On entering World Bank headquarters in Washington, DC, the words “Our Dream is a World Free of Poverty” are prominently displayed on a wall near the main entrance.
Information and Communication Technologies
This week, I had the opportunity to discuss the rise of citizen participation in Morocco with Tarik Nesh-Nash. If the name means nothing to you, it’s time to discover the man behind it!
Tarik is 34 years old. He’s a computer engineer and is acutely aware of politics in his country. Youth, skills, and an understanding of the issues: Combine ingredients, mix well, and finish off with a generous dash of inventiveness. What you have is a young social innovator ready to revolutionize the role of citizens in his country.
Early 2011. The first buds of the Arab spring are about to bloom. The Moroccan people take to the streets to denounce social injustice, unemployment, and corruption and call for a genuine constitutional monarchy. In March, King Mohamed VI announces the launch of constitutional reforms. Several days later, Tarik launches Reforme.ma, a participatory platform he co-founded with another young computer engineer, Mehdi Slaoui Andaloussi. The platform will enable thousands of Moroccans to contribute to drafting the new constitution.
It is now widely understood that achieving a sustained acceleration of GDP growth over the long term is a prerequisite for eradicating mass poverty. In most developing countries, fiscal policies, including expenditure and tax policies, provide some of the most feasible tools available to governments for achieving their development objectives. Hence the role of fiscal policies as instruments for promoting long term sustainable economic growth is of great importance, an issue that was discussed at the “Fiscal Policy, Equity and Long Term Growth” conference which took place at the IMF on April 21-22, 2013. What matters in this context is how fiscal policies are designed and implemented such that they affect the long term growth of the supply side of the economy, rather than as a tool of short run demand management. The quality of fiscal policy is of critical importance in this regard.
There is a large volume of academic research, both theoretical and empirical, on the effects of different aspects of fiscal policy on economic growth (Easterly and Rebelo, 1993; Gemmel, 2001; Moreno-Dodson, 2012; World Bank, 2007, etc to cite just a few). This research has yielded broad fiscal policy advice for developing countries. For example, governments should avoid excessive fiscal deficits and public debt, allocate budgets towards human capital development and public investment in infrastructure which provides “public goods and services” and levy taxes on as broad a base as possible without distorting incentives to save and invest.
Animation schools in Cambodia are using the power of international trade to reach the poor. In recent years, a number of institutions have emerged to train young Khmers how to draw the characters used in advertisements, cartoons and films. One of the institutes is run by a French school whose graduates have worked on blockbusters such as the Harry Potter, Shrek and Batman movies. These schools are tapping into a multi-billion-dollar global industry and demonstrating Cambodia’s potential to engage in high-tech services trade. They also confirm that small firms and even community-led projects in LDCs can participate in trade in services, while helping children rise out of poverty.
When I was back in school, and long before I had come across names like Wilbur Schramm or Manuel Castells, I remember learning about the power of new information and communication technologies to help change societies. Even from the (perhaps rather limited) perspective of someone growing up in a prairie state in the American Midwest, whether it was the role of pamphlets in the American Revolution or the more contemporary examples of audiocassettes in the Iranian revolution or photocopiers helping to spread samizdat culture and messages in the countries of the former Soviet Bloc, it was clear that the emergence, adaptation and innovative uses of new 'ICTs' could help committed groups of people upend the existing status quo.
(Whether such 'upending' is a good thing or not depends, I guess, on your perspective, and the specific circumstances and context. Flip through the pages of UNESCO's Community radio handbook, for example, and you may well be inspired, but read a recent paper from a researcher at Harvard about the role of RTLM radio in the Rwandan genocide and you will be chilled to the bone. Technology is a magnifier of human intent and capacity, as my friend Kentaro Toyama likes to say.)
More recently, the events of the 'Arab Spring' have been popularly attributed, in part, to the use of new ICTs and ICT tools like Twitter and SMS. Whether or not one agrees with this attribution (and about this there is much scholarly debate), there is no denying that rhetoric around 'ICTs' and the Arab Spring has increasingly marked and colored discussions about the use of educational technologies in many Arab countries. In announcing a recent report documenting technology use in education in the region, for example, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) begins by noting that, "Against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, arguably the most significant ICT-assisted “learning” phenomena of the recent past, data from five countries provide a snapshot of ICT integration in education." It continues:
"Great strides have been made in the last decade to harness the power of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to help meet many development challenges, including those related to education. However, evidence shows that some countries in the Arab States continue to lag behind in fully implementing ICT in their education systems.
According to a UIS data analysis, which was based on a data collection process sponsored and conducted by the UNESCO Communication and Information Sector and the Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organization (TAG-Org), policies for the implementation and use of ICT in primary and secondary education systems have not necessarily translated into practice. This is revealed in the newly released data from five participating countries."
Results from this data analysis were recently published by UIS in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Education in Five Arab States: A comparative analysis of ICT integration and e-readiness in schools in Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Palestine and Qatar [pdf], one part of a larger multinational effort to collect and analyze basic data related to ICT use in education around the world (results from a similar exercise in Latin America, also led by UIS, were featured on the EduTech blog last week; recent posts have also looked at related sorts of efforts in Europe and Central and West Asia).
