Author Archives: Roving Bandit

The reductive seduction of OPP (Other people’s problems)

Courtney Martin has an interesting post at the Development Set about the “reductive seduction” of other people’s problems. Problems we know something about (gun control in America as her example for the Americans) seem complex, political, and intractable, whereas problems we know less about (rural hunger or girl’s secondary education or homophobia in Uganda) seem more straightforward.Which reminds me a little of the difference between statements from leaders on education in their own country and in other people’s countries.Here’s Julia Gillard on education in Australia:”We need a commitment to transparency and accountability. It’s my strong view that lack of transparency both hides failure and helps us ignore it. It feeds a culture where all the adults involved – the teachers, the principals, the community leaders and the members of parliament – avoid accountability. And lack of transparency prevents us from identifying where greater effort and investment are needed.

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Applying behavioural insights to impair life chances

David Halpern, Chief Exec at the Behavioural Insights Team (aka “Nudge Unit”) has a new blog up about how behavioural science can be used to improve people’s life chances.”Why is it that a Kenyan market seller spends half her profit on money lenders rather than saving a tiny sum each day to escape such debt? Or why does a low income family in the UK or USA spend twice as much on a stove (cooker), bought on expensive hire purchase, than a middle class family?”The thing is, as we know from Branko Milanovic, the country that you are born in matters more for your life chances than everything else combined. “A proper analysis of global inequality today requires an empirical and mental shift from concerns with class to concerns with location,”So what does the BIT have to say about the movement of people? As Matt points out, the Home Office is currently paying the BIT to find ways to convince illegal migrants to voluntarily leave the UK. That is, to support the Home Office in its agenda of shutting down the single best way that exists of improving someone’s life chances.

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The Political Economy of Education in Uganda

This post was first published on the CGD Views from the Center BlogUganda goes to the polls in 30 days to elect its next president, but there is little sign so far in the public debate on education of the need to shift focus from inputs and enrolment to actual learning outcomes.I was in Kampala last week piloting a survey on school management (more on that later), and spotted in the Daily Monitor a feature on the candidate’s campaign promises on education, reading as follows:Yoweri MuseveniOne primary school per parish (to reduce average walking distances)Continue to increase the budget allocation for text booksKizza BesigyeIntroduce compulsory universal primary educationIncrease remuneration for primary school teachersAmama MbabaziRecruit and train new teachers with the aim of reducing the teacher-student ratioBuild more schools and classroomsThat’s zero mention of actual student learning outcomes from any of the leading candidates, and a complete focus on spending more money and providing more of the inputs that have been showntime and again to bear little relationship with improved learning outcomes.NYU Professor David Stasavage published a paper in 2005 exploring how the introduction of elections in Uganda in 1996 helped lead to the removal of school fees in 1997. He also published a follow-up in 2013 noting how elections focus politicians on those things that are easily visible to voters. Fees for tuition at public schools are very visible to voters, and so one of the first things democratic politicians address. School quality is much less visible to the average voter, leading to much less focus on teaching and learning by politicians.All of this suggests that one way to improve student learning is to get citizens and politicians more focused on learning by better measurement and spreading of the insight that despite high enrolment, student skills are very poor.

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Are good teachers ‘born’ or ‘made’?

There’s a strong argument for “made” from Elizabeth Green. “Russ: But there is a view out there, and you talk about it at some length in the book, that some people believe great teachers are just born and not made. And that there is a certain ‘it’ quality that teachers have that make them more effective in the classroom in all kinds of dimensions. What do you think of that argument, and why is it an important argument in the debate? Guest: I think that that argument is embedded in the way we talk about education policy, teacher policy.

