Today, November 10, is World Science Day, and the focus of the Day this year is quality science education. Learning in schools in many developing countries is low. But the same can be said for many schools in Washington, DC. On PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), the international benchmark to measure mathematics skills and science literacy, among 34 OECD countries the US ranked 27th in mathematics and 20th in science, with no statistically significant improvement over time. Within the US, again in terms of performance in mathematics, the capital city of Washington DC ranks last behind all states in the national NAEP assessment. Improving such low levels of performance requires a concerted effort, but tutoring for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects can help. Tutoring can be part of the solution to improve learning.
“The child who has gone to a preschool can study in primary school with more ease than a child who joins a primary school directly.” Unfortunately, “preschool fees range from 50,000 to 150,000 Shillings (US$ 20-60) per term of three months. Most parents cannot afford this, so many of them wait until their children are of age to start primary school.”
These quotes from Ugandan villages illustrate how parents value investments in young children, but often cannot afford them. The same is true for healthcare and nutrition. Early years are essential for children’s development. The reality is that investments in early childhood development (ECD) remain low in most countries, in part because of the complexity of the field. ECD policies and programs are managed by multiple public and private service providers, regulatory agencies, and ministries. It is of course not necessary for everyone to be experts on all matters related to ECD, but more awareness of the comprehensive nature of these investments would help in improving ECD programs and marshalling more resources towards them.
A number of incidents this year have highlighted the challenging circumstances in which girls attend school in developing countries. Nearly 300 adolescent school girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria by the Boko Haram group. Frequent attacks on schools have forced many parents to withdraw girls from education.
Development practitioners and donors are more convinced than ever that increasing opportunities, skills and resources for women and girls will lead to measurable improvements across a wide range of development indicators for all people, irrespective of their gender. The running assumption is that supporting adolescent girls is one of the most effective strategies available to achieve wider developmental outcomes.
The World Bank’s report, Voice and Agency: Empowering women and girls for shared prosperity launched two weeks ago, highlighted the close relation between female education and child marriage, noting, in particular, that girls with no education were six times more likely to enter into a child marriage compared to girls with high school education in 18 of the 20 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages. However, the case of Bangladesh shows that improvements in female education are not a sufficient condition for reducing child marriage among women: two out of every three girls marry before age 18 in spite of a big jump in secondary school enrollment and a sharp decline in fertility rate in the last twenty years.
These days, if you are looking for a new cellphone and wondering which one to buy, there are many reliable sources to turn to: a recent copy of Consumer Reports is a good start, for one. But if you are choosing a school for your child, possibly one of the most significant investments you can make, an informed decision can be far more elusive. While you may hear of the school’s reputation, learn what others think, or visit the school, unlike phones, it is often difficult to know just how good a school really is. As consumers of educational services, we often find ourselves largely ‘in the dark’.
Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion.
In October 2014, the most popular blog post was "Realization of the Dream" by Leszek Sibilski.
In this post, Leszek describes the "changing faces" of his students in university courses and ponders whether terms like “minority” or “cultural differences” will one day be obsolete as his students come from increasingly diverse backgrounds.
While acknowledging that there is still plenty of space to improve, Leszek reminds us that focusing on differences can limit our ability to connect with each other. He writes, "Instead of building societal firewalls, we should expose the negative vocabulary for classroom and public discussions in order to raise public awareness supported by mutual understanding."
Taking a break from the How Change Happens book this week to head off to Harvard for a Matt Andrews/ODI seminar on ‘Doing Development Differently’ + a day at Oxfam America on Friday. Will report back, I’m sure. Meanwhile, I’ve just finished the draft chapter on the power of social norms, and how they change (and can be changed). ODI provides an absolute gold mine of a crib sheet on this in the shape of Drivers of Change in Gender norms: An annotated bibliography, by Rachel Marcus and Ella Page with Rebecca Calder and Catriona Foley.
Here’s one of the excerpts that caught my eye:
Jensen, R. and Oster, E. (2007) ‘The Power of TV: Cable Television and Women’s Status in India’. Working Paper 13305. Cambridge, MA: NBER
The International Day of the Girl Child earlier this month was an opportunity to remind ourselves that girls are among the primary victims of violence, and that they continue to, in many countries, have limited education and employment opportunities.
Faced with pressure of an increasing number of students, education quality has been a central concern for the universities and society at large in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has been a shining example in increase access and quality to primary and secondary education, but similar progress has not yet been seen at the tertiary level. Educationists are concerned that higher education, in its current form, may not be able to supply sufficient numbers of highly trained and motivated individuals to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. Such worries are not completely groundless. At many universities, facilities and equipment such as laboratories, libraries, equipment, journals etc. were often in short supply or outdated.
The Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) initiative under Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP), is helping universities to overcome such challenges. A number of faculties have already taken advantage of the opportunity to bring about improvements in teaching, learning, and facilities.