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Three countries show why culture matters for post-conflict and post-disaster reconstruction and recovery

Sameh Wahba's picture
Photo: Guillermo Barrios del Valle/Flickr
In the Andean mountain range in the province of Arequipa, women can be found working on rural road maintenance projects.

Meanwhile, back in the capital, members of Peru’s local and national government, as well as representatives from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, gathered in Lima at the “Experiences of Women in Rural Roads” conference to discuss the role of women in the transport sector.

The event highlighted women’s participation in rural road construction and maintenance as a significant step toward gender equality: it gave participants a chance to discuss the impact of these projects, share lessons learned, and inform a Gender Action Plan for the ongoing Support to the Subnational Transport Program. Indigenous women from rural communities in in Arequipa, Junín, Huánuco, and the Amazon attended the event and emphasized the importance of these projects in the development of their communities and the role of these employment opportunities in their own lives, their self-esteem, and their aspirations for a better future.

Since 2001, the World Bank Group (WBG) and the Peruvian government have worked together to promote women’s participation in rural transport projects, expanding employment opportunities for women in rural areas. The Peru Decentralized Rural Transport Project has seen the female participation in rural road maintenance microenterprises reach almost 30%.

There are many positive effects of women’s participation in these projects.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Darejani Markozashvili's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Protecting Journalism Sources in the Digital Age
UNESCO
While the rapidly emerging digital environment offers great opportunities for journalists to investigate and report information in the public interest, it also poses particular challenges regarding the privacy and safety of journalistic sources. These challenges include: mass surveillance as well as targeted surveillance, data retention, expanded and broad antiterrorism measures, and national security laws and over-reach in the application of these. All these can undermine the confidentiality protection of those who collaborate with journalists, and who are essential for revealing sensitive information in the public interest but who could expose themselves to serious risks and pressures. The effect is also to chill whistleblowing and thereby undermine public access to information and the democratic role of the media. In turn, this jeopardizes the sustainability of quality journalism.

Everything We Knew About Sweatshops Was Wrong
New York Times
In the 1990s, Americans learned more about the appalling conditions at the factories where our sneakers and T-shirts were made, and opposition to sweatshops surged. But some economists pushed back. For them, the wages and conditions in sweatshops might be appalling, but they are an improvement on people’s less visible rural poverty. As the economist Joan Robinson said, “The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all.” Textbook economics offers two reasons factory jobs can be “an escalator out of poverty.” First, a booming industrial sector should raise wages over time. Second, boom or not, factory jobs might be better than the alternatives: Unlike agriculture or informal market selling, these factories pay a steady wage, and if workers gained skills valued by the market, they might earn higher wages. Factories may also have incentives to pay more than agricultural or informal market work to persuade workers to stay and be productive. Expecting to prove the experts right, we went to Ethiopia and — working with the Innovations for Poverty Action and the Ethiopian Development Research Institute — performed the first randomized trial of industrial employment on workers. Little did we anticipate that everything we believed would turn out to be wrong.

Cultural heritage and sustainable tourism: drivers of poverty reduction and shared prosperity

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
hey, what's going on in there?
hey, what's going on in there?
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 classrooms around the world, 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.).

That said:
  • 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?

Innovating with the past: How to create resilience through heritage

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture

Edit 5/19/2014: The blog is based on the IPU data as of January 2012. Our friend Andy Kotikula points out that since then, Bhutan has elected its first female minister. We also note that many more women ministers were elected, and 6 countries in Table 1 -  The Bahamas, Belize, Bhutan, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, and Singapore - now have women ministers. The new IPU data as of January 2014 will be available in the Gender Data Portal and WDI on July 1, 2014.

A new World Bank report, Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity, underscores the importance of enabling girls and women to fulfill their potential and make their voices heard. For women in the developing world who work in ministerial positions, are their voices being heard?  The data shows us that more than 20% of elected ministers in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa are women.

Using data published in the World Bank’s Gender Data Portal, these two regions’ share of women in ministerial positions are a 10-percentage-point higher than other regions, an encouraging trend since 2005.  For me, one  really eye-opening insight is this: here are two regions with very different socio-economic characteristics: Latin America and the Caribbean, with  mostly middle income countries and high levels of school enrollments, and Sub-Saharan Africa, where there is a majority of low income countries with lower levels of school enrollments. Yet they both have the highest level of female political representation compared to other regions.
 

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Culture gives cities social and economic power, shows UNESCO report
UNESCO

Culture has the power to make cities more prosperous, safer, and sustainable, according to UNESCO’s Global Report, Culture: Urban Future to be launched in Quito (Ecuador) on 18 October. The Global Report presents evidence on how development policies in line with UNESCO’s conventions on the protection and promotion of culture and heritage can benefit cities. Current trends show that urbanization will continue to increase in scale and speed, particularly in Africa and Asia, which are set to be 54 and 64 percent urban by 2050. The world is projected to have 41 mega cities by 2030, each home to at least 10 million people. Massive and rapid urbanization can often exacerbate challenges for cities creating more slums and poor access to public spaces as well as having a negative impact on the environment. This process often leads to a rise in unemployment, social inequality, discrimination and violence.