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Finding my religion

A lifelong atheist, I went to church again last Sunday, for about the fourth or fifth time, which I think is enough times that I’ll probably stick with it (and enough that I feel confident talking about it in public without worrying that I’ve accidentally joined a cult). So despite not believing, I’ve always been curious about religion. Clearly most human beings do believe in something supernatural, which is interesting and worthy of some thought. I was struck a few years ago by Alain de Botton’s book “The Consolations of Philosophy” how my modern liberal ethics and values are not in fact rootless, but deeply rooted in centuries of philosophy, and how us modern liberals are missing something that the church provides – people who’s job it is to be a kind of very practical applied philosopher, translating all this history and helping people to live better and cope with difficulty (Alain then made this argument himself explicitly in a follow-up book “Religion for Atheists”).

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Do Books “Work”?

It might seem obvious to some of you reading this that it might be possible to learn something from a book. But as a recent review for RISE by Paul Glewwe and Karthik Muralidharan found, researchers have actually so far failed to show rigorously that there is any improvement in test scores in developing countries after handing out textbooks to schools. There have now been four different Randomized Controlled Trials showing no improvement (and for four different reasons).So when might books “work”? A new paper from the World Bank proclaims to answer just this question: “When Do In-service Teacher Training and Books Improve Student Achievement? Experimental Evidence from Mongolia.”Their answer, somewhat disappointingly, seems to be “when it happens in Mongolia”.

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No, Rwanda didn’t “fiddle” its poverty stats

A couple of weeks ago, France24 ran a story featuring accusations by Belgian Professor Filip Reyntjens that the Government of Rwanda had manipulated its poverty statistics. The truth, to my relief*, is somewhat less exciting.What seems to have actually happened, is that Rwanda quite resonably decided to update the methodology for calculating what the poverty line should be, but then found that the new methodology led to an implausibly high poverty line, and so decided to (slightly arbitrarily) “adjust” the new methodology, resulting in the final poverty line being almost exactly what you would have expected it to be had you simply updated the original poverty line for inflation.It took me a while to figure all this out, as the original criticism and rebuttal by NISR weren’t entirely clear, and it was only in Filip’s reaction to NISR’s rebuttal that I grasped his (mistaken) point (here’s also the Rwanda EICV4 Report and EICV3 Report). How is poverty measured? Rwanda has followed a fairly typical process – set a poverty line by first defining a minimum quantity of calories needed, second working out how much it would cost a poor person to buy that many calories, third increasing that amount by 40% to account for some basic minimum non-food spending needs. Then to get your poverty rate, just calculate how many people spend less than the poverty line.What was the disagreement about?

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Why Germany is probably doing more for Syria than the UK

How do you compare the good that the UK is doing with its whopping 0.7% aid budget, against the good that Germany is doing by accepting large numbers of refugees? A smart (German) friend asked me if there are any numbers on the size of the remittances we might expect to see from Syrian refugees in Germany to Syria. Of course, remittances are far from the most important reason for accepting refugees, but they do allow for a nice easy cash sum with which we can make a comparison to aid flows.The UK is spending somewhere between £200 million and £400 million on Syria this year. For comparison, whilst Germany is ramping up aid spending, it is still less than 0.4% of GDP overall. But in terms of numbers of refugees, Germany expects to take 800,000 this year (compared to just a few thousand in the UK), though fewer than that have been documented so far, and not all will be Syrian.

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Is “technical assistance” counterproductive?

Duncan Green reviews a fascinating new AidData survey on what developing country policymakers think about donors.One of the key findings he points to is that”Reliance upon technical assistance undermines a development partner’s ability to shape and implement host government reform efforts. The share of official development assistance (ODA) allocated to technical assistance is negatively correlated with all three indicators of development partner performance.”Obviously alarm-bells should be ringing about such firm causal conclusions being drawn from a correlation. One of the best ways of assessing these things is with some rigorous eyeball econometrics – take a look at this chart showing the relationship driving that claim.Looks to me like that is a pretty weak relationship, and you could just as easily have drawn a totally flat line (no relationship). And indeed, deep in the weeds, Table E.11 tell us that this is a simple correlation between these two variables with a sample size of just 44 data points (countries). It might technically pass a statistical significance test, but it doesn’t really tell us that there is a reliable correlation, let alone causality.

