Slideshow: Reimagining a park, a river, and other public spaces in Seoul (Photos by Judy Zheng Jia / World Bank)
"If you lose the human scale, the city becomes an ugly place," said Joan Clos, Executive Director of the UN-HABITAT at the Habitat III Conference last month. But more than being "ugly," the lack of good public urban spaces, such as open spaces, parks, and public buildings, often contribute to low livability in many of the world's congested and polluted cities. In fact, the importance of the issue received recognition in SDG 11, Target 7, which calls for the provision of “universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green, and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons, and persons with disabilities,” by 2030.
The importance of good urban spaces was the topic of an international workshop—“Vitalizing Cities with Public Space”—held in Seoul on November 14-17, 2016 and co-hosted by the Korea Research Institute of Human Settlements and the World Bank’s Urbanscapes Group. Eight cities from around the world—Seoul, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Chongqing, Kakamega, Zanzibar, Astana, and Tashkent—participated to discuss challenges and opportunities for better urban planning and design.
These urban constraints have a significant impact on those living with disabilities in terms of mobility, ability to engage in education and skills development, employability and income generation, and larger social and political participation.
Computer Science Education Week has already kicked off (December 5 - 11, 2016) and it is a pretty big deal. One hour of code for everyone (no experience needed) is a part of that. The focus is on getting children involved. But what about busy professionals? Can it be useful for them, too? We think the answer to that is yes. This blog will teach you to code in Google Apps Script (GAS for short) in sixty minutes or less. There are two main reasons we chose GAS.
One, GAS is an easy to use scripting language that can help you write programs to solve common coding problems. We chose GAS because it is very easy to get started and offers some great features for saving your files in the cloud and working with different kinds of files. You need to be able to use Google Drive to write basic scripts in GAS.
Secondly, as our regular readers may know, this is the seventh blog of the technology aided gut (TAG) checks series. So far in this series, we have focused on the tools and techniques of a just-in-time learning strategy, and how to use TAG checks to make conclusions about data. In this blog we wanted to focus on some basic programming that will help illustrate how powerful (and easy!) just a little code education can be. GAS is perfect for this purpose.
N.B. You can do some pretty nifty stuff in GAS and here is the result of more professional code we have written entirely in GAS. This is an Add-On for Google Docs to create word clouds
Now -- all you need is a gmail account to get started.
(͡• ͜ʖ ͡•) GET SET AND START YOUR CLOCK MINUTETO MINUTE
While logged into Gmail, go to https://drive.google.com/. If this is your first time, you will see something like this:
Rubi’s Story: Exulted, Rubi ran home. As fast as her fifteen-year-old legs could carry her, she ran, exam in hand, excited to share the results with her family. The results, she believed, would shape her fate.
Yet when she got home, the elation dissipated with the dust. Her father had his own news to deliver. She would not be going to secondary school, as she had worked for, as she had wanted. Instead, she would be getting married, an economic necessity for Rubi’s family as well as a common practice in Bangladesh. Early marriage is on the decline in Bangladesh, but high rates continue to prevail; 59 percent of all girls are married by age 18 and 16 percent by age 15.
The Advocates: When little, Rubi had been denied access to primary school because her parents hadn’t registered her at birth. Rubi’s mother got her daughter a birth certificate, and with that, she was admitted to school, a place where she thrived.
At 15, smart, ambitious Rubi did not want to get married. So she found advocates in her teachers and Plan International, a child rights organization. With their support, Rubi went to the Union Council Office where the chairman informed her parents about the legal ramifications of child marriage. She was not old enough and her birth certificate proved it. She was underage. So Rubi went back to school and on to graduate at 18.
New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.
The number of people using messaging apps continues to rise. In fact, traditional global telecoms are scrambling to compete and maintain relevance. In some parts of the world messaging apps have become the most used apps overall.
According to data (using Android App Data: April 2016) from Similar Web out of 187 countries examined, WhatsApp was the most popular messaging app, becoming the global leader by claiming the top spot in 109 countries. Findings from Global Web Index (GWI) suggest that 3 in 4 WhatsApp users use the service daily, helping this messaging app claim the title for the highest usage frequency of all the messaging apps tracked by GWI. Although Facebook Messenger came in second place, claiming 49 countries, it remains to be one of the most powerful platforms for companies to reach their customers. Third in line was Viber, with 10 countries. LINE messaging app took fourth place.
As climate change intensifies, catastrophic, record-setting natural disasters look increasingly like the “new normal” – from Hurricane Matthew killing at least 1,300 people in September to Typhoon Lionrock, the previous month, causing flooding that left 138 dead and more than 100,000 homeless in North Korea.
