Each year the World Bank helps sponsor an annual global symposium on ICT use in education for senior policymakers and practitioners in Seoul, together with the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) and the Korea Education Research & Information Service (KERIS). This is one important component of a strong multi-year partnership between the World Bank education sector and the Republic of Korea exploring the use of ICTs in the education sector around the world. This year's event, which focused on Benchmarking International Experiences and was about half the size of 2010's Building national ICT/education agencies symposium, brought officials from 23 countries to Korea to explore how technology is being used in schools around the world (previous blog post: Eleven Countries to Watch -- and Learn From), with a special emphasis on learning about and from the Korean experience.
Specifically, there was much interest in learning more about two news items that appeared since last year's event: Korea's top place in an international digital reading assessment and the country's bold plan to move toward digital textbooks in all subjects at all levels by 2015.
A growing number of studies have linked broadband diffusion to economic growth. The World Bank’s and infoDev’s Broadband Strategies Handbook includes a reference of some of these studies, which show a positive correlation between broadband diffusion and economic (GDP) growth. On the micro level, numerous anecdotic evidence suggest that broadband has an economic impact at the f
It's fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure, Microsoft founder Bill Gates is meant to have once remarked. Those of us who have worked for any period of time on educational technology projects, or on international development projects (let alone in the space where these two areas meet!), will have come across at least one project that 'failed' -- and perhaps did so spectacularly. How might we learn from such failures?
One way to do this that is gaining traction in increasing numbers of organizations is a FAILfaire. What is a FAILfaire, you ask?
"While we often focus on highlighting successes in our field, it’s no secret that many projects just don’t work – some don’t scale, some aren’t sustainable, some can’t get around bureaucratic hoops, and many fail due to completely unanticipated barriers. At FAILFaire we want to recognize the failures: the pilots that never got anywhere, the applications that are not delivering, the projects that are not having any measurable impact on the lives of people, and the cultural or technical problems that arise."
Writing on the World Bank's Education for Global Development blog, Ariel Fiszbein, the World Bank's Chief Economist in the Human Development Sector (which includes health and education), notes that "Publicizing what doesn’t work is a fundamental part of any approach to evidence-based policy. Lack of results is a likely outcome of any innovation. We should remain open and even celebrate those that bring us the bad news as they are helping us stay honest."
Or, in the words of the Dutch Institute of Brilliant Failures (there really is such a thing!), "sharing lessons from what hasn't worked can stimulate entrepreneurial thinking and behavior (in the broadest sense of the word) by encouraging people to develop new ideas and enabling innovators to turn ideas into reality". Such efforts could be wasted in a culture where failure is seen as shameful and few are prepared to take risks. A FAILfaire -- a term that appears to be novel enough that it is still not in Wikipedia -- is one small attempt to help change such a culture.
OK, you might say, I'm with you so far. Conceptually what you say makes a lot of sense. But what is attractive in the abstract can become decidedly less so when you try to translate such laudable sentiments into actual practice.
Trade relations between India and Pakistan appear set to improve significantly with Pakistan likely to grant India Most Favored Nation (MFN) status. The potential gains from easier trading relations are considerable for both countries. In 2009-10, official trade between the two stood at $2 billion. Studies suggest this volume could be much higher, absent formal and informal barriers. For instance, a recent SAARC report estimates trade potential to be $12 billion.
What exactly does MFN status mean?
All WTO members are bound to grant MFN treatment to member countries with respect to trade in goods. India granted Pakistan MFN status in 1996, but Pakistan held back, citing strategic considerations. Despite granting Pakistan MFN status, India continued to impose high tariffs on goods of interest to Pakistan—textiles and leather. Thus, merely according MFN status does not imply easier trade. So, does Pakistan’s offer matter? Yes, it does. It signals enthusiasm, goodwill, and a keenness to build peaceful and productive economic and political relations in the region.
Over the last decade, there has been increasing enthusiasm for empowering poor people by giving them information. For instance, sharing information about absentee teachers and doctors, the availability of drugs in clinics, and the effectiveness of development projects will enable poor people (the intended beneficiaries of these programs) to demand better services—and get them.
