The education system in Syria is a victim of the country’s conflict; Syrian teachers and students have been displaced, along with their families, and many Syrian refugee children have now been out of school for multiple years. Of the approximately 340,000 Syrians ages 6 to 17 who are registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon, about 45% are in Lebanese public schools, with additional numbers in private, semi-private and non-formal instruction.
A condition of no growth in basic learning outcomes, despite high levels of education spending.]
Argentina is no stranger to stagflation – a condition of stagnant economic growth, despite high inflation. But, over the last decade or so, it has also been suffering from staglearning – no growth in learning, despite high levels of spending on education. This is not just inefficient; this is heartbreaking since it means the country is not capitalizing on potential poverty reduction.
Selilah stares out over a landscape she has inhabited for 70 years. In the valley below, deep gullies scar the slopes where rains have carried away the soil. Living with three of her four sons, she is struggling to make ends meet in this part of Sidama Zone, Ethiopia, where, she says, there used to be a forest more than 40 years ago.
Now most trees have been felled and water is scarce. Selilah spends two hours a day collecting her two jerrycans (50 liters) from a neighboring kebele (neighborhood), but when that source fails she has to buy water from a vendor at ETB 6 (30 US Cents) per a jerrycan, a huge cut into her income.
In the last 10 years, she says, the rains have changed – they are lighter than before and more infrequent. As a result, production from her meager plot – just 0.25 ha – is declining. After her husband died more than a decade ago, she now only makes ends meet through the daily wage-labor income of her sons. Like many others, Selilah is on the frontline of climate change in a landscape under increasing pressure.
Amidst the risk assessments, results frameworks, and implementation arrangements of any World Bank-financed project, it’s easy to lose sight of the impact that education projects can have on individuals, especially students and teachers. To launch our higher education project in Tajikistan, we used a youth contest to tie the project to personal success stories.
We asked young people in Tajikistan between the ages of 18-25 to tell us in an email of 100 words: why is higher education important to you? How is it impacting your life? Entries could be submitted in Tajik, Russian, or English.
Since the contest was the first of its kind in Tajikistan, we didn’t know what to expect. To spread the word, we engaged the leader of a youth-oriented NGO in Tajikistan to email, telephone, and visit higher education institutions. Different universities posted contest details to their websites and social media pages.
In 2007, Mongolia’s economy grew at a double digit pace with modest inflation. The slump of the 1990s must have seemed a distant memory in the last full year before the elections in 2008.
The previous year saw several iconic projects approved, and 2007, the next year in our 25 years in 25 days reflection, did likewise. The Renewable Energy for Rural Access Project (REAP) became effective in 2007 and was ultimately expanded. The project brought a modern solution to a century old problem: how can the benefits of electricity be harnessed to benefit the quarter of Mongolia’s people who are nomadic herders living in gers? Connecting them to the grid was not a solution both because distances are vast and because nomadic people move around. The modern solution was to give the herders access to solar power through a program launched by the Mongolian Government supported by the World Bank and the Government of the Netherlands. “Thanks to the National 100,000 Solar Ger Electrification Program, over half a million men, women and children, covering half the rural population of Mongolia and 70 percent of herders, now have access to modern electricity.” For these 100,000 herder families, the off-grid solar home systems generate enough power for lights, televisions, radios, mobile phone charging and small appliances. (Video here.)
Over the past dozen years or so, I have seen and/or heard dozens (probably hundreds) of education project proposals that have sought in some way to include the use of text messages. Whether to send reminders to teachers about what they are meant to teach on a given topic, provide students with a 'learning fact of the day', disseminate exam results, inform parents of student absences, or make available simple SMS quizzes for language learners, many of these proposals have shared a common approach to financing one type of related expense.
"We'll ask the mobile phone company to give us lots of text messages for free. Since we are an education project, we are sure that they will do this." ("By the way," some of these project proponents subsequently asked me, "do you know anyone at the mobile provider we can talk to make this happen?")
Only in very rare cases does this approach to funding seem to work, however. When I explain this to people, noting that phone companies typically don't give away airtime for free and then ask, 'what makes you think they will do so for text messages?', most folks tend to explore a wider variety of potential financing options. (A few clever people will note that text messages don't really cost mobile providers anything to send; this may be true, but it doesn't change the fact that just because something costs very little, or even nothing at all, doesn't mean that someone is willing to give it away for free.) Most providers (and many third-parties) offer bulk ('high volume') SMS rates that can dramatically lessen the costs incurred when sending out thousands of emails, but in my experience those costs are very rarely waived entirely by mobile providers as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts. (You can always try, though!)
Whether it is the sender or the mobile provider that ends up covering the cost of sending a text message, pretty much all of the education-related project proposals insist that the cost to the beneficiary (a teacher, a student, a parent) should be *zero*.
The cost of receiving text messages in many countries is already zero, of course, and sending SMS is typically quite cheap as well. When it comes to Internet access, however, standard data rates and packages in most of the world can be quite expensive -- prohibitively so for people with low incomes. Paying so that you can receive information via text message on your mobile phone is one thing -- paying to access the Internet using your phone (or other device), can be another matter entirely.
Recognizing this, for a few years there has been a movement to make certain types of educational content available for use by people on mobile networks without incurring any costs related to data transfer. When it comes to education, the Wikipedia Foundation famously pioneered this sort of thing by offering a way for people to receive information from Wikipedia via a free text message. Free text messages: Sounds great, you might say, but there's something that would be even better: free access to educational content directly on the Internet itself – even where such content is already available for ‘free’ on the Internet, users often have to pay their mobile or Internet provider in order to be able to download the content!
Networked devices of various sorts (phones, tablets) are increasingly cheap, and powerful, and in the hands of more and more teachers and students. Improvements in connectivity however -- more bandwidth, greater reliability, lower costs -- are not happening anywhere near as quickly. Wouldn't it be great if people could use these devices to get access to the wealth of educational resources on the Internet (many of which are provided for free) and not have to pay for the bandwidth that would enable this?
As it turns out, this has actually been happening in some places around the world, a development that has been greeted by different people in different ways -- with delight, with debate, and, in some quarters: with disdain.
Not many educational policymakers have entered into related debates, however, perhaps because they are scared away by some of the language and technical focus that characterize discussions around so-called ‘net neutrality’ issues. In fact, in my experience, few education policymakers are even aware of such discussions, nor of why they should care about so-called 'zero-rating', and its potential relevance to, and application in, education.
Today we look at 2006, the 16th year of the 25 year partnership between Mongolia and the World Bank. The economy continued to grow, checking in at 8.6% for the year, as did industry’s share of GDP which peaked that year at 43%.
The year 2006 was a banner year for the World Bank’s program in Mongolia, with several iconic projects approved that year, starting with one in rural education.
An institutional and governance review of budget expenditure for education found that the pupil-per-teacher ratio is higher in urban schools. Among other findings, the Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS), on which the report was based, illustrated that students in rural schools obtained significantly lower test scores than those from urban schools, consistent with “a pattern where the more disadvantaged — and therefore lower-performing students — systematically fail to advance their schooling and drop out at a younger age in the rural areas.” The need to provide rural children better education opportunities, which had been a theme for years, had further evidence.