The hallways of the Électricité du Laos (EDL) provincial offices in Champassak Province are filled with posters bearing bar charts and diagrams illustrating the public utility’s remarkable success in delivering electricity to the country’s still heavily rural population.
It is easy to see that data is crucial to the agency’s operations. Sitting down with EDL’s employees and managers—all wearing the agency’s signature blue-shirt uniform with pride—it also becomes apparent that the science of numbers and the art of managing people have gone hand in hand at this agency. This combination has enabled EDL to make organizational learning a central pillar of the agency’s success.
Institutions Taking Root, a recent report of which I’m a co-author, looked at nine successful institutions in fragile and conflict-affected states that share a core set of internal operational strategies.
The blog I posted to debate with my Bank colleague Wolfgang Fengler the chicken-and-egg question of which comes first, skills or jobs, generated a rich exchange and contributions. While the question was framed around tackling the problem of unemployment in the Western Balkan countries, it naturally applies to almost any country. I want to thank all of those who took the time to write, whether or not they agreed with my main thesis: that countries should invest and strive to develop the basic skills that lay the foundation for the technical or job-specific skills that should be in turn acquired a la par with the changing needs of labor markets.
Dr. Denis Medvedev, the World Bank Group’s Senior Country Economist, spoke at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta on the Next Wave of Economic Reforms in India on 20th November, this year. The talk focused on the challenges facing the Indian economy in achieving inclusive growth with a special focus on reducing poverty in the lower income states.
Many countries are investing enormous amounts of resources and effort to increase the availability of information and communication technologies (ICTs) across their education systems. So-called "1-to-1 computing" initiatives are increasingly prominent as part of such efforts. In some places these are important components of larger educational reform processes that seek to enable and support teaching and learning processes in ways both mundane and profound, traditional and (to adopt a common related buzzword) transformative. In other places these are largely 'hardware dumps', dropping in lots of shiny new devices with little attention to how to integrate them into teaching and learning practices. Common to both circumstances is often an intense belief that 'change' of some sort is necessary if students are to be able to thrive in increasingly technology-saturated, and technology-determined, global economies and societies. While the vision behind many large-scale 1-to-1 educational computing projects may be rather hazy or muddled, they do represent potent symbols for change in many countries. Even if the end goals are not always clearly defined, these efforts are in part a reflection of the belief, as proclaimed by one participant at this year global symposium, that "the status quo is more dangerous than the unknown".
To help set the stage for the discussions that were to follow, I opened the first session at this year's global symposium on ICT use in education by sharing a short series of general, broad observations about trends and lessons from 1-to-1 educational computing efforts around the world. In case they might be of any interest or utility to a wider audience, I thought I would share them here on the EduTech blog. These comments are not meant to be comprehensive in scope, nor are they meant to be focused (like so much of the research and rhetoric around 1-to-1 easily available on the Internet) on the experiences and realities of what 1-to-1 currently looks like in 'highly developed' countries (especially the United States).
Trends and Lessons from
1-to-1 Educational Computing Efforts Around the World:
In our earlier blogs on corruption we have looked at the causes and consequences of corruption within the process of economic development. In our last blog, Six Strategies to Fight Corruption, we addressed the question of what can be done about it, and discussed the role of economic policies in developing the right sorts of incentives and institutions to reduce its incidence. This blog will provide some thoughts on the moral dimensions of corruption.
In the world’s richest countries, those with greater inequality in skills proficiency also have higher income inequality, according to the first OECD Survey of Adult Skills (also known as PIAAC), which measures the skills of 16-65 year-olds across 24 countries. The survey includes assessments of adult reading, numeracy, and place in the digital divide. The OECD's Stefano Scarpetta (Director of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs) tell us that this is the first ever comprehensive survey of the actual competencies of OECD adult workers.
Not too long ago I did some advisory work in a country considering the purchases of lots of educational tablets. Previously this country had funded lots of computer labs in schools, but they had experienced great difficulties in integrating these facilities into 'normal' teaching and learning activities. Buying devices as part of a '1-to-1 educational computing' initiative, it was felt, would get around many of the difficulties they had experienced with desktop computers in dedicated school computer labs. (I had my doubts about this.)
