These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
The World Press Freedom Index
Reporters Without Borders
Published every year since 2002 by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the World Press Freedom Index is an important advocacy tool based on the principle of emulation between states. Because it is well known, its influence over governments is growing. Many heads of state and government fear its annual publication. The Index is a point of reference that is quoted by media throughout the world and is used by diplomats and international entities such as the United Nations and the World Bank. The Index ranks 180 countries according to the level of freedom available to journalists. It is a snapshot of the media freedom situation based on an evaluation of pluralism, independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists in each country. It does not rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking. Nor is it an indicator of the quality of journalism in each country.
Non-Western Ideas for Democratic Renewal
Carnegie’s Rising Democracies Network
It is commonly asserted that Western liberal democracy is losing credibility and that the international community must be more open to tolerating, and even encouraging, non-Western political models in developing and rising powers. Calls for non-Western forms of democracy have been around for many years but are now becoming louder and more ubiquitous. This trend can be expected to deepen as an integral element of the emerging post-Western world order. The desire of people outside the West to contribute new ideas to democratic regeneration and to feel stronger local ownership over democracy is healthy. More needs to be done to nurture a wider variation of democratic processes and practices.
From 538, a discussion on basic incomes, including a cautionary tale about results on one outcome (that wasn’t the main one) driving policy decisions “While the purpose of the NIT pilots was to observe changes in work effort, an unrelated phenomenon caught the eye of critics: divorce. Controversy erupted when data from the Seattle and Denver studies seemed to show an increase in the divorce rate among participants (those findings were later discovered to be the result of a statistical error). The press spun wild stories, and the political credibility of NIT — and of basic income, for that matter — began to unravel.” And also how an economist with the delightful surname of Forget delved into data files on a forgotten Canadian program.
Every day more and more people in the world have access to financial services. In the minds of many, that poses an important risk. People need financial education, particularly in the form of information, to prevent them from making dangerous financial mistakes. They need to be aware of fees they pay, the interest rate charged by their credit cards, and important clauses in the contracts they sign.
The funny thing is, not even people we consider financially savvy know those things. I put these kinds of questions to 30 Mexican economists, all PhDs working in the financial sector or in academia. 38% did not know the APR of their credit cards. 66% did not know approximately how much they paid last year in fees to retirement fund managers. 72% claimed they do not usually read the fine print in bank contracts.
Government reformers and development practitioners in the open government space are experiencing the heady times associated with a newly-defined agenda. The opportunity for innovation and positive change can at times feel boundless. Yet, working in a nascent field also means a relative lack of “proven” tools and solutions (to such extent as they ever exist in development).
More research on the potential for open government initiatives to improve lives is well underway. However, keeping up with the rapidly evolving landscape of ongoing research, emerging hypotheses, and high-priority knowledge gaps has been a challenge, even as investment in open government activities has accelerated. This becomes increasing important as we gather to talk progress at the OGP Africa Regional Meeting 2016 and GIFT consultations in Cape Town next week (May 4-6) .
I recently visited there with some World Bank colleagues. We were hosted by Mariam Lashkhi, a former colleague who now leads the Department of International Relations at Georgia’s Innovation and Technology Agency (GITA) overseeing the Tech Park. Mariam, who was involved in the development of Georgia’s Competitiveness and Innovation Project while at the Bank, gave us a brief history of GITA, created in 2013.
It all began with an idea to support Georgia’s government and the private sector in advancing innovation-led growth of key sectors of economy. Ultimately, the goal was to drive competitiveness and ensure longer-term sustainable growth, with a focus on job creation.
When I first visited the college town of Madison, Wisconsin (USA) in 2000, what first stood out wasn’t its beautiful university campus or its famous brat and beer combo. What caught my attention was a public bus which had the equipment to lift a wheelchair. “Beep, beep, beep,” a sound would signal as the bus would lower and extend a ramp to aid people in wheelchairs to board the bus.
At that time, I had never seen anything like this bus and thought, “Wow! Why can’t we have such services back in my country?” No such buses existed in Korea where I grew up. But more than just the bus, I remembered thinking that I rarely noticed people with special needs in Korea. In hindsight, the lack of support and consideration for people with disabilities and ignorant attitudes were also reasons why people with disabilities were rarely seen in public.