I share this enthusiasm and may even have contributed in a small way to it. But at a recent aid data conference, I thought I’d consider the criticisms that such efforts have received, and some responses.
1. They already know. Poor people don’t need to be told that the teacher is absent from the public primary school. Their children have been telling them this for years.
My friends and I often have casual chats at the university café and cafeteria about random topics ranging from life, the future, jobs and wherever else the conversation leads us. Recently, I participated in a discussion conducted by a research company where they asked for insights from University seniors and recent graduates about our aspirations.
There were 7 of us in the group from the University of Colombo, Kelaniya, Jayewardenepaura and Moratuwa. The representative from the research company asked about our goals. Though I’ve known them for 3 years, this is the first time I heard them seriously talk about their ambitions and goals in life. Most of them have very lofty goals and objectives. We were asked to list important considerations for potential jobs. This is what we came up with.
In 2006-07, a procurement review carried out on the Technical Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP) in India shocked and surprised project authorities as well as the World Bank. Even in the third year of implementation, participating Engineering institutes were unable to follow the agreed processes and procedures. That situation eventually lead to the development of web based PMSS (Procurement management Support System) currently being used in TEQIP Phase 2 program.
The procurement Review Consultants reported an astonishing 56% variation and resulting non compliance of procedures in the sample of reviewed contracts. A series of further assessments and introspection brought out the main issues that plagued the procurement system. These were:
(i) Geography: challenges of ensuring consistency and adherence to agreed procedures in projects that covered a wide area between hundreds of institutions as seen institutions in different states following their respective procedures , using inappropriate methods of selection, etc.
Let’s be honest. As a youth growing up in Nepal, it is sometimes very hard to get people – and by people I mean seniors in decision-making positions - to take you seriously. It is even more difficult to get them to listen to your ideas or acknowledge you as an important demographic, capable of more than burning tires and picketing politicians.
In the one week I spent in Washington DC, at the World Bank and IMF annual meetings, rushing madly between meetings, presentations, discussion forums and Indian restaurants, I learnt that this deep-rooted attitude is changing. And fast.
Maybe it is the Arab Spring. Maybe it is the realization that without embracing youth into the South Asian market economy, we will have made zero progress in terms of development even ten years down the line. Or maybe, it just makes sense – maybe we are finally realizing the inherent interconnectedness in our world. Realizing that one project from a little village in Nepal is directly linked to the socio-economic structure of our communities, countries and regions.
However, we recently saw an exciting example of what the private sector can achieve even under these conditions: the Southern Sudan Beverages, Ltd (SSBL) plant, which produces beer, soft drinks, and bottled water for the local market.
SSBL started production in 2009 after investing $37 million to build the facility; a $15 million expansion is now underway. The plant looks like a modern manufacturing enterprise—with one exception: it is largely self-contained, with its own generators and a treatment plant for the water that is pumped up from the White Nile.
For a few years, the World Bank's infoDev program has sponsored a monthy online 'EduTech Debate' (ETD) which functions as a sort of rough complement to the Bank's own EduTech blog. The goal of the ETD has been to provide a forum for the sharing of information and perspectives on various emerging topics related "low-cost ICT initiatives for educational systems in developing countries". From the very start, the World Bank's role -- and certainly our voice (to the extent that we have one on these topics) -- has been in the background, and, by design, one only rarely sees a World Bank staff member post on the site, or contribute a comment to the sometimes lively exchanges of opinions that individual posts ignite. We do follow the discussions quite closely, however, and sponsoring the debate has been a useful way for infoDev, the World Bank and UNESCO to be tuned in to some conversations we might not otherwise know are occurring, and to connect with interesting organizations and practitioners doing interesting things around in the world.
The most recent debate has looked at the potential role that ICT can play in promoting the acquisition of basic literacy skills. Especially in places where literacy levels are very low -- where the formal education system has, in many significant ways, failed in one of its fundamental roles -- might ICTs offer some new approaches (and tools) that can help get children reading? Noting (for example) the large number of very basic iPhone apps targeted at children in OECD countries to teach basic letter recognition, phonics, and vocabulary, an increasing number of groups are exploring doing similar things in less privileged environments. But is it really that easy?