When observing a class, I noticed that all of the students had the same backpacks. "What's up with that?", I asked.
"Oh, it is very interesting," came the reply. "Those backpacks are purchased by the state for use by low income students. You can see from the fact that all of these backpacks are in the room that the children here are from very low socio-economic levels in society."
I then asked how many of the students had a phone in their backpack. All of them but one (who said he forgot his at home, someone else told me later it had been stolen) said that they did, and most students pulled them out to show me.
After asking a few follow-up questions about what they did with them (Facebook! and texting! were the two most common answers) and once class had resumed, I turned to my counterparts in government and observed that I also "found this all very interesting. You are going to buy lots of small computing devices for these students to use by spending public funds, in part because they are not using the devices that you purchased for them before. Despite the fact they are all poor enough to qualify to receive free government backpacks, all of their families have somehow found the money to buy them mobile phones, which they obviously all use quite heavily. Have you thought about taking advantage of this personal computing infrastructure that is already installed in the pockets and pocketbooks (or backpacks) of the students, and orienting some your investments for different purposes, like upgrading connectivity and/or spending more funds on content and/or training?"
I once did some advisory work for a country's finance ministry in advance of a national presidential election where the two leading candidates were both promising to buy lots of laptops for students if elected. The Minister of Finance wanted to be prepared to respond to what he considered to be a likely related request for lots (!) of money, whichever way the election turned out.
This was a bit strange for me, as I more typically help out ministries of education (or ministries of ICT) as they prepare projects for which they would be requesting funding (from the finance ministry and/or parliament). Instead of serving as a resource for the folks who prepare such funding proposals, my role in this case was instead to prep the folks who would get this funding request so that they would be better able to analyze and vet the request, whenever it inevitably arrived. (Within the World Bank, this is one of the roles I serve -- I had just never done this for a ministry of finance directly.)
While my governmental counterpart in this case was perhaps a bit out of the ordinary, this general scenario is one I see repeated in place after place. The devices themselves may change over time (first PCs, then laptops, now increasingly tablets, and soon [insert name of whatever comes next]), but this impulse to buy lots of shiny new devices and distribute them to schools (or directly to students or teachers or families) shows no sign of abating soon.
Let's say that you're a senior advisor in the ministry of education and you get word that your country's president is about to announce a big new project to 'buy every student her own tablet computing device so that she can develop the 21st century skills necessary to compete for jobs in the global economy'. Perhaps the leader of your country just returned from visiting a European country and was impressed to see all of the devices in the school that she visited. Maybe she was won over by the compelling marketing pitch of a particular vendor. Perhaps she has heard that the leader of the opposition is planning on calling for this sort of initiative and she wants to preemptively make it her own. Or maybe she just got her first iPad and was really impressed and has decided that everyone should have one of these things! (For what it's worth, these are all real life examples ... although I have deliberately mixed up the gender pronouns in at least one case.)
No matter the genesis of this newfound interest, you sense that, whatever you were working on last week/month/year will have to be put on hold, because your life is about to become
What should you do? What do you need to know? Has anyone else tried such a thing, and if so, what have they learned? Whom do you need to contact for information/advice, and what sorts of questions should you ask them -- and ask yourself?
We often think that all women are in some way subjected to gender-based discrimination, and indeed, there is wealth of evidence to support this belief. The same can be said about ethnic minorities and other social groups—indigenous peoples, refugees, sexual minorities, the poor, immigrants, and people living with HIV/AIDS—who may face barriers in their quest for a better life.
In reality, though, we all have multiple identities, and our abilities, opportunities and achievements are all socially mediated by the way these multiple identities interact with each other. For instance, the feminist literature highlights that day-to-day experiences of ethnic minority women can be drastically different from ethnic majority women, although both groups fare worse than men in most outcomes. While context plays a large role in how ethnicity exacerbates gender-based divisions, such interactions often get manifested in similar ways, through systematic, cumulative achievement gaps across social groups.