Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Talk the talk – but not walk the walk

1 December, 2008

That’s the way Larry Elliott in The Guardian sums up the donors lack of urgency in meeting the MDGs. Commenting on the just released UNESCO Education for All report, he writes:

“… donor countries can talk the talk but not walk the walk. According to the Unesco study, the aid required for even the most basic primary education provision in poor countries is US$11 bn (£7.2bn) a year. In 2006, spending amounted to around $4bn, leaving a funding gap of $7bn. To put that figure into context, it is around 10% of what Britain spent this autumn recapitalising the banking system”.

Maybe they will walk the walk at the UN Financing for Development summit now underway in Doha. But I wouldn’t hold your breath. “When financial systems fail, the consequences are highly visible and governments act,” concluded UNESCO’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. He added “When education systems fail the consequences are less visible, but no less real”.

I would add that education is the only investment you can be sure of getting at least some return on – provided it’s of good quality and children complete a minimum of 4 years primary education. Well-educated people earn more in the labour market, and find it easier to absorb new technologies and methods when they run micro-enterprises and farms. Education is a means to break the inter-generational transmission of chronic poverty (see this CPRC study for Bangladesh).

And even if it didn’t raise income much – which might be the case in economies that are growing only slowly – it certainly improves health status, especially of children, when mothers are educated. Educated mothers are 50% more likely to immunize their children than mothers with no schooling (go here). Gender inequality in education has high costs for both the family and society (see this IFPRI study).

So the chronic underfunding of education reminds me of that old quotation: if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

A Fun Way to Harness the Energy of Children to Deliver Clean Water

12 November, 2008

In the discussion of my recent post about bottled water I mentioned that sales of bottled water at Manchester University support water pumps in Africa. Specifically, Playpump, a wonderful invention from South Africa.

As children spin on a roundabout, clean water is pumped from underground into storage tanks. The pumps cost about US$9,500 to install. They are much faster and pump at a more reliable rate than hand-driven pumps, and can supply up to 1,400 litres of water an hour.

Better water infrastructure in Africa not only reduces the incidence of the main water-borne illnesses, but also reduces the amount of time that communities spend collecting water from (often dirty) ponds and rivers. Since water collection is often an activity for girls, requiring them to walk many hours when water is inaccessible, it provides more time for them – including more time in school. More information on Playpump can be found here.

It’s Called the Girl Effect

18 September, 2008

CARE has a neat video on the huge impact of educating girls: “It’s called the girl effect”. Indeed it could be an investment with one of the largest returns — for both the individual and their society.

Larry Summers found that  on average wages increase by more than 10% to 20% for each additional year of schooling (with the returns being especially high in Africa and South Asia, where literacy is lower: go here). He calculated that there was a much higher return to society from investing in the human capital of girls than in such ‘hard’ infrastructure as electric power plants. And then there are the positive effects on infant mortality, maternal mortality, and the position of women in their societies. Summers did his calculations back in the early 1990s, and subsequent research has continued to confirm the substantial benefits of girls’ education.

For further work in this area go to the BWPI working paper series. Farhad Hossain and Tonya Knight discuss the use of micro-credit for education in Bangladesh in ‘Financing the Poor: Can microcredit make a difference?’. The Grameen bank provides education loans (as well as scholarships for its clients). Increased female education has contributed to improving their social status over the last three decades: this is evident in the number of women who now have jobs in banking and other service sectors in Bangladesh.

Also check out the work of Ruth Levine and Nancy Birdsall at CGD. A good site for advocacy and research, especially on what the IMF and World Bank are up to, is Gender Action.

Should Cash Transfers Come with Conditions?

1 September, 2008

Or in other words, do governments know best? Best, that is, for poor people. If so, then adding conditions to a cash transfer alters household behaviour in ways that might help them escape poverty faster. Linking cash transfers to school participation is an example. Conditional cash transfers (CTTs) are on the rise (see this new book by BWPI’s Armando Barrientos and David Hulme, as well as the CPRC Kampala conference on social protection next week).

One view is that households know what’s best for themselves. So adding conditions to cash transfers to poor households is redundant. But collecting information is costly (in both time and money). Therefore households are unlikely to have full information. If so, then conditionality could steer them in a direction that they would go if they were fully informed. For example: Governments are likely to have a better understanding of the benefits of immunization than households, so conditioning the transfer on immunization will help.

