Get money, get aid.


Imperialist Bastards and Maths

From Andrei Lankov via North Korea Economy Watch

Priceless passage from a North Korean maths textbook:

“During the Fatherland Liberation War (North Korea’s official name for the Korean War) the brave uncles of Korean People’s Army killed 265 American imperialist bastards in the first battle. In the second battle they killed 70 more bastards than they had in the first battle. How many bastards did they kill in the second battle? How many American imperialist bastards did they kill all together?’


In Oxford February 15th?

If you fancy learning a bit about Bhutan, IT for Education, and theories of Technology and Modernisation in Development swing by Oxford for the day where there will be an interesting lecture given on these topics at 5pm, St. Anthony’s College, Oxford. More information below:

Information technology, education and modernisation in Bhutan: the cultural space between policy and practice

Nick Fiore, London School of Economics
15 February 2011 17:00 –
Dahrendorf Room, St Antony’s College

Conveners: David Johnson and Chelsea Robles

Part of the seminar series: Education and the Politics of Culture and Modernisation in Bhutan

What we choose to believe…

In the reports, speeches, PR, and literature of the international development world, we often take informational truth for granted. We have ministerial aid programs, World Bank project syntheses, and project cycle charts thrown in our faces ad nausea. This overload of analysis can be overwhelming and often misleading. Given these statements, I’d like to point out a recent finding and some food for thought to back them up.

It may seem trivial, to point out a contextual misunderstanding of academic literature by a UNESCO report that I was recently reading, however there are more than a few reasons why I believe otherwise. The report is a thematic study titled, “Applying New Technologies and Cost-Effective Delivery Systems in Basic Education”. It attempts to comment on the potential benefits of ICT in Education, however is tainted due to a misguided approach to research.

For example, the authors make the claim, on page 19 of their report, that, “The global context can act as a powerful site for the ‘recognition of, and support for, cultural difference’ and for the assertion or protection of differences on the part of both parties in the exchange (Giddens, 1990, p. 7). In this, school linking appears to hold particular significance.” The report, a non-academic paper, uses the academic work of Anthony Giddens in this case to support its argument. Most, would simply accept this use of literature to support the UNESCO stance as accurate and move on. However, after some digging into the work of Giddens, and the use of The Consequences of Modernity in their citation, a few things appear questionable.

Most importantly, The Consequences of Modernity by Anthony Giddens calls into question modernity as a positive force. In fact, page 7 of Gidden’s masterpiece of sociological thought never mentions the phrase UNESCO includes in their quotations, ‘recognition of, and support for, cultural difference’. Nevertheless, the authors of this paper on ICTs in Education use it and additionally come to much different conclusions about technological use than Giddens.

In reality, on page 7, Giddens spends all of his time talking about modernity as a “double edged phenomenon”, where certain opportunities for the expansion of a rewarding existence have grown through modernisation, but how there is also an incredibly destructive and sombre side to modernity, often brought along by new technology in previously unknown spaces. Giddens follows this by page after page of critical analysis of new technology and systematically proves its destructive capability. He follows much of this analysis with discussions of the role of modern institutions (including new technologies) in changes in value orders and unitended consequences in the development process across societies, all of these points left out by the UNESCO authors.

And surprise, surprise! The authors of the UNESCO paper go on to conclude that, “There are demonstrable successes in broadcasting and in the use of distance education, and important potential in the use of computer based technologies.” This argument was in large part set up by the misuse of the Giddens literature that provided the supposed theoretical basis to legitimize the later claims in the report. Ironically, this misuse of a well respected set of theories calls into question the legitimacy of this entire piece of research by a supposedly well-respected development actor. It is another example of how we trust large institutions and they let us down time and time again with broad-based assumptions and academic misconduct. Was UNESO simply being careless and lazy, seeking to add another source to their list of citations? Or were they seeking to give legitimacy to biased and pre-meditated conclusions about IT for Education based on their current support and funding of such initiatives? I leave the final conclusions up to you, but shame on you UNESCO!

What are your thoughts on the integrity of development literature, its relevance, and the industry of thought in this confusing and often contradictory field?

Dollars & Sense

A recent article in Fast Company critiques Mark Zuckerberg’s plan of spending $100 million dollars to remedy Newark’s struggling education system.  His chutzpah is reminiscent of good-intentioned celebrity activism that lacks actual impact.  If anything, the article definitely illustrates the diversity of opinion among the educational community about what is best—from investing in early childhood development to incorporating more parent-teacher interaction to rethinking the way we teach.

This makes me think of two things:

First, that throwing $100 million at educational reform idea is unlikely to do the trick, particularly if said big spender is inexperienced with educational policy.  Zuckerberg is of course not going it alone, but his approach is about finding what fits into his beliefs on what is the best “theory of change” for education as opposed to creating any compromise or innovation among the already disparate opinions of educationists.

Second, I’d like to see more of these ideas applied in developing nations.   Naturally there are a great many binding constraints that need to be eliminated before many of these things could be feasible—for example, early childhood development matters little in the classroom in face of illness and malnutrition which will stop any progress in its tracks.  But all things considered, the quality debate is a relatively new one in the literature on educational achievement in developing nations simply because the focus for so many years was just to get children into schools, regardless of whether they were actually learning or not.

That being said, it seems we are continually searching for the one mostly magic educational intervention that can have significant, distinguishable impact.  There is a new paper by Eric Hanushek (gated), a man who knows his stuff, claiming that the economic value of higher teacher quality is enormous.

Education is the furthest thing from a recipe, and it’s easy to see that quality is difficult to agree upon, implement, and measure in the US.  These problems are only magnified in situations with less infrastructure and fewer resources. Yet integrating quality dimensions more effectively into the strategic educational framework is crucial to bridging educational divides because it ensures that children are actually learning, rather than being tallied as enrollment statistics.

[Inspiration for the title.]