Sustainable Cities: 3 Ways Cities Can Contribute to a Renewable Energy Future
HuffPost Blog

This week, global policy makers gather in Quito for the Habitat III Conference to reinvigorate the global commitment to the sustainable development of cities. Meeting every 20 years, the Habitat Conference will this year focus on setting a new Urban Agenda. Within this context and for the first time ever, the Conference will also discuss the rapid deployment of renewable energy as a means to achieve a sustainable urban future. This could not be timelier. Dramatic cost declines and technological innovations, present cities with an unprecedented opportunity to transform and decarbonise their energy supply on the basis of a positive economic case - an option that did not exist when the Habitat Conference last convened in 1996. This is great news, considering cities are home to 54% of the global population and generate 70% of global emissions.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Digital News Report 2016
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

This year we have evidence of the growth of distributed (offsite) news consumption, a sharpening move to mobile and we can reveal the full extent of ad-blocking worldwide. These three trends in combination are putting further severe pressure on the business models of both traditional publishers and new digital-born players – as well as changing the way in which news is packaged and distributed. Across our 26 countries, we see a common picture of job losses, cost-cutting, and missed targets as falling print revenues combine with the brutal economics of digital in a perfect storm. Almost everywhere we see the further adoption of online platforms and devices for news – largely as a supplement to broadcast but often at the expense of print.

Food Security and the Data Revolution: Mobile Monitoring on the Humanitarian Frontline
Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative

Obtaining real-time and actionable information on the needs of affected populations has long been a priority for humanitarians; so keeping up with new technologies that could improve existing data collection systems is also a necessity. Innovations such as mobile phones and the Internet have already profoundly changed the nature of humanitarian work. They are proving to be faster and cheaper than legacy information systems, increasing the amount of information that decision makers have, and ultimately enabling them to save more lives. However, what is truly transformative is their potential to reach previously ‘invisible’ populations.
 

Reflections on the last five years of 'mobile learning'

Michael Trucano's picture

Also available in: 中文, Français

Photo by Jens Schott Knudsen via Flickr CC

Recent research shows that air quality affects the productivity of high-skilled workers. What does this mean for developing cities?

City governments invest a lot in job creation—they plan infrastructure, skills initiatives, and industry support with the goal to improve productivity and generate jobs and growth, especially in the high-skill sectors. Yet, there might be an important input to productivity that cities can pay more attention to: clean air.

Recent research suggests that a 10-unit increase in the air quality index decreases productivity by 0.35%. Seems marginal? This “productivity slow-down” costs the high-skill economy of China $2.2 billion per year for each additional 10 units of the air quality index.

The research in question studied the effect of air pollution on worker productivity in call centers in Shanghai and Nantong in China. The firm analyzed is Ctrip, one of the largest travel agencies in the country, employing more than 30,000 people. 50% of the workers’ pay is based on performance and the measures of productivity are very detailed and high frequency. The study concluded that there is a robust relationship between daily air pollution levels and worker productivity. On average, a 10-unit increase in the Air Quality Index (AQI) led to a 0.35% decline in the number of calls handled by a worker in a day at an AQI of 100. If we translate this to the entire Chinese high-skill industries, a 10-unit reduction of air pollution levels would increase the monetized value of improved productivity by $2.2 billion per year.

Education 2030 and the road ahead

Claudia Costin's picture

Getting On With It.

The 194 national negotiating teams earned their salaries in Durban. But well over half of the 20,000 at the meeting weren’t negotiators at all. What were they up to?

Some were reporting and some were protesting, but most were busy sharing best practices, doing deals, presenting new technologies and findings, and urging negotiators to “get on with it”. They included hundreds of technology firms, financiers, NGOs, academics, development professionals and governments.

The message from this group was: There’s a world of action out there that’s growing and vibrant. It will continue, but to reach the required scale, governments and negotiators must provide a regulatory environment that is transparent, predictable, and consistent.

Surveying ICT use in education in Africa

Michael Trucano's picture

East Asia has shown us how economies can grow at a pace unparalleled in human history. What made it happen? Key ingredients included high savings rates and a willingness to invest them for the long term in people and infrastructure, leaders who kept their eyes on the long-term transformation of the economy, and a lot of serious attention to how investors respond to incentives.

But aren’t these some of the same ingredients we’ll need to make growth green?

This was one of the topics we discussed this week at the first Annual Conference on East Asian Development in Singapore organized by the Bank’s East Asia Pacific region and Singapore’s Institute for Policy Studies.  This brought together senior policymakers and academics from throughout the region. Is it possible that the Region that brought us growth, could also be the leader in making that growth green?

But first, just how green has East Asia’s growth been so far? To over-simplify, the region has made pretty good progress in reducing the environmental damage per unit of output, but this hasn’t been able to keep up with the astonishing growth of the output. So, real GDP is up by near 400% since 1990, while energy use is up by 150%, sulfur dioxide emissions up by about 60%, and carbon dioxide up by nearly 200%.

This is a lot better than it might have been – but the environment is still getting worse at a serious rate. And this says nothing about water stress, loss of biodiversity and a host of other issues. (On a positive note, particulate emissions are down by 50%, and lead in fuel has almost disappeared).

Does East Asia need to lower its growth to ensure that the environment doesn’t deteriorate further?  No, but it will require the same degree of commitment and long term focus that inspired the strong growth in the first place – but this time by internalizing environmental costs.   

Prizes, literacy and innovations in education

Michael Trucano's picture


Every mom wants a healthy baby. And in the early days of a child’s life, parents and doctors understandably focus on how the baby’s physical development—is she gaining weight? Is he developing reflexes? Are they hitting all of the milestones of a healthy and thriving child?
 
But along with careful screenings for physical development, there is an excellent opportunity to tap into those same resources and networks to promote early cognitive, socio-emotional, and language development. This helps children everywhere have a strong start in life, ensuring that they are able to learn as they grow and fulfill their potential throughout childhood.


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