What steps can we take to limit the destruction caused by natural disasters? One possible answer is using data to improve relief operations.
Let’s look at the aftermath of the April 2015 Gorkha earthquake, the worst to hit Nepal in over 80 years. Nearly 9,000 people were killed, some 22,000 injured, hundreds of thousands were rendered homeless and entire villages were flattened.
Yet for all the destruction, the toll could have been far worse.
Without in any way minimising the horrible disaster that hit Nepal that day, I want to make the case that data — and, in particular, a new type of social responsibility — helped Nepal avoid a worse calamity. It may offer lessons for other disasters around the world.
In the wake of the Nepal disaster, a wide variety of actors – from government, civil society and the private sector alike – rushed in to address the humanitarian crisis. One notable player was Ncell, Nepal’s largest mobile network operator. Shortly after the earthquake, Ncell decided to share its mobile data (in an aggregated, de-identified way) with the the non-profit Swedish organisation, Flowminder.
The city of La Paz in Bolivia is piloting a new tool called Barrio Digital—or Digital Neighborhood—to communicate more effectively and efficiently with citizens living in areas that fall within Barrios de Verdad, or PBCV, an urban upgrading program that provides better services and living conditions to people in poor neighborhoods.
The goals of Barrio Digital are to:
Increase citizen participation for evidence-based decision-making,
Reduce the cost of submitting a claim and shorten the amount of time it takes for the municipality to respond, and
Strengthen the technical skills and capacity within the municipality to use ICT tools for citizen engagement.
Around the world, there is no shortage of rhetoric related to the potential for the use of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) to 'transform teaching and learning'. Indeed, related pronouncements often serve as the rallying cry around, and justification for, the purchase of lots of educational technology hardware, software, and related goods and services. Where 'business as usual' is not thought to be working, some governments are increasingly open to considering 'business unusual' -- something that often involves the use of new technologies in some significant manner.
One challenge that many countries face along the way is that their procurement procedures are misaligned with what industry is able to provide, and with how industry is able to provide it. Technology changes quickly, and procurement guidelines originally designed to meet the needs of 20th century schooling (with a focus on school construction, for example, and the procurement of textbooks) may be inadequate when trying to operate in today's fast-changing technology environments. Indeed, in education as in other sectors, technological innovations typically far outpace the ability of policymakers to keep up.
Faced with considering the use of new, 'innovative' tools and approaches that hadn't been tried before at any large scale within its country's schools, education policymakers may reflexively turn to precedent and 'old' practices to guide their decisions, especially when it comes to procurement. This is usually seen within government ministries as a prudent course of action, given that such an approach is consistent with the status quo, and that related safeguards are (hopefully) in place. As a result, however, they may end up driving forward into the future primarily by looking in the rear view mirror.
When considering the scope for introducing various types of technology-enabled 'innovations' (however one might like to define that term) into their education systems, many governments face some fundamental challenges:
They don't know exactly what they want.
And even where they do:
They don't have the in-house experience or expertise to determine if what they want is practical, or even feasible, nor do they know what everything should cost.
One common mechanism utilized in many countries is the establishment of a special 'innovation fund', designed to support the exploration of lots of 'new stuff' in the education sector. Such efforts can be quite valuable, and they often end up supporting lots of worthwhile, innovative small scale projects. (The World Bank supports many 'innovation funds' related to the education sector around the world, for what that might be worth, and the EduTech blog exists in part to help document and explore some of what is learned along the way.) There is nothing wrong with small scale, innovative pilot projects, of course. In fact, one can argue that we need many more of them -- or at least more of them with certain characteristics. That said, introducing and making something work at a very small scale is a much different task than exploring how innovations can be implemented at scale across an entire education system.
In such circumstances:
What is a ministry of education to do?
How can it explore innovative approaches to the procurement of 'innovative' large scale educational technology programs in ways that are practical, appropriate, cost-effective, likely to yield good results, informed by research and international 'good practice', and transparent?
Education is a ‘black box’ -- or so a prevailing view among many education policymakers and researchers goes.
For all of the recent explosion in data related to learning -- as a result of standardized tests, etc. -- remarkably little is known at scale about what exactly happens in classroomsaroundtheworld, and outside of them, when it comes to learning, and what the impact of this has.
This isn't to say that we know nothing, of course:
The World Bank (to cite an example from within my own institution) has been using standardized classroom observation techniques to help document what is happening in many classrooms around the world (see, for example, reports based on modified Stallings Method classroom observations across Latin America which seek to identify how much time is actually spent on instruction during school hours; in many cases, the resulting data generated are rather appalling).