Knowing whether conditionality does deliver tangible gains is vital. One reason is that conditionality by its nature implies monitoring, and monitoring has a cost. If conditionality does not deliver a gain then the money spent on monitoring might better go to increasing the size of the cash transfer itself (and even if there is a gain, it needs to be one big enough to justify the administrative cost of imposing conditionality).

So how do we capture the behavioural effect? It’s tricky, because behaviour can’t be directly observed. A new IPC one pager reports on the latest work by Alan de Brauw and John Hoddinott which aims to get around this problem (go to IFPRI for the full paper). They found that some households in Mexico’s PROGRESA (now called Oportunidades) did not receive the forms necessary to monitor their children at school, so their cash transfers were in effect unconditional. Their school enrollment is compared to the (majority of) households who were monitored.

Result? If the household was not monitored then its children were less likely to attend school on average. This effect is significant but modest. However, the absence of conditionality really kicks in when children should be moving from primary to secondary school. School attendance was severely reduced when children were making the transition to lower secondary school. These effects are even stronger when the household head is illiterate. De Brauw and Hoddinott conclude that:

“… debates over “to condition or not to condition” are overly simplistic. In the case considered here, there is clearly little benefit to conditioning transfers based on enrollment in primary school. However, in terms of increased school enrollment, there are large benefits associated with conditioning transfers at entry into lower secondary school”.

Hence, you can get a lot more bang from your CTT buck by focusing in on situations where altering household behaviour has the biggest effects — in this case encouraging more households to send their kids to secondary school.

Can Donors Help Cook Up Growth?

15 February, 2008

Making an economy grow should be easy. Just invest in technology (to raise labour productivity — a new seed variety for instance). Add lots of education (especially high quality primary schooling). And then a dash of institutions (protecting the property rights of investors). Oh, and don’t forget the infrastructure. Voilà! 10 per cent growth year-on-year, and before you know it everyone will be rich (and moaning about how unhappy they are).

So, all you need is a growth cookbook (maybe this is Nigella’s next opus?). You could pick up a US one (a bit tired around the edges, but well-tested homely fare). Or an Asian takeaway (select from Malaysian, Korean, Chinese, or Vietnamese). Or how about Scandinavia’s rather bland — but very successful — growth Smörgåsbord? (Finnish being our favourite).

What you will not find is much from Africa. Indeed the shelf is largely bare, Botswana and Mauritius excepted. And it is Africa that aid donors are mostly concerned about (although the Pacific islands and Haiti are huge challenges too). True, Africa is now growing, pushed ahead by rising commodity prices. But Africa has been here before (the 1970s, when it largely squandered the fruits of the last commodity boom — resulting in economic turmoil, spectacularly so in Nigeria). Nobody is yet writing up Africa as a growth success-story — because recent growth seems so fragile.

And a lot of that growth doesn’t reach the people who need it: GDP is rising fast in Angola and Equatorial Guinea but the average person doesn’t see much benefit, let alone the poor (on Angola see my book here). Nigeria looked more hopeful last year, especially after the debt deal. But never underestimate the ability of Nigeria’s politicians to clear the pot before anyone else gets a turn (see recent back-sliding on corruption).

So what’s an aid donor to do? This is now becoming urgent — we hear that donors are pushing growth up their priority list. Seems sensible: countries will remain aid-dependent until they get their GDP up. And growth can reduce poverty, especially when new jobs and tax revenue (for pro-poor public spending) are the result (however, the chronically poor can miss out, and some types of growth harm poor people — see our recent post).

But which growth cook-book will donors turn to? And will the recipes be palatable to aid-recipients? We’ll return to this theme in a future post. Meanwhile, over to Nigella.

What next for Kenya? The Poor will Suffer — That’s Certain

14 February, 2008

The big guys are still talking. Agreement was reached last week on a framework peace plan, brokered by Kofi Annan (the Ghanains previously sent in President John Kufuor to no avail — you can’t help but admire their persistence). The framework commits both parties to avoid inflammatory statements and hold more meetings. Annan is pushing them still — the outline of an interim government might emerge soon (breaking news: a deal to write a new constitution is reported here). At least parliament was recalled — a key step.

In public both the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) led by Raila Odinga and the Party of National Unity (PNU) led by Mwai Kibaki are keeping to a hard line: claiming no deal is in place. You might say it’s what happens in private that matters — around the negotiating table. That’s only partly true. Political leaders need to rein in their increasingly volatile and aggressive supporters. More murders (at least 1,000 since December) add fuel to the fire — and generate a momentum that the politicians might find hard to stop. “Let Annan do his bit but there is going to be no resolution. The clashes will continue”, said one youth manning a road block (see a BBC report here).

Will the agreement work? Who knows. The poor will suffer — that’s certain. For them it gets worse day by day, in at least 5 ways:

1. Family incomes are under intense stress. Tourism revenue has collapsed. One Masai community used to earn £400 (approx $800) per month from tourist visits: now all gone (story here). Over a quarter of a million people have fled their homes (and livelihoods). Result: more chronic poverty (see Tom Jayne et al on Kenya here).

2. Education and health-care are very disrupted. HIV and TB patients are finding it hard to collect their life-saving medicines. TB patients must repeat the whole course again (see Rhona’s blog on The Lancet Student). And TB develops drug resistance when treatment is incomplete. NGOs are working hard to help. But one MSF worker describes the situation of a HIV-positive mother who needs formula milk for her baby: “It broke my heart to see this woman, badly beaten up, sitting in the waiting bay with her four month old baby. She was making her way back home to fetch the baby’s patient card when they got hold of her. She looked completely petrified.” (story here). Infant mortality is rising.

3. A lasting solution must address Kenya’s deep inequality (see my paper here). This dates back to colonial times but intensified after independence in 1963, especially when former president Daniel arap Moi got to work. His network of patronage kept the big guys happy while the economy, once of Africa’s most promising, stagnated (growth picked up again over the last few years, the result of the global commodity boom). The Kikuyu — the country’s largest ethnic group and the one to which President Kibaki belongs — have dominated politics and commerce (Moi, who backed Kibaki in the elections, is from the Kalenjins, one of the smaller communities). Kibaki has lost some of the support of Kikuyu professionals — who have done well from the economic growth of the last few years. This is a sign of hope. When there is growth, the contending parties have an incentive to keep it going — if they have benefited. But many Kenyans have missed out or not benefited at all. They can take the economic hardship — because they are already used to hard times. The politics and the economics of conflict therefore interact. Consolidating a political solution depends on delivering tangible gains to the excluded (and fast).

4. As the economy sinks, so it becomes easier for nascent warlords to recruit the poor for their purposes — the slums have divided along ethnic lines. Most of the ODM protestors — in Nairobi and other places — belong to the Luo and Klenjin communities. They turned on the Kikuyus. Kibera, the big Nairobi’s slum, saw much anti-Kikuyu violence. And then the Kikuyus took their revenge. This is an acceleration of the rising ethnic violence seen over recent years (especially over land claims, further exploited by local political leaders). Organized crime is profiting handsomely from the looting, taking the banditry that has bedeviled Kenya to new heights (see this video by the Guardian’s Xan Rice). Conflict that starts as grievance often ends up driven by greed, making it all the more difficult to halt (see discussion here and here).

5. How to restore faith in the democratic process? The peaceful transition in 2002 — which ended the 24-year old presidency of Moi — gave hope to the poor that their vote would achieve real change (go here and read Joel Barkan in Foreign Affairs). The longer this goes on, the more difficult it becomes for the parties to move beyond the framework peace deal. And without a permanent deal the murders will continue. Time works against peace.

6. For aid donors it’s a tough call. They have large programmes in Kenya. They must act in good faith (and be seen to be doing so). The World Bank got off to a bad start, when a leaked memo appeared to support the result of the flawed December election. The director of the Royal African Society, Richard Dowden, has a scorching Op-ed piece in the Guardian on the British response. The ODM has called on donors to shut down aid: “A government that steals the vote from its own people will steal any aid given to it” (reported here). That’s a very powerful argument. Zimbabwe is the precedent (no OECD-DAC aid to speak of, just humanitarian help). But aid sanctions are tools that need to be kept in reserve as we await the outcome of the Annan initiative.

We leave the last word to Edward Clay (who was the UK’s High Commissioner to Kenya 2001-05). In a letter to the Economist he writes: “…the poorest, whether in the slums of Nairobi or in the rural areas, had all too little to lose in the recent violence. Most people living in the slums are inhabitants of shanties erected at the whim of rapacious landlords, who are themselves part of the political class. Some of these residents have now had their votes stolen as well…. The poorest attack their equally poor neighbours and set fire to the little they have in common not because they hate these targets in themselves but because they see no other adequate way to express their grievance”. That is Kenya today.

Charles Taylor faces Justice. But Justice isn’t Enough

25 January, 2008

Liberia’s ex-president Charles Taylor now sits in the dock in The Hague, charged with 11 counts of war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone. (The International Criminal Court in The Hague has loaned the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone their facilities). The smartly-suited Taylor pleaded innocent. He has the ‘distinction’ of being the first former African state to go before an international war-crimes court. Chad’s Hisène Habré is up next, in a special court in Dakar, Senegal.

In the trial’s opening days, one witness, a churchman, described how child soldiers did their ‘work’; the ‘Small Boys Unit’ was especially brutal. But it’s not enough to provide accounts of Sierra Leone’s atrocities — these are well documented. To get a conviction a clear link has to be established between Taylor and events in Sierra Leone. Specifically, how he (allegedly) financed and guided the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). To work, the trial must be scrupulously fair.

Is all this worth it? (Yes: it sends a clear message. And a war-crimes tribunal is not expected any time soon in Liberia, so charging Taylor with crimes in Sierra Leone at least gets him into the Dock). Will it be a deterrent? (Increasingly so: worldwide, 10 ex-presidents and military dictators are facing the law on human rights charges. And for despots still in power, it might disturb their sleep). Can it provide true justice? (Only partly, many despots die safely in their bed — like Uganda’s Idi Amin. And you can’t bring back Liberia and Sierra Leone’s many dead). Will it slow down peace deals (Maybe, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda are worried that they will end up in a court like Taylor: but that’s not a good reason to press ahead with capturing and trying war criminals).

However, removing individual ‘spoilers’ is not enough. Removing one Charles Taylor leaves many potential Taylors to take the stage if conditions remain ripe. This includes the poverty that supplies their recruits. You have to recreate a working relationship between the state and the people to deliver broad-based recovery (see my paper here).

A better and more prosperous future removes the oxygen in which the Charles Taylors of this world thrive. There is now lots of action in this area. See for example TechnoServe which helps rural entrepreneurs rebuild after war. The resulting employment at least offers an alternative livelihood to the violence that youngsters otherwise get sucked into. They also need a good education; especially the small boys (and girls) who get caught up in militias through no fault of their own (a big issue in northern Uganda).

Taylor’s case is expected to last at least a year, and you can track it at the Crimes of War web site. And for the bigger picture on how to deal with these bullies read the excellent Brian Urquhart in the NYRB. Stephen Ellis provides the background to Liberia in the authoritative Africa Yearbook.

Meanwhile, if Taylor has a broadband connection from his lodgings in The Hague, he should check out this UNICEF commercial against war — featuring those friendly Smurfs (go here). He can even learn to hum the tune…

Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 1

20 January, 2008

The late, great, Ian Dury, had a hit with his song ‘Reasons to be Cheerful‘ back in the 1970s. So, with the start of the new year, and in the spirit of the song, lets list some reasons to be cheerful in the first month of 2008:

1. The One Laptop Per Child is now shipping — over a quarter of a million to Peru alone; it sells at $188, and a new commercial venture aims to get these computers down to $50 (see our recent post).

2. The World Bank’s soft-loan arm (the International Development Association) got replenished late last year — after worries that the Wolfowitz debacle would sink the Bank’s funding, the donors rallied round, and Britain became IDA’s biggest contributor (giving the Americans pause for thought: see ‘Bested by the Brits’ in the NYT here).

3. More Americans started to treat climate change seriously. And the Europeans got their act together, and pressed the US hard at the Bali meeting in December (see a summing-up on the CDG blog here). The Republicans ended their state of denial about climate change, finally catching up with the big shift in public opinion (see The Economist here).

4. Economic growth in the developing world keeps motoring, despite the US buckling under the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The South — or at least the Asian part of it — might be decoupling from the North, for the first time.

5. Remittances from North to South continue to rise. Africans living in the UK send home some $400 million a year to relatives (but African governments need to do more to help these transactions, and the resulting investments).

6. The Micro-finance game just keeps getting bigger. What used to be a minority sport has now gone main stream. Lots of product innovation going on, with micro-insurance now starting to catch up. ASA of Bangladesh comes top in a recent Forbes ranking of Microfinance institutions.

7. The Ghanains are punching above their weight in the world of diplomacy. Ghana’s President John Kufuor (also chairman of the African Union) and Kofi Annan are trying to bang heads together in Nairobi to resolve the elections crisis — in the pleasant but firm way only Ghanains can.

8. Iain Duncan Smith, ex leader of the Conservatives, gave a barnstorming performance at the Blackpool party conference on the theme of Britain’s ‘broken society’. And he’s highlighted the Manchester of poverty alongside wealth.

9. More young people than ever want to get involved with development. Why? Maybe its all the travelling during those gap years or older siblings burnt out by the corporate world. Check out the BOND (British Overseas NGOs for Development) site here. If you are a young economist take a look at the ODI Fellowship scheme.

10. The Web makes it possible to find almost any piece of poverty research you want. For those of us who started out in the days of type-written manuscripts this is still amazing.

er, that’s it…. but I’ll try and think of more, and return with Part 2 soon

Incidentally, Ian Dury was one of UNICEF’s childrens ambassadors in his last days. There’s a great pic of him here with a Zambian boy on one of his Africa trips. He campaigned tirelessly to eradicate polio having been disabled by the disease when a child (relatively common in Britain of the late 194os when he got it).

Thinking of a career change?

15 January, 2008

Thinking of a career change? Bored with your office job, and only 4 weeks paid holiday a year? Need to get out more? We have just the job for you.

Become a coal miner in Kyrgyzstan. You can start early: ten years old is acceptable. Over on the Childhood Poverty Research and Policy Centre (CHIP) they have a film about a Bakyt, an 11 year old coal miner. Go here to see the movie. One to think about next time you are sitting warm in another dull meeting.

No Laptop Per Child?

11 January, 2008

Efforts to get cheap computers into the hands of children in the poor world suffered a set back over the new year with the withdrawal of Intel from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. Intel had a bust up with OLPC and MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte, who inspired the project. The laptop (called the XO) is starting to ship and in Peru Intel is alleged to have tried to get the education ministry to adopt its Classmate PC instead (the XO runs on a chip from one of Intel’s competitors). Seems that the industry has now woken up to the size of this market and its profitability. There don’t seem to be any Intel press releases with their side of the story. OLPC news can be found here.

It looked like Intel’s withdrawal could seriously damage the project. In a WSJ report, an Intel spokesman said, rather cryptically, that they had reached a “philosophical impasse with OLPC’ (call out Alan Turing, anyone?). But OLPC now seems to have an unstoppable momentum, fortunately.

Encouraging the IT industry to produce these cheap appropriate technologies is akin to getting the big drugs companies to research the tropical diseases that kill poor people — but aren’t as profitable as the diseases of affluence. OLPC now seems to have encouraged a veritable rush from commercial producers.

BBC World has an interview with Mary Lou Jepsen who initiated the project with Negroponte. Describing herself as a ‘hardware chick’, she’s the inventor of the OLPC’s LCD screen — a key breakthrough in reducing its cost (the screen is viewable in strong sunlight and is very power efficient). She talks about the battle to persuade manufacturers to build the screens, after much early doubt. But these technologies are now likely to enter the commercial market as well. Indeed, the FT technology blog reports that her new company is working on $50-$75 laptop. This will be lower than the cost of the OLPC XO, the target price of which is $100 (the WSJ reports that the current model actually sells for $188 — still cheap).

In another interview on Groklaw Jepsen says that 260,000 are going to children in one-room classrooms in rural Peru. This is an amazing number. What will be the social and economic effects? Negroponte always described this as more of an education than a computer project. He’s right: out go those old textbooks — the kids can hook immediately to the latest reading material (and maybe get learning help on line from volunteer teachers? And read this blog?).

My posts are generated from my wonderful MacBook. But it cost us at least 1200 bucks. Can’t wait to start blogging from a $50 machine — shows that technologies developed for poor people can benefit us all.

(ps. the SciDev Net site keeps everyone in touch with the latest science and development news)