Give people the ability to engage, and they will change the world. Or will they?
The massive expansion of political voice and social activism over the past several decades -- ranging from the mushrooming of citizen-led initiatives for transparency and accountability, to the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, and the eruption of protest movements in countries as diverse as Brazil, India, Turkey and Mexico – has generated great enthusiasm about the transformational potential of popular participation.
The reality, however, is more complex than that.
Think back to the Arab Spring and the extraordinary mobilization of so many people who managed to topple one authoritarian regime after another. The streets were theirs, but in most of these countries ousting dictators has turned out to be much easier than building political systems that are more democratic and open for citizens to engage. While much in demand,
I recently prepared a module on Citizen Engagement and Development Outcomes for a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) on “Engaging Citizens: A Game Changer for Development?”, just launched by the World Bank Group and partner organizations in both Washington, DC and London.
At last week’s Comparative and International Education Society annual conference in Washington DC, Najeeb Shafiq put together a special panel honoring the work of pioneering education economists Martin Carnoy and George Psacharopoulos (formerly of the World Bank). Martin and George were supervised by Theodore Schultz, a Nobel Prize winning economist, who made human capital theory an important force- not just in economics- but the social sciences in general. Their work paved the way for thousands of researchers who followed in their footsteps.
The buzz around this buzzword in education (the need for it, the celebrations of it, the challenges in catalyzing it) continues to get louder and louder, and the word itself seems to get invoked with increasing (almost de facto) frequency as part of discussions about the need for change.
How are we to meet and overcome many of the pressing, endemic, and sometimes seemingly intractable challenges facing learners, educators, education policymakers and education systems around the world if we aren't being innovative in how we define (and redefine) our problems -- and in how we propose to go about solving them?
There are many groups, events and activities that seek to document, share knowledge about, analyze and assess various 'innovations in education' around the world. The annual World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Qatar, for example, focuses explicitly on this theme. R4D's Center for Education Innovations does as well, in partnership with many international groups, including UNICEF (which has a special initiative on 'innovations in education' and whose much-lauded Innovations unit is for many of us a model for excellence within the international donor and aid community). The OECD's widely-read report last year on Measuring Innovations in Education seeks to offer "new perspectives to address th[e] need for measurement in educational innovation through a comparison of innovation in education to innovation in other sectors, identification of specific innovations across educational systems, and construction of metrics to examine the relationship between educational innovation and changes in educational outcomes."
Some observers may feel that this explicit focus on 'innovation in education' is overblown. We don't fund a lot of things sufficiently that we already know work, why don't we first concentrate on that stuff? Others may note that some 'innovations' in education promoted today have actually been around for decades, and thus perhaps no longer really qualify as 'innovations'. Sometimes the only 'innovation' in a particular 'new' approach is to utilize some new technology to do pretty much exactly what was done before, but now 'digitally', and in a way requiring a power cable or batteries. (I am not too sure that much of these thigns are really all that 'innovative', but many people who keep sending me related proposals seem to be convinced that they are.) Still others detect in many discussions around the need for 'innovation in education' the guiding hand of 'corporate education reformers' and/or of technology vendors with products to sell, and, as a result of past experiences, ideological leanings, an inherent tendency towards skepticism or a satisfaction with the status quo, and/or political calculus, reflexively push back (if not indeed recoil).
'Innovations in education' are about much more than just technology use, of course -- but there is also no denying that new information and communications technologies (ICTs) of various sorts continue to enable and catalyze many of the innovations that are being explored in the sector, whether they relate to e.g. teacher training; assessment; data collection and management; payment mechanisms; stakeholder engagement and transparency; or changes in the teaching and learning processes themselves; and whether they originate in the public, non-profit or corporate sectors (or even, as for example is the case of distributed communities of people working together to help build new software or educational content in ways that are 'free' or 'open', out of no traditional or easily definable 'sector' at all).
Sometimes the ICTs are hard to miss (as is the case with Uruguay’s pioneering Plan Ceibal), and sometimes they are behind the scenes (innovative low cost private schooling schemes like those pioneered by groups like Bridge Academies, for example, depend heavily on the use of ICTs to promote efficiency and cut costs), but increasingly they are there. Many traditional groups active in advocating for funding efforts to help end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity (the twin goals of the World Bank) are increasingly challenged to identify, make sense of and support the diffusion of 'innovations in education' in ways that are useful and efficient and cost-effective – and potentially, from time to time, even transformative.
