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August 2013

The Dog Days of Summer

Maya Brahmam's picture

During these last warm days of summer, how about some climate cooling? This unusual idea is being proposed by David Keith, professor of public policy and applied physics at Harvard. In an article in the MIT Technology Review, Keith says that reducing carbon emissions alone won’t be enough to stave off the arctic ice melt or loss of crops due to higher temperatures. He says that “geo-engineering” is one way to do this. This idea’s not without risks, however, and of course it is still untested.

The issue of climate change though is quite serious, and according to Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C World Must Be Avoided, a report by the Potsdam Institute commissioned by the World Bank, the scenario of a world warming to 4°C is likely in this century. It should be noted that a warming of 2°C is considered by many to be the “tipping point” for irreversible environmental damage.

Using video to improve teaching -- and support teachers

Michael Trucano's picture

smile and say 'PISA!'Much of the discussion related to how new technologies can be used in classrooms in low and middle income countries focuses on the use of PCs, desktops and tablets. Less discussed, I often find, is the strategic potential of various so-called peripheral devices, which are (in my experience) typically only considered within the context of how they can be used to enhance or extend the functionality of the 'main' computing devices available in schools.

Many education systems (for better or for worse) have specific 'hardware' budgets, and, when they are looking to tap these budgets to introduce more hardware into schools, in my experience they often look to buy more of what they already have, supplemented in places by things like interactive whiteboards, or networked printers, as a complement to what is already available in a school.

When talking with educational planners contemplating how to use funds specifically dedicated to purchase computer hardware, I often counsel them to think much more broadly about what they may wish to buy with these monies, within a larger context of discussing things like how such equipment can be utilized to meet larger educational objectives, what sorts of training and maintenance support may be needed, and how the use of this technology can complement other, non-technology-enabled activities in a classroom. As part of such discussions, I often find myself attempting in various ways to challenge policymakers and planners to think beyond their current models for technology use.

One general type of gadget that I only rarely hear discussed is so-called 'probeware', which refers to set of devices which are typically used in science classes to measure various things -- temperature, for example, or the pH level of soil, or the salinity of water. Despite the increasing emphasis in STEM subjects in many countries, and what is often a rhetorical linkage between the use of computers in schools and STEM topics, I rarely find that World Bank client countries are considering the widespread use of probeware in a strategic way as part of their discussions around ICT use in schools. That said, one suspects that such an interest is coming, especially once the big vendors direct more of their attentions to raising awareness among policymakers in such places (much like the interactive whiteboard vendors began to do a half-decade or so ago).

While probeware is a new type of peripheral for many education policymakers, there is another peripheral that policymakers are already quite familiar with, and which is already used in ad hoc ways in many schools, but which rarely seems to be considered at a system level for use in strategic ways. Once you have a critical mass of computers is in place, and in place of buying one additional PC, might it be worth considering (for example) utilizing video cameras instead? Video can be put to lots of productive uses (and some perhaps not-so-productive uses). Considering three concrete examples from around the world may shed some light on how video can be used to improve teaching -- and support teachers.

Why You Should Become a Development Blogger. And Some Thoughts on How to Enjoy It.

Duncan Green's picture

I think it’s time for some new development bloggers. Lots of new voices to oxygenate a sphere that is starting to feel a little stale. Let’s see if I can persuade you to sign up (NGO types tend not to jump at the chance). First the benefits:

A blog is like a cumulative, realtime download of your brain – everything that you’ve read, said, or talked about for years. All in one place. There’s even a search engine – a blessing if your memory’s as bad as mine. When someone asks you for something, you can dig up the link in no time. If you’re writing longer papers you can start with a cut and paste of the relevant posts and take it from there.

It gives you a bit of soft power (let’s not exaggerate this, but check out slide 15 of this research presentation for some evidence). Blogs are now an established part of the chattersphere/public conversation, so you get a chance to put your favourite ideas out there, and spin those of others. People in your organization may well read your blogs and tweets even if they don’t read your emails.

Top Incomes and the Measurement of Inequality in Egypt

Paolo Verme's picture

The January 2011 revolution in Egypt that overthrew 30 years of autocratic rule was in part due to a sense of deteriorating economic situation, injustice and growing inequality in the society. This was voiced by protesters during the revolution but also by intellectuals and the press after the fall of the old regime in an effort to explain the revolution. The World Values Surveys administered in Egypt in 2000 and 2008 confirm that the subjective aversion to inequality has intensified between the two years and for all social groups.  