Addressing needs through action
In 2014, I became the task leader for Bangladesh’s Disability and Children at Risk (DCAR) project. The difficult situation faced by persons with disabilities in the country was a reminder of the contrast I had experienced in that college town. Accessible transportation was not the only service lacking for people with disabilities. There was a lack of access to health facilities for checkups and treatment along with a short supply of therapy equipment and wheelchairs. A lack of respect towards persons with disabilities by the wider public was also a challenge. Moreover, the project was not delivering the results that it expected to achieve.
David Njuguna, a mentor for BBC Media Action Kenya, looks at how a volunteer-run local radio station is helping prevent cholera in Kenya.
Last year Kenya was facing a devastating cholera outbreak. It started in the capital, Nairobi and by June 2015, a total of 4,937 cases and 97 deaths had been reported nationally.
According to public health officials, the spread of cholera in Nairobi particularly affected people living in slums. Frequent bursting of sewer lines, poor sanitation facilities and heavy rains played a major role in the outbreak. Poor hygiene practices – such as not washing hands before eating or preparing food – also contributed to the spread of disease. The outbreak eventually petered out, but the environment and practices that contributed to the spread of cholera continue to pose a threat.
In a quiet courtyard, away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi’s Kawangware slum, a community radio station was planning a response.
Mtaani Radio, run by a team of volunteers, was a hive of activity when I walked into their studio last week. They were recording content for ‘WASH Wednesdays’, a show looking at ways listeners can improve their health and hygiene. The show, reaching over 100,000 people in the Kawangware community, was just about to start.
Imagine a school that teaches knowledge and provides hands-on training. A place where students express confidence in their skills, and are excited to make a difference in their future jobs. A bastion of confidence and optimism, where 100% of graduating students have jobs lined up before graduation.
Sounds too good to be true? I found this haven at the University of Moratuwa’s Department of Textile and Clothing Technology, supported by the Higher Education for the 21st Century Project (HETC), which is designed to modernize education by its increasing its quality and relevance. 24-year-old Malaka Perera, who is graduating next month, told me how the program has helped him build a foundation for his career. “The program taught me how to deal with people, along with communications and problem solving skills that I used during my internship. As a result, finding a job was quite easy.”
Sri Lankans have enjoyed the benefits of broad education access for decades, which has allowed the country to build human capital to rise and become a middle income country. However, as a country with rising aspirations in an increasingly globalized world and competitive region, the quality and relevance of its education system is key for the country to maintain its edge and reach new heights.
Over the past 15 years, tremendous strides have been made in providing computing equipment and Internet access to schools around the world. Despite this, however, many teachers and students – especially those in rural communities in middle and low-income countries (and occasionally in OECD countries as well) remain largely un-connected.
In response, and as a (presumably, or at least hopefully) temporary stop-gap measure, scores of countries have piloted and championed the use of ‘mobile internet computing facilities’ of various sorts as a way to provide access for learners in remote communities to digital teaching and learning resources through the use of things like ‘internet buses’. For some students, ‘mobile learning’ takes place not with the aid of a smart phone, but rather through monthly visits of Internet-connected buses filled with computers. From Big Blue in Zimbabwe to the Google Internet Bus in India to similar sorts of efforts in countries as diverse as Tunisia, Pakistan, Rwanda, Mauritius, the Philippines, Malaysia, the United States, Canada, Mexico and China, technology-rich portable classrooms on wheels of various sorts are in use – and many more are being considered and planned.
Most efforts of these sorts seem to have been conceptualized and implemented in a vacuum, not informed by related experiences in other places. Even where such efforts help meet objectives that are (if we are honest) more related to politics and public relations than they are to learning, what guidance should the people in charge of such efforts consider in order to get the most out of related investments?
Might there be some related lessons and insights drawn from experience in operating mobile computing learning classrooms that can inform ongoing investments in other areas (school transportation, distance learning, school computer labs, rural Internet access)?