Healthy animals are good for humans
An elephant skeleton at the CVASU museum
For years animals have been man’s closest companions - providing food, clothing, and medicine. As a result humans have developed a resilient bond with the animal kingdom. We are therefore indebted to the animals - our fellow inhabitants of the planet. Because Bangladesh largely depends on livestock for food, the government puts emphasis on food security. As a result, the country needs competent veterinary graduates who can contribute towards both national health and economy through the practice of modern veterinary technology.
As a former elementary secondary school teacher in Poland and as a current college educator in the United States, I have been exposed to many different approaches to educational or pedagogical methodology. However, I have always believed that education at its best is a combination of classroom, field, and real life experience.
Whenever I teach a sociology class, I depend not only on textbooks but on field trips, inviting outside speakers, engaging them in extracurricular activities, and nowadays harnessing social media as a teaching assistant. These activities enable students to learn things in a deeper way, and they feel a greater connection with the topic.
As a teacher, I firmly believe in second chances. I am also a seasoned realist. In addition to school, I also see family, religion, and peers or even neighbors as molding social institutions. I am fully aware that my work needs to be done in an atmosphere and willingness to constantly forgive and forget, especially when I deal with cases of pure innocence and immaturity.
This essay is a personal reflection that draws on my experience not only as an educator but also as a father, the husband of a math teacher, and son-in-law of two teachers. It also includes my role as teacher and mentor to the thousands students who have taken my sociology classes since I started my career in higher education. It is an essay intended to focus on one of the most important educational aspects in the lives of every human being; the life defining self-taught moments and experiences, which have the potential to abruptly shape our outlook, beliefs, and our set of ethical values.
Also available in: Français
I’ll admit there was a tiny part of me that wanted to do that whole Angelina Jolie thing – go deep into the heart of a developing country and be surrounded by a gaggle of school children, whom I would go on to pinch, squeeze, and coddle. Last I checked I was not an UNHCR ambassador (and zero movie credentials), so instead I found myself face to face with four resolute high school students in the western region of Cameroon asking in broken French: What does corruption mean to you?
“It means to give money, to be sexually harassed, to be absent from school and then to pay teachers to say you were present,” said Floriane Masso, a student of a government school of Bamendjou. Masso is one of many students who are part of Clubs d’Education Civique et d’Integration Nationale (Cecine) established under the ZENU Network. With financing of about $15,000 from a Development Marketplace competition organized under a $1.8 million “Banking on Change” Governance Program in Cameroon--funded by the Governance Partnership Facility (GPF)—the ZENU Network set out to fight corruption in 16 high schools across 8 districts in the Western parts of Cameroon. One of the tools used were to put in place “corruption observatories.” The activity focused on victims of corruption and provided a whistleblowing mechanism, while pressuring authorities to impose sanctions for corrupt behavior.
Back in 1997, World Links for Development began as a pilot program of the World Bank Institute exploring ways that information and communications technologies (ICTs) could be effectively used to help "prepare youth in developing countries to enter an information age". Most of the country programs (there were eventually 26 of them), especially those in Africa, represented the first organized attempt to provide schools with Internet connectivity and a suite of related teacher training and professional development support activities.
The national programs typically started quite small, with initial cohorts of 10-20 pilot schools, growing to a few hundreds schools in some cases. A number of the programs were later absorbed into larger national educational technology efforts, and the global program itself gradually evaporated, its purpose to help kick start organized efforts to utilize educational technologies within participating countries no longer needed.
Over a decade later, many of the initial pilot schools remain leading examples in their countries of how schools, teachers and students are utilizing new technologies in various ways to help support teaching and learning. While many of the challenges related to the successful and effective introduction of technologies in schools remain (the exploration of these challenges is of course a common topic explored on the World Bank's EduTech blog), a number of things have changed quite a bit.
The once strong links between such schools (and between the teachers and students in them), and the sense that they were essentially working laboratories where new innovations could be introduced and tested before later being considered as components of larger rollouts of large scale educational technology projects, have for the most part disappeared in many places, as the use of ICTs in education has become more mainstream across an education system and the uniqueness of the individual schools -- at least related to the fact they had computers and were connected to the Internet -- has gradually eroded.
In other words, what were essentially national leagues of schools doing innovative things with new technologies, with school leaders, teachers and students networked together to share experiences and support collaborative teaching and learning activities, ceased to exist in many countries in dedicated, structured, organized ways.
What models exist today to help in establishing and maintaining
a national league of innovative schools?
Where such leagues exist, what value might there be
in them connecting them with each other across borders
so that students, teachers and school leaders can share experiences
and pursue collaborative learning activities and research?