assessments are developed and implemented, particularly in developing countries.
This week over a million students around the world will participate in the Hour of Code, an annual event designed to excite interest in computer science and computer programming. This reflects a growing interest in some quarters to promote efforts within schools to broaden awareness of what it means to 'code' (i.e. write a set of step-by-step directions that instruct computers to do something) and to help students develop related skills.
Perhaps not surprisingly, many leadingtechnologyfirms have been keen proponents and supporters of this educational coding 'movement'. While such support has been particularly pronounced and high profile in the United States -- many of the prominentorganizations have close ties to and/or roots in Silicon Valley -- this is long past being only a North American phenomenon.
Citing the increasing importance of coding skills, and IT jobs more broadly, to their national economies, policymakers in many countries are considering national coding education efforts of various sorts – and a few education systems have already begun to implement related initiatives. From Trinidad and Tobago to Indonesia to Nigeria, 'coding' is being introduced into classrooms and curricula around the world in various ways, both informally and (increasingly) formally as well, for better and/or for worse (depending on your perspective, and the particular nature or rigor of the specific initiatives).
This phenomenon is notably observable across Europe, where, rather famously (at least within the communities of people who care about and pay attention to such things), Estonia and the United Kingdom have introduced coding curricula for students beginning in early primary grades (the UK has actually made this mandatory – as has Slovakia, for what that’s worth). Each year in October, CodeWeek.eu serves as a continental focal point and showcase for many of these sorts of national and regional efforts. A recent report from the European Schoolnet (Computer programming and coding - Priorities, school curricula and initiatives across Europe [pdf]) features results from a survey of 21 ministries of education about their current coding-related initiatives and plans for the future. To date, 16 European countries have integrated coding into their curricula at some level (with Finland and the Flemish part of Belgium expected to do so in 2016). While the focus of most of these countries has been at the upper secondary level, coding is increasingly to be found (or soon to be found) at the primary level at a majority of these countries as well. The report highlights a number of important related pedagogical questions that are emerging out of European experience:
How to design effectively the learning processes and outcomes involving coding?
Which concrete activities (and programming languages) are most appropriate for different students, according to their age, interests and capacities?
What are the particular merits (and limits) of adopting a cross-curricular approach to teaching coding or a discrete computer science subject?
How to refine assessment, in particular where coding is integrated in a cross-curricular approach in other subjects?
It also highlights many challenges related to training and support for teachers. While many of the startups developing the tools and services that make the coding movement possible are in the United States, Europe is in many the ways at the center of actual related activities in schools.
“Coding”, it is said by some, is the “new literacy”. The ability to write and understand computer code, some contend, is increasingly fundamental to understanding how to navigate one’s way through, to say nothing of succeeding in, a modern society where more and more of our lives are enabled and/or constrained by the actions of devices and information systems that run on computer code.
Few would argue with the notion, I would expect, that efforts to expose some students to ‘coding’, and to develop some related skills, is a bad thing. That said:
Should *all* students learn how to code? All? That’s ridiculous! some would answer. All? Absolutely! others respond.
I’ve sat in on a number of related discussions in ministries of education and at education policy forums around the world. At times, it can seem like members of these two groups are not only on different pages, but reading from totally different books. Those people just don’t get it, I’ve have heard representatives from both groups lament about each other after the conclusion of such meetings.
For what it’s worth, and in case it might be of any interest to others, here are, in no particular order, some of the most common arguments I hear made both in support of, and against, educational coding initiatives:
Investing in people starts by ensuring that graduates leave school with strong basic/foundational skills, such as in reading and mathematics. Such skills are critical for subsequent study, for quickly finding a first job, and for adapting to continuous technological change. But are countries in the EU ready to face that challenge?
On December 3, 2015, hundreds of young people gathered at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) to join leaders and share their voices on climate change. The day was marked as the ‘Young and Future Generations Day,’ a chance for young people to have a seat at the table and share how they would define our future. Young people today are growing up with effects of climate challenge and this immediate threat makes them more leaders of today rather than tomorrow.
An estimated 15% of the global population, or about 1 billion people, experience some form of disability. Persons with disabilities face many barriers in access to employment, education, services, and are disproportionately affected by poverty. Making sure that everyone can reap the benefits of development, including persons with disabilities, is at the core of the World Bank's mission. On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, the World Bank's Global Advisor on Disability, shares insights about current challenges and opportunities for disability-inclusive development, and explains how the institution has been integrating disability into its operations.
(In my experience, this query may be a result of an evaluation that showed little or no 'impact of technology on student learning’, despite massive amounts of money that have been invested … or it may simply come about because a lot of initiatives are coming to an end and the groups involved in them are looking for stuff to do. There are other impetuses as well, but I am regularly reminded that the motivations which animate this sort of question can vary quite a bit!)
In such instances, I usually respond by first congratulating them on all of these great accomplishments. A lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people was needed to make these things happen, and no doubt lots of difficult challenges popped up along the way.
As difficult (and expensive) as it may have been to achieve all of these things, in many ways they represent just table settings, and not the main course. In other words (and to adopt another metaphor, in case you didn't like that last one), they are some of the key raw materials that can be used to help do something purposeful with technology to supports learning that has real, demonstrable impact.
It's about the content, not the container, after all. (That will be the last metaphor for a while, I promise.) As devices proliferate, and as better and more widespread connectivity enables connections to networks from different places using a variety of different devices, the value will decreasingly be in the devices themselves, but rather in the educational content they enable learners and teachers to access (and in the connections to communities of other people as well).
OK, they counter, if the value is indeed in the content, and not the container ... where do we get this content?
The textbooks we use do not have straightforward digital equivalents or complements.
We really haven't budgeted for any digital learning content.
We spent almost all of our money on hardware (and a little on related training).
We know that there is a lot of 'free' content available on the Internet that would be useful to teachers and students.
An expatriate Indian physics professor, when traveling back home to India, found himself harassed by endless extortion demands. As a way to fight corruption by shaming the officials who ask for bribes, the professor created a fake currency bill: the zero-rupee note.
Vijay Anand, president of the non-governmental organization 5th Pillar, thought the idea could work on a larger scale. Initially, the NGO printed 25,000 zero-rupee notes and distributed them to students in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Since 2007, the NGO has distributed more than one million bills in five languages, covering 600-plus institutions. Volunteers hand them out near places where officials often solicit bribes, such as railway stations and government hospitals.
Vote buying has shaped much of Philippine politics throughout history. For many politicians, distributing private goods and cultivating patronage to individual supporters is one of the most effective electoral strategies.
While the line between public and private is traditionally blurry, people who are used to this relationship with those who hold positions in government tend to measure politicians’ performance in terms of how much they provide private goods as opposed to broad public goods.
But though it may have been prevalent, vote buying has been a serious constraint in the country. Research has shown that practices such as vote buying and political dynasties undermine public service delivery and poverty reduction. How can these practices, which are so deeply embedded in Filipinos’ political way of life, begin to change?