When I was based in the field, I often noticed that many of the journalists working in Africa had not been specifically trained to report on development-related matters, which at times hobbled their ability to effectively identify development issues and, by extension, inform the public of the choices and activities implemented in various countries.
The World Bank Africa Region introduced a successful, innovative approach to training journalists – a free, online course for 100 journalists from Francophone Africa, who were selected through an application process.
Socioemotional skills (also referred to as non-cognitive skills, character skills, or soft skills) have recently become part of the discourse on how to improve educational outcomes. There is growing evidence that those skills may be as important as intelligence in determining academic and professional success. There is already some evidence indicating that socioemotional skills can be encouraged.
A young man sitting next to me on a recent flight from Almaty to Dushanbe told me, “I regret that I did not get a better education. I could have had a better job.” He is one of many Central Asian labor migrants doing low-skilled work in neighboring countries. He continued, “I’m telling my brothers and sisters to study hard if they want to have a better life.”
It was an important reminder about the responsibility we have as a society to ensure that young people like him get the education they deserve.
In light of the technological revolution we are witnessing today, the promise of education is becoming even more important. Emergence of robotics, autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning will transform the way we live, the way we work, and the skills we will need for work. Some jobs will disappear and some that don’t even exist today will become commonplace. What is certain is that education will be critical to succeed in the new reality.
While Central Asian countries inherited high-levels of adult literacy and education attainment from the Soviet period, the region has since experienced a visible decline in the quality of learning. Students here often lag behind in such basic skills as critical thinking, reasoning, and problem solving.
Comparing two middle-income countries is not unusual, but two that are geographically far and are apparently different is less common. However, both Turkey and Peru have had the highest growth in their respective regions in recent years, aspire to become high-income economies in the next decade, depend on trade. Both countries face downside risks if structural changes—in the education and training system, and the economy more broadly—are not made to ensure that contributions to economic growth come from improvements in productivity. Both countries recognize there is a large gap between their productivity levels and the global productivity frontier, and both have growing populations that are not adequately equipped to meet labor market needs, with average productivity levels. Given these (similar) challenges, both countries have as their development goal, central to their development agenda, to improve productivity to continue growing in a sustainable manner.
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: