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September 2012

Africa’s Learning Crisis

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Hardly a week goes by without someone pointing out that, despite being enrolled in school, many of Africa’s primary school-age children don’t seem to be learning very much. 

Today’s salvo is from the Brookings Institution’s Center for Universal Education, whose Africa Learning Barometer estimates that 61 million children (half of the primary school-age population) “will reach their adolescent years without being able to read, write or perform basic numeracy tasks.”  

Last week, my colleagues Elizabeth King and Ritva Reinikka called on Africa’s education system to “put learning first for all students.”  We have documented disappointing learning outcomes in Tanzania on this blog.  Despite being a middle-income country and having substantially increased public spending on education, South Africa’s performance in standardized tests is below the average for African countries.

Quote of the Week: Michael Ignatieff

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“So we come out of the Rushdie affair with one thing in common: democratic life together is a hard bargain. Each of us, Muslim believer and secular liberal, wishes the other were different. But we are not, and living together requires us to accept what we cannot change.”

--Michael Ignatieff, Financial Times, September 14, 2012. The lessons from Rushdie’s fatwa years.

An intervention where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts: Financial literacy for migrants and their families

David McKenzie's picture
How fast is your city growing? The answer may depend on where you live.

There are the booming megacities such as Tokyo, Mumbai, and Nairobi. Then there are cities that are declining in population, such as Detroit.

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where we recently conducted a study on urban growth trends, we found unique demographic patterns affecting the urbanization process in the region.

For example, the region has had fertility rates below replacement levels for more than two decades, and most countries in the region have negative net migration rates.

This signifies that the population of most countries in the region is either growing very slowly or declining, and in some countries urban population has started to decline.

What does this mean for cities?

With a smaller labor force at hand, cities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are increasingly competing against one another to attract human capital.

Resulting from this competition, we find that most of the cities in the region are shrinking while population growth is increasingly concentrated in a few cities. Per our estimates, 61% of the region’s cities shrank between 2000 and 2010, losing on average 11% of their population.

This scale of city population decline is unprecedented.
 
 

Better Human Resource Policies in Apparel

Gladys Lopez-Acevedo's picture
Kakuma Refugee Camp
Community leader Paul Gok (left), a refugee from South Sudan walks with young children in the 'Kakuma 4' area of Kakuma Refugee Camp, built to house new arrivals from South Sudan. © UNHCR/Will Swanson



In Kenya, and refugee-hosting countries in Africa, the camp-based protection and humanitarian assistance model has been the default response to the often-protracted forced displacement situations. The underlying assumption has been that it would be impossible or undesirable for refugees to be self-sufficient while waiting for peace to return to their countries of origin.

Therefore, it is not a surprise that refugees from South Sudan and other neighboring countries in north-western Kenya are being assisted in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, which has been hosting refugees since early 1990s. Several waves of refugees have come and gone over the past 25 years, the most recent influx from South Sudan having started in December 2013. The camp has grown into four sub-sections with a capacity of 125,000 persons but a current population of over 155,000. Like in the majority of protracted situations, the care and maintenance programs in Kakuma included providing them with access to shelter, food, water, health care and education.

Friday links September 14: Cash transfers and sexual activity/food security, CDDs, Facebook causes voting, and more…

David McKenzie's picture

Bangladesh has turned the political business cycle phenomenon upside down.
 
Political business cycles are cycles in macroeconomic variables – output, unemployment, inflation – induced by the electoral cycle. This type of business cycle results primarily from the manipulation of policy tools by incumbent politicians hoping to stimulate the economy just prior to an election and thereby improve their reelection chances. 
 
Expansionary monetary and fiscal policies have politically palatable consequences in the short run. When pursued to excess, these very policies can also have very unpleasant consequences in the longer term in the form of accelerating inflation, decreasing savings, worsening foreign trade balance, and long-term expansion of government's share of the GDP at the expense of private consumption and investment. So immediately after the election, politicians tend to “bite the bullet” and reverse course by raising taxes, cutting spending, slowing the growth of the money supply, and allowing interest rates to rise. As a result, the regular holding of elections tends to produce a boom-and-bust pattern in the economy because of the on-again-off-again pattern of government stimulus and restraint to induce an artificial boom at every election time.
 
Bangladesh’s experience also shows the existence of a political business cycle in GDP growth, albeit with exactly the opposite pattern of boom and bust. GDP growth has consistently declined in each of the last five election years. It happened in 1991, 1996, 2002, 2007 (an election year without election) and 2009 (Figure 1). From the perspective of Western political business cycle theory these growth tendencies appear suicidal for the incumbent. Instead of expanding the economy faster to gain votes, the incumbents appear to be shooting themselves in the foot by allowing the pace of expansion to slow in the election year!
 
Is this another case of the Bangladesh paradox?

Child mortality declines sharply across regions

Julia Ross's picture

“What you don’t touch, for you lies miles away. (…) What you don’t coin, you’re sure is counterfeit.” These sophisms are voiced by Mephistopheles, under the guise of the Court Fool, in Goethe’s Faust. He aims to convince the Emperor to mint more coins, for money buys everything: parks and palaces; breasts and rosy cheeks. The Commander-in-Chief accompanies the scene and speaks his mind: “The Court Fool is wise, for he promises benefits to all.”

Economic theory, in contrast to the Commander-in-Chief, the Court Fool and other populists, states that all government handouts come at a cost – regardless of whether they are distributed in the form of subsidies or direct transfers. Financing them is only possible by raising taxes and getting into debt (or creating more money… and inflation).

Why are so many Americans unbanked?

Leora Klapper's picture


The history of humankind is filled with violence. People have been hurting and killing one another practically since they stood up and walked on two legs. And while each battle claims a unique call-to-arms, at the end of the day, the rallying cries are always strikingly similar. Human beings prefer to remain peaceful, except when their lives or livelihoods are threatened.

How do School Vouchers Help Improve Education Systems?

Harry A. Patrinos's picture
Who first introduced Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs)? This is a question that often leads to endless discussions, provides an opportunity for one-upmanship and is an entertaining diversion for practitioners on the margins of international PPP conferences.

During these debates many examples are quoted – the early 20th century oil concessions in the Persian Gulf, the late 19th century cross continental railway in the USA and the İzmir-Aydın railway concession in present-day Turkey, the Rhine river concession granted in 1438[1] and so on.
 
Photo: Rezwan/flickr

As debate on the origin of PPP continues, the modern-day popularity of PPPs is more commonly acknowledged to have emerged from the United Kingdom, following the introduction of Private Finance Initiatives in 1992’s autumn budget statement by RH Norman Lamont, then Chancellor under John Major’s Conservative government.[2]

In the intervening years, many developed and developing nations have started PPP programs of their own. Indeed, the growth of PPPs in developing countries is nothing short of phenomenal, with the mechanism being used in more than 134 developing countries and contributing to 15–20 percent of total infrastructure investment[3].

This is also true of Bangladesh. In 2009, the Government of Bangladesh announced the introduction of a revised PPP program[4] in the 2009/10 Budget Session, and then introduced a new PPP policy in August 2010 (PPP Policy 2010[5]).

Child mortality: new data and faster progress

Emi Suzuki's picture
Levels & Trends 
in Child Mortality: 
Report 2012

Substantial progress has been made towards achieving MDG Goal on Reducing Child Mortality but still insufficient – The new UN-World Bank child mortality estimates

New child mortality estimates (childmortality.org) show that substantial progress has been made towards achieving the fourth Millennium Development Goal. The estimates were released today by the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, which includes UNICEF, WHO, the World Bank and United Nations Population Division.

Since 1990 the global under-five mortality rate has dropped 41 percent, from 87 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 51 in 2011. Four of the six World Bank’s developing regions have reduced their under-five mortality rate by more than 50 percent: East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Middle East and North Africa regions.  Progress towards Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 2015 target of a two-thirds reduction is also on track in these four regions. ("On track" indicates that under-five mortality is less than 40 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011 or that the annual rate of reduction is at least 4 percent over 1990-2011.)


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