The elusive quest to scale
Some 15 years ago, I was in a small town in Hoshangabad district (India) attending a workshop with government schoolteachers, where we were examining student test scores. Instructors from Eklavya, a non-profit supporting the government, were skillfully leading teachers through an intensely engaging session on why a child might have written a particular answer, what was right and what was wrong with the answer, how to grade it, and how a teacher could help the child improve. Everyone was sharing lessons and learning.
The elusive quest to scale
I Will Always Write Back is the true story of Martin Ganda and Caitlin Alifirenka, who became pen pals -- between Zimbabwe and the USA -- in middle (or lower secondary) school. Over time, they learn from each other, and ultimately Caitlin's family realizes the depth of need of Martin and his family -- living in a slum on the outskirts of the city Matate -- and provides support beyond the letters, all to an inspiring end (which I won't spoil).
This book is on many middle school reading lists, with good reason. My thirteen-year-old son just read and enjoyed it. It provides an introduction to life in Zimbabwe and a range of challenges that might never occur to a child (or adult, for that matter) in a high-income country. I've never worked in Zimbabwe, but I have studied education in many countries, including several countries around Sub-Saharan Africa, and the characterizations of life broadly rang true.
In a recent exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, “Dinosaurs Among Us,” paleontologists use prehistoric fossil records of bones, feathers, and nests to show that some dinosaurs did not go extinct but, rather, evolved into the creatures we see today. The links they trace show how avian dinosaurs (ones that fly) evolved into modern-day birds. Paleontologists argue that avian-dinosaurs’ swift aerial mobility played a key role in determining their survival while their land-based relatives failed to thrive. Flight enabled them to relocate and adapt to drastically changing environments—a skill that their land-based relatives lacked.
Figure 1. Paleontologists argue that avian-dinosaurs (left) adapted to the changing environment quickly and evolved into birds (right).
The 2018 World Development Report (WDR), Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, launched this week. While it draws on research and collective experience—both from within and outside the World Bank—it also draws on the personal experience of the team members, including the two of us. What inspires the focus on learning for all is that we both have seen the possibilities of widely shared learning, but we’ve also seen what happens when those possibilities aren’t fulfilled.
Who doesn’t enjoy an afternoon at the movies? Yet sometimes a cinema screening can be more than just fun. An experiment in Uganda demonstrates how an inspiring, relatable figure in a movie can actually help students to pass their math exams.
We all benefit from role models, whether it’s in school, work, or our personal life. A role model shows us how we can be more or achieve more. In Madagascar, a role model (in this case, an “educated person with high income, who grew up in the local school district”) sharing her life story at a school significantly increased students’ test performance. (Notably, the effect only materialized when the role model had come from a poor background, not when she came from a well-off background.) In Uganda, women who work in male-dominated sectors – and subsequently make much more money – point to the importance of role models in showing them they can succeed.
Researchers in development often hope that their research can ultimately influence policy. But getting from research results to policymaker persuasion is an ongoing struggle. Yesterday I heard insights on this point from Dasmine Kennedy of Jamaica’s Ministry of Education as well as Albert Motivans from Equal Measures 2030. (I also gave my two cents.)
Countries around the world have experimented with “school report cards”: providing parents with information about the quality of their school so that they can demand higher quality service for their children. The results have been mixed. Andrabi, Das, and Khwaja bring a significant contribution to that literature in last month’s American Economic Review with their article using data from Pakistan, “Report Cards: The Impact of Providing School and Child Test Scores on Educational Markets.”
In The Godfather II, Vito Corleone chooses his younger son, Michael, instead of his older son, Fredo, as his successor. This decision is based on Michael's intelligence and ability. Fredo, who is considered weak, is dismissed to do more menial tasks for the family. This has huge implications for Michael, Fredo, and the Corleone saga.
CC (The Godfather) Image courtesy of Insomnia Cured Here on Flickr
What makes parents decide to "invest" in one child over another? In economics, a key idea is that parents either reinforce or compensate for children’s endowments, such as health or intelligence. They reinforce by investing more in the human capital of their better-endowed children. Or they compensate by investing more in their worse-endowed children to reduce inequality among siblings. The core notion is : either parents are striving for equity (the compensating strategy) or efficiency (the reinforcing strategy of Vito Corleone).
“Individuality is the product of both biological inheritance and personal experience,” said Professor Charles A. Nelson during a recent presentation at the World Bank. Professor Nelson has been studying neurobiological development and the effect of adversity on the brain for some time now (e.g., here and here). So we asked him to open the black box of brain development for us and help us understand what it all means to those of us working on ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Below are some highlights from his talk.
The rate of change in human development outcomes varies considerably across countries over long periods of time, as reflected in the two histograms below (Figure 1). For 78 countries in the period 1980-2014, the percentage decline in child mortality was 3.39% on average, with a standard deviation of 1.36%, a smallest rate of 0.89% (Central African Republic) and a highest rate of 8.07% (Maldives). The average percentage increase in school enrollment was 3.35%, with a standard deviation 3.54%, a minimum of 0.37% (Georgia) and a maximum of 19.68% (Maldives). Similar patterns of cross-country variation are found when using alternative proxies for health and education outcomes.