It is thus surprising that economic inequality in Egypt as measured by household surveys is low and has been declining during the past decade. In 2009, the most recent year when a large household income and expenditure survey was administered, the Gini coefficients for inequality in incomes and expenditures were 32.9 and 30.5 respectively , far lower than in surrounding countries, southern Europe or the United States. This finding led observers to dismiss these figures as “unreliable” and incapable of capturing the true economic inequality in Egypt.

Why a City’s Not a Duck

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Ducks in a row


Up north on the lake, every year near our cabin, we see a pair of nesting ducks. We call her Mrs. Merganser as she leads her 8 to 16 ducklings around the lake. There’s a Mr. Merganser too, but truth be told, he seems a bit of a slacker in the childcare department.

The ducks make an annual migration of a few thousand kilometers, splitting their time between the northern lake, southern retreat, and a couple months on the road. The birds are transient.

Ascending the CSO Engagement Continuum I – Policy Dialogue

John Garrison's picture

Of all the steps on the World Bank – civil society engagement continuum, policy dialogue has experienced the greatest advances over the years. As highlighted in the latest edition of the World Bank–Civil Society Engagement Review of Fiscal Years 2010–12, this interaction expanded over the past three years via a wide range of issues and events including Food Roundtables, book launches, and CSO conferences. It was the unprecedented number of CSO representatives who attended the Annual and Spring Meetings in recent years, however, which most clearly exemplified the growing intensity of the policy dialogue.
 
Not many years ago, CSO voices at the Annual Meetings were more likely heard outside the security perimeter protesting a variety of Bank policies. Today, CSOs are coming inside in growing numbers to actively participate in the weeklong Civil Society Program. While only a handful of CSO representatives attended the Annual Meetings a decade ago, by 2011 this number had surpassed 600. CSOs came to dialogue with the heads of the Bank and the Fund, hold bilateral meetings with Executive Directors, engage the media, network with other CSOs, and organize policy sessions. Several participatory methodologies and new events embedded in the Civil Society Program have improved the quality of WB - CSO civil society participation at the Meetings:

What Can We Learn from Google's "Mistake?"

Tanya Gupta's picture

Google’s every action is studied under a microscope.  However, one major “mistake” that Google made may have gotten lost.  Google’s policy of freeing up 20% time for all engineers, no management approval needed, was cancelled.  Yes, this is the same policy that was responsible for Gmail.  Google’s former policy had been held up as best practice at Google and in the tech community, and was advertised as a Googler perk.  Although the 20% rule had been used at 3M and HP before, Google made it their own and resulted in industry changing products. 

You may ask - why was the 20% rule such a good idea and why is removing it a mistake? The reason Google’s 20% time off is a great idea is because it worked and worked well. One needs a certain amount of freedom to be creative.  A study on mechanisms of grant funding (long term vs. short term) found that freedom encourages creativity when the freedom was believed to be long term.  “If you want people to branch out in new directions, then it’s important to provide for their long-term horizons, to give them time to experiment and potentially fail.  The researcher has to believe that short-term failure will not be punished” ” says Pierre Azoulay, an associate professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and an author of an MIT study on the subject. Freedom of thought inspires creativity and the development community, more than anyone else needs to break away from traditional thinking.

India's Moral Churning -- Excerpts from August 16 Tata Lecture, Delhi

Kaushik Basu's picture

Revised excerpts from the 16th JRD Tata lecture, delivered in New Delhi, 19 August 2013.

This is a difficult time for the Indian economy. Growth has slowed, with industry shrinking over the last two successive months, wholesale price inflation has risen to 5.8%, and the rupee has been losing value sharply. There is reason to be upset about this and to demand more from policy makers. Yet, as I argue in this lecture, this is not India's biggest problem. The nation's biggest challenge at this critical juncture is a moral and an ethical one. This, for India, is a moment of moral churning. Skullduggery and corruption, cutting across party lines, have been rampant, eating into the moral fabric of the nation, leaving ordinary people befuddled and in despair. This is breeding a corrosive cynicism, leading people to believe that maybe this is the only way to be, that petty corruption and harassment is simply the new normal, whereby we should complain when we are left out of the gravy train and merrily join in if and when we get a foothold on that train. Yes, the economy has not done well over the last year or two. But once we look beyond the proximate causes we will realize that one important factor for the economy not doing well is the corrosion of values like trust and trustworthiness and their concomitant, poor governance.


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