Will Maletsatsi take the necessary steps to get out of debt and successfully manage her finances in the future? This is the central question posed in Scandal, a South African soap opera that is the subject of a new World Bank Policy Research Working Paper. Maletsatsi, the main character in this show, is in a real bind. After borrowing an excessive amount of money and gambling away her fortunes, she is forced to confess the extent of her debt to family and friends. In one scene, her daughter convinces her to negotiate lower monthly payments with a local furniture store. The store eventually agrees to extend the loan period, but her interest rate goes up and she starts to ignore other bills, leaving them unopened and unpaid. A well-intentioned woman, you can’t help but sympathize with Maletsatsi, who was only trying to create a beautiful home for her husband and family. It is through this emotional connection that television viewers are not only able to relate to the main character’s dilemma, but are also able to share Maletsatsi’s joy as she learns the rules of sound financial management and takes control of her debt.
Billboards announcing the arrival of high-speed
broadband internet being installed in downtown
Nukua'lofa, the capital of the Kingdom
Hoko (‘connect’ in Tongan) is the current buzzword on the streets of the Kingdom of Tonga.
With May 17th recognized around the world as World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa is a hive of activity as telecommunications providers set up their activities to mark the day. The billboards have gone up, teenagers have been lining up at auditions to become the new public face of the marketing campaign for Tongan internet, and the Prime Minister, Lord Sialeʻataongo Tuʻivakanō is planning a public Skype session with Tongan soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan.
If there is any year the Kingdom of Tonga would be justifiably excited about its telecomms story, 2013 is it. As one of the most remote island nations on the planet, the impending arrival of high-speed, fiber-optic broadband internet – made possible through the World Bank-supported Pacific Regional Connectivity Project, an 830km-long cable being connected between Fiji and Tonga – means that everyone is talking of hoko.
I spoke to a number of people about the experience with internet in Tonga and how broadband internet would affect their lives.
has access to some form of modern
Recently my 10 year old son invited me to be friends with him on Facebook. “Hi mum I’m here too, can we be friends?” was the message I got. I was shocked and worried at the same time, and my initial reaction was fear of the perceived harm social media could do to a person as young as he.
We finally agreed that his father would have access to his Facebook account to monitor his online activities until he reaches 18. But the moment he gets or posts something inappropriate, the deal is off. That’s a fair deal, I told myself and interacting through social media could actually enrich my son’s life.
What I’m going through is also experienced by other families in the Solomon Islands. It started when mobile phone technology began revolutionizing the lives of ordinary Solomon Islanders in the last five years, when the telecommunications industry was opened for competition. Previously, only business executives and senior government officials owned or had access to mobile phones – a luxury only the rich and the influential would enjoy.
I recently relocated my family from Chisanau to The Hague, leading to the difficult experience of trying to find the best primary school for my son in a new city. This challenge – finding the right school – is probably one of the most important decisions in many parents’ lives. Parents are looking for answers to questions such as which schools are located in safe neighborhoods, which ones have the highest teacher – students’ ratio, which schools have the best funding, which schools have the best premises or which ones have the highest grades average.
Almost a decade ago, delegates from over 175 countries gathered in Geneva for the first 'World Summit on the Information Society', a two-part conference (the second stage followed two years later in Tunis) sponsored by the United Nations meant to serve as a platform for global discussion about how new information and communication technologies were impacting and changing economic, political and cultural activities and developments around the world. Specific attention and focus was paid to issues related to the so-called 'digital divide' -- the (growing) gap (and thus growing inequality) between groups who were benefiting from the diffusion and use of ICTs, and those who were not. One of the challenges that inhibited discussions at the event was the fact that, while a whole variety of inequalities were readily apparent to pretty much everyone, these inequalities were very difficult to quantify, given the fact that we had only incomplete data with which to describe them. The Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, an international, multi-stakeholder initiative to improve the availability and quality of ICT data and indicators, was formed as a result, and constituent members of this partnership set out to try to bridge data gaps in a variety of sectors. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) took the lead on doing this in the education sector, convening and chairing a Working Group on ICT Statistics in Education (in which the World Bank participates, as part of its SABER-ICT initiative) to help address related challenges. At the start, two basic questions confronted the UIS, the World Bank, the IDB, OECD, ECLAC, UNESCO, KERIS and many other like-minded participating members of the working group (out of whose acronyms a near-complete alphabet could be built):
What type of data should be collected related to ICT use in education?
Not to mention:
What type of data could be collected,
given that so little of it was being rigorously gathered
across the world as a whole,
relevant to rich and poor countries alike,
in ways that permitted comparisons across regions and countries?
Comparing ICT use in education across all countries was quite difficult back then. In 2003/2004, the single most common question related to the use of ICTs in education I was asked when meeting with ministers of education was: What should be our target student:computer ratio? Now, one can certainly argue with the premise that this should have been the most commonly posed question (the answer from many groups and people soon became -- rather famously, in fact -- '1-to-1', e.g. 'one laptop per child'). That said, the fact that we were unable to offer globally comparable data in response to such a seemingly basic question did little to enhance the credibility of those who argued this was, in many ways, the wrong question to be asking. Comparing ICT use in education across all countries remains difficult today -- but in many regards, this task is becoming much easier.