Editor's Note: Bernardo Weaver is a Wharton MBA in Finance Candidate and a consultant at the World Bank working on Public Private Partnerships.
|Photo © Yosef Hadar/World Bank|
The Amazon basin harbours the largest contiguous tropical forest on the planet, spread over eight countries. Over the past four decades the Amazon has been subjected to deforestation, forest degradation, global warming, and vegetation fires. However, the model for development of the Amazon—which is based on replacing forests with agriculture and cattle ranches—can be criticized on more than just environmental grounds. It can be faulted on economic grounds too. For example, the gross agricultural product of the Brazilian Amazon represents less than 0.5% of the Brazilian GDP. Sadly, fifty years of deforestation have brought neither wealth nor quality of life for most Amazônidas.
A recent article by Timothy Ogden (Computer Error?) provides a pretty clear answer: forget the glitzy computers, and put your scarce resources into the provision of deworming pills. The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program provides computers at around $200 a pop, while deworming pills cost between 50 cents and 4 dollars per student per year. All the control trials of computers in classrooms have given—at best—ambiguous results.
For those of you who are in Washington DC and want to learn more about the World Bank's work on the web — specifically, how audience feedback and data are driving the way we approach our new online initiatives — I'd recommend you attend the DigitalCitizen Conference on October 8, 2009.
The public needs its pundits. Those with expertise on various topics, ranging from financial derivates to pop psychology, serve as “opinion leaders” on the important and not-so-important issues of the day. From personal experience -- talking to family, friends, and colleagues -- I notice that we tend to repeat what we hear from them on various topics, whether consciously or not.
We know from applied communication research that, over time, people tend to retain bits and pieces of information while forgetting their sources. How many times have we made authoritative statements and when asked where we got the information, say something like “I don’t remember from where exactly but I’m pretty sure that… “ This is normal because we can’t be expected to keep track of each and every information source. And we can’t be expected to come up with our own erudite analysis of each and every public issue either. Hence, we need pundits. But we should also keep in mind that not all of these experts on all things public are created equal. We could very well be mouthing off as hard fact something a pundit shared as her or his own misinformed opinion.
In today’s fast-paced digital environment, new forms of literacy are quickly emerging. It is not only a challenge to keep up with new tools and skills needed to stay informed and engaged in the world around us, but also to find the time and resources. While media literacy is not a new issue, it has quickly become an eminent one due to the fast speed and wide spread of information via new media technologies. As a matter of urgency, the European Commission has issued a new recommendation, pushing its member countries to make media education available to all citizens and include it as mandatory in the school curricula, as well as adopt media literacy as a key pre-requisite for active citizenship. While internet penetration is high in Europe, there is an evident skill gap between citizens of different age-groups and socio-economic backgrounds in using the internet and new technologies. The European Commission believes that this skill gap and media illiteracy can lead to missed opportunities and social exclusion, and therefore, it’s important to instill media literacy skills in all sections of society. One could possibly also argue that citizens would also be excluded from realizing their political rights. The Commission further suggests that media literacy would be “a stimulus and a pre-condition for pluralism and independence in the media”, leading to multiple perspectives and diverse opinions that will enrich public discussions and specifically, lead to “a positive impact on the values of diversity, tolerance, transparency, equity and dialogue.”
|Rows of solar collectors line the roofs of many buildings in China.|
Driving through Jiangsu and Anhui provinces adjacent to Shanghai, China, last month, I was struck. Not by the sheer number of people and vehicles, or by the seemingly endless number of new buildings under construction with their distinct bamboo scaffolding, but by what was on top of those roofs: continuous rows of solar collectors.
China’s increasing emphasis on renewable energy on a large-scale level can be seen by wind farms in Inner Mongolia and several other green World Bank projects in the country. However, the most pervasive example for the public and individuals has been the explosion of the use of solar water heaters.
Using rigorous statistical methods, the paper shows that crime in Abidjan (i) goes down as enforcement (measured by the number of policemen) goes up; (ii) goes up with negative external shocks, such as the 1994 devaluation of the CFA Franc and the 1999 coup d’état,
As readers of this blog will have realized, we have been watching with keen interest the effort to reform the health care system in the United States in order to pull out generalizable lessons for reform efforts elsewhere. As you must also know, over the month of August that reform effort ran into some turbulence, with lively town-hall meetings, and the rise of a blocking coalition. The outcome remains in the balance as I write.
Now, other students of the process have offered one explanation of the current challenges faced by this particular reform effort. They say that much of the effort concentrated for a long time on the Inside Game, that is getting the United States Congress to act, and keeping the discussion within authoritative state institutions. According to these observers, reformers ignored the Outside Game...building a reform coalition within the broader society, and shaping public opinion. That supposedly gave opponents of reform the chance to build what they hope will be a blocking coalition, frame the reform effort negatively and so on. These observers believe that the Outside Game is now on, but some damage was done.