Common sense holds various tenets dear when it comes to education, and to learning; many educators profess to know intuitively what works, based on their individual (and hard won) experience, even in the absence of rigorously gathered, statistically significant 'hard' data; the impact of various socioeconomic factors is increasingly acknowledged (even if many policymakers remain impervious to them); and cognitive neuroscience is providing many interesting insights.
But in many important ways, education policymaking and processes of teaching and learning are constrained by the fact that we don't have sufficient, useful, actionable data about what is actually happening with learners at a large scale across an education system -- and what impact this might have. Without data, as Andreas Schleicher likes to say, you are just another person with an opinion. (Of course, with data you might be a person with an ill-considered or poorly argued opinion, but that’s another issue.)
side observation: Echoing many teachers (but, in contrast to teaching professionals, usually with little or no formal teaching experience themselves), I find that many parents and politicians also profess to know intuitively ‘what works’ when it comes to teaching. When it comes to education, most everyone is an ‘expert’, because, well, after all, everyone was at one time a student. While not seeking to denigrate the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, or downplay the value of common sense, I do find it interesting that many leaders profess to have ready prescriptions at hand for what ‘ails education’ in ways that differ markedly from the ways in which they approach making decisions when it comes to healthcare policy, for example, or finance – even though they themselves have also been patients and make spending decisions in their daily lives.
One of the great attractions of educational technologies for many people is their potential to help open up and peer inside this so-called black box. For example:
When teachers talk in front of a class, there are only imperfect records of what transpired (teacher and student notes, memories of participants, what's left on the blackboard -- until that's erased). When lectures are recorded, on the other hand, there is a data trail that can be examined and potentially mined for related insights.
When students are asked to read in their paper textbook, there is no record of whether the book was actually opened, let along whether or not to the correct page, how long a page was viewed, etc. Not so when using e-readers or reading on the web.
Facts, figures and questions scribbled on the blackboard disappear once the class bell rings; when this information is entered into, say, Blackboard TM (or any other digital learning management system, for that matter), they can potentially live on forever.
And because these data are, at their essence, just a collection of ones and zeroes, it is easy to share them quickly and widely using the various connected technology devices we increasingly have at our disposal.
A few years ago I worked on a large project where a government was planning to introduce lots of new technologies into classrooms across its education system. Policymakers were not primarily seeking to do this in order to ‘transform teaching and learning’ (although of course the project was marketed this way), but rather so that they could better understand what was actually happening in classrooms. If students were scoring poorly on their national end-of-year assessments, policymakers were wondering: Is this because the quality of instruction was insufficient? Because the learning materials used were inadequate? Or might it be because the teachers never got to that part of the syllabus, and so students were being assessed on things they hadn’t been taught? If technology use was mandated, at least they might get some sense about what material was being covered in schools – and what wasn’t. Or so the thinking went ....
Yes, such digital trails are admittedly incomplete, and can obscure as much as they illuminate, especially if the limitations of such data are poorly understood and data are investigated and analyzed incompletely, poorly, or with bias (or malicious intent). They also carry with them all sorts of very important and thorny considerations related to privacy, security, intellectual property and many other issues.
That said, used well, the addition of additional data points holds out the tantalizing promise of potentially new and/or deeper insights than has been currently possible within 'analogue' classrooms.
But there is another 'black box of education' worth considering.
In many countries, there have been serious and expansive efforts underway to compel governments make available more ‘open data’ about what is happening in their societies, and to utilize more ‘open educational resources’ for learning – including in schools. Many international donor and aid agencies support related efforts in key ways. The World Bank is a big promoter of many of these so-called ‘open data’ initiatives, for example. UNESCO has long been a big proponent of ‘open education resources’ (OERs). To some degree, pretty much all international donor agencies are involved in such activities in some way.
There is no doubt that increased ‘openness’ of various sorts can help make many processes and decisions in the education sector more transparent, as well as have other benefits (by allowing the re-use and ‘re-mixing’ of OERs, teachers and students can themselves help create new teaching and learning materials; civil society groups and private firms can utilize open data to help build new products and services; etc.).
What happens when governments promote the use of open education data and open education resources but, at the same time, refuse to make openly available the algorithms (formulas) that are utilized to draw insights from, and make key decisions based on, these open data and resources?
Are we in danger of opening up one black box, only to place another, more inscrutable back box inside of it?
A good number of African governments have shown how technologically-forward thinking they are by announcing one-tablet-per-child initiatives in their countries. President John recently announced that tablets for Ghana’s schoolchildren were at the center of his campaign to improve academic standards. Last year, President Kenyatta of Kenya abandoned a laptop project for tablets.