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Why are people so opposed to immigration? #142538

As the evidence piles up that migrants don’t steal jobs (one of the implications of them being human beings is that migrants also buy stuff – so they create exactly as many new jobs as they “take”), some of the more sophisticated immigration opponents turn to the negative impacts of immigration on other things such as housing or public services instead to support their case.So what does the research evidence say about the impacts of immigration on public services? Really very little actually. The University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory says that there is “no systematic data or analysis.” In health, we know that many healthcare providers are immigrants, but it’s hard to know the impact of migrants as users of health services as (rightly) nobody records people’s migration status when they go to the doctor.Using household survey data, Jonathan Wadsworth at Royal Holloway found that (shock!) immigrants tend to use GP services and hospitals at roughly the same rate as natives (via Ferdinando Giugliano in the FT).Taking another approach, a new paper by Osea Giuntella from the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford, combines household survey data with administrative data on NHS waiting times. Do you need to wait longer for a referral or in A&E in places where there are more immigrants? Come find out at the CGD Europe research seminar on Weds 18 Nov (there will be sandwiches).

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First RISE Working Papers

The first set of working papers from RISE (Research on Improving Systems of Education) are out. Paul Glewwe and Karthik Muralidharan have an updated review of everything we know about rigorous evaluations of interventions to improve learning in developing countries (paper here, my comment on the RISE blog here).Rukmini Banerji describes how a disruptive pedagogical innovation spread (and didn’t) in Bihar, and Kara Hanson tell us what education can learn from health systems research.Mari Oye also has a blogpost up about the UN Myworld survey and the SDGs.Coming soon, Lant’s consolidated explanation of what an Education System actually is, grand general theory of why some things work sometimes but not all the time, and tentative framework for diagnosing systems for constraints and prioritising action. Watch this space.

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We have no idea what countries are spending on education

Listen to some international education people and you get the impression that the education problem is mostly solved if we could just spend more money. The story goes something like “Poor countries spend X on education, if they could 1.5X then all the kids could get a good education, they can’t afford 1.5X, so we should fill the gap with aid.”The reality is, even if it was the case that just filling the gap would solve the problem (which is dubious to say the least) , we don’t really even know what the gap is.This is Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics:”governments need detailed and disaggregated data to ensure that their resources are allocated equitably and effectively within their education systems. At the same time, donors need the data to better evaluate whether the aid they provide is an incentive for governments to increase spending commitments or if they are crowding-out domestic resources.For the moment, the availability and completeness of education finance data is unfit for these purposes, with less than one-half of countries able to regularly report key information, such as total government expenditure on education” (my emphasis)Nevermind the purpose of accountability and transparency to the citizens of developing countries…Good luck to the new Commission on Financing Global Education!

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Does foreign aid harm political institutions?

Good news for reflective aid business -types who like agonising about what the point of it all is and sometimes wondering whether we’re even making things worse (err… talking about a friend… not me…). Also even good news for developing countries I suppose. A new paper in the Journal of Development Economics by Sam Jones & Finn Tarp* using new data on aid (from and institutions (from the Quality of Government Institute) finds no evidence that aid has undermined institutions on average, if anything there seems to be a positive relationship

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The State of the Humanitarian Aid System 2015

“ALNAP” launched today the 2015 “State of the Humanitarian Aid System” Report.One of the key findings highlighted in their fancy infographics: “44% of aid recipients surveyed were not consulted on their needs by aid agencies prior to the start of their programmes”.In totally unrelated news, the DFID-ODI-CGD High Level Panel on Humanitarian Cash Transfers chaired by Owen Barder published it’s report a few weeks ago, arguing that much more use should be made of cash transfers, because most of the time they are more cost effective than giving out stuff.In further totally unrelated news, DFID published two press releases today highlighting substantial non-cash aid in response to humanitarian crises in the Central African Republic and Malawi.In Owen’s words: “the questions should always be asked: “Why not cash? And, if not now, when?””

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