During a recent trip to Udon Thani, we visited several small schools in the outskirts of the city. In several ways, these small schools were typical of Thailand’s 15,000 schools with less than 120 students.
In past decades, the schools had nearly three times as many students but, over time, their enrollment numbers had gradually fallen as a result of shrinking birth numbers; and with better roads that allowed some families to place their children in better schools located in Udon Thani city itself.
Several other schools were located in their close vicinity. In fact, a total of seven schools – many of which had also shrunk into small schools – were now located within a 3-kilometer radius.
The schools struggled to provide quality education for their students because they had a hard time attracting and retaining qualified teachers. During our visit, the principal of one of the schools explained that the school had no qualified English language teacher and that many of their teachers were recent, and mostly inexperienced university graduates. The principal feared that many of these new teachers would only stay at the school for a short while before seeking to move to Udon Thani city or another urban area, and to teach at a city school.
Driving from the airport into the city of Apia, the capital of Samoa, is a great introduction to the country. Villages line the road with gardens filled with colorful flowers and palm trees. Hugging the northwest coastline, the road sometimes comes as close as five meters from the shoreline, giving passengers truly spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.
While it’s a scenic introduction to Samoa, this drive is also a stark reminder of just how sensitive the country’s coastline is to erosion and damage. More than 50% of West Coast Road, Apia’s main roadway, sits less than three meters (9.8 feet) above sea level and just a few meters from the shoreline, making it highly vulnerable to damage and deterioration. When tropical cyclones, heavy rain, king tides and storm surges hit these coastal roads, they can lead to erosion, flooding and landslips, causing road closures and threatening the safety of the people who use them.
The World Bank Group’s Open Learning Campus (OLC) launched a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) today — Policy Lessons from South Korea’s Development — through the edX platform, with approximately 7,000 global learners already registered. In this MOOC, prominent representatives of academic and research institutions in South Korea and the United States narrate a multi-faceted story of Korea’s economic growth.
Why focus on South Korea? South Korea's transformation from poverty to prosperity in just three decades was virtually miraculous. Indeed, by almost any measure, South Korea is one of the greatest development success stories. South Korea’s income per capita rose nearly 250 times, from a mere $110 in 1962 to $27,440 in 2015. This rapid growth was achieved despite geopolitical uncertainties and a lack of natural resources. Today, South Korea is a major exporter of products such as semiconductors, automobiles, telecommunications equipment, and ships.
With the release last month of the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) results by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), it is apparent that many of the highest achieving students in the world are in East Asia.
Just as in the recently released TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) results, Singapore leads the world in every subject in PISA, outperforming other economies and countries by a significant margin. Students in Singapore perform at a level that is up to two years ahead of their regional and OECD counterparts in science, mathematics and reading. Moreover, almost all Singaporean students have reached a basic level of proficiency or higher. And they just keep getting better, having significantly reduced performance below basic proficiency.
Japan also outperforms most participating economies in science, mathematics and reading. However, its score in reading has declined since the last round. Still, as in Singapore, 90% of students have reached a basic level of proficiency or above.
The primary forests have long gone from the surroundings of Teluk Bakung village on the outskirts of Pontianak, the capital of Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province. This was evident when I arrived in the region in late November 2016, as part of a field visit. We saw how most villagers have abandoned the difficult peatlands agriculture to work on large oil palm plantations and their own oil palm fields. Others have opted to invest in lucrative edible bird nest production. But they do so against a backdrop of confusing land-use management: forest estate and administrative boundary demarcation is incomplete, and community interest groups and authorities debate over the historical allocation of plantation concessions. Public data sets show a wide variety of land and forest uses in the area, including reserves. But in reality, virtually all of the land is increasingly being devoted to oil palm production.