Author Archives: Roving Bandit

Answering THE big question in global education: Why is Vietnam such an outlier?

This post first appeared on the RISE websiteWhy do Vietnam school children score over 100 points better on comparable tests than the average for low-income countries?Vietnam is basically the only low-income country in any of the internationally comparable tests that performs at the same level as rich countries. Vietnam is a massive outlier, performing substantially better than should be expected for a country at that level of income. Rich OECD countries such as the UK and US flock to see the top performing places in the world on the PISA test to try and understand what is so special about education systems in Shanghai and Finland that enables them to perform 100 points better than the OECD average. Vietnam scores over 100 points better than the average for low-income countries.And this isn’t just on one test – other research by Abhijeet Singh has linked the Oxford Young Lives survey with the international TIMSS test, and again Vietnam massively outperforms the other low-income countries (see chart). Singh’s study shows that the advantage starts early, with Vietnamese children slightly outperforming those in other developing countries before they even start school at age 5, but this gap then grows each year

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Grit: Probably not that important in developing countries

“Angela Duckworth’s new book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance has been launched with great fanfare, reaching number two on the NY Times Nonfiction bestseller list. She recently gave a very polished and smooth book launch talk to a packed audience at the World Bank, and is working with World Bank colleagues on improving grit in classrooms in Macedonia.”That’s David McKenzie in a great book review, considering what development economists can learn from this hot psychology research trend. Grit – the ability to keep going when things get tough and you aren’t successful straight away – can help explain all sorts of individual outcomes beyond tests of skill or ability. David notes amongst other things how U.S.

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Markets not in everything [if you’re Pakistani]

From a Facebook friend:So, it turns out that Pakistanis are not eligible to purchase travel insurance online with any insurance company. We are simply not on anyone’s list of “eligible countries”. Someone has decided that in addition to not being allowed to enter most of the world, we also do not deserve access to basic financial services. Pakistanis wanting to travel can just f@‪#‎k‬ themselves.

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Struggling for the right words… contender for absolute worst ‘aid’ project in the world

Der Spiegel reports… the EU is planning to provide training, equipment, and DETENTION CAMPS to the government of Sudan, which is led by a wanted war criminal, in order that they can prevent human beings from crossing the border out of Sudan in the direction of Europe. The project is to be coordinated by the German development agency GIZ. Wow I feel sorry for the idealists at GIZ who signed up in order to help people, and now they’re building detention facilities for war criminals. “The ambassadors of the 28 European Union member states had agreed to secrecy.

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Content knowledge vs pedagogy in Teaching

A fascinating abstract from Roland Fryer. In many school systems you have a single teacher for most subjects in primary school, but increasingly specialised different teachers for each subject in secondary school. This RCT tried out having subject specialist teachers in primary, finding that this worsened outcomes, in theory because at least at primary level it is more important that the teacher knows the kids’ and their ability and is therefore better able to target their teaching, than that they have more specialised knowledge of the subject matter. Starting in the 2013-2014 school year, I conducted a randomized field experiment in fifty traditional public elementary schools in Houston, Texas designed to test the potential productivity benefits of teacher specialization in schools.

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Does “the Economist” know what a “market failure” is?

Apparently not. “Do British housing markets suffer from market failure”? The answer is no.Here’s a quick refresher – a market failure is when the market – left alone – doesn’t produce an efficient or pareto optimal solution. Good examples are externalities such as pollution or congestion, or public goods such as new vaccines.

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A rare non-ideological argument against for-profit schools

To [Samuel] Abrams, the problem with for-profit operation of schools is not that businessmen are making money off the provision of a public service such as education. Textbook publishers, software developers, and bus operators all make money from schools and should, he said, but they are all providing a discrete good or service that can be easily evaluated. “School management, on the other hand, is a complex service that does not afford the transparency necessary for proper contract enforcement,” he said. “Without such transparency, there’s client distrust: parents, taxpayers, and legislators can never be sure the provider is doing what was promised; and the child as the immediate consumer cannot be in a position to judge the quality of service.

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Top 10 Must-Read Articles on Education & Development

What should you read first if you’re a new policy advisor in a Ministry of Education? Here is my response to a couple of recent emails along these lines on the CGD blog.

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Does it help to be African to study Africa?

For sure there is tacit local knowledge, but how you define “local” matters. Ken Opalo writes:”As a social scientist, my knowledge of Kenya is largely informed by my experience as a Nairobian. Over the years I have had to learn a lot about the rest of Kenya, in much the same way an Australian would. In doing so I incurred a lower cost than a hypothetical Australian would, for sure, but the cost was not zero. And who is to say that I would necessarily be able to articulate a research agenda on whatever subject in Malawi better than a Southern Californian?

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The right to education is a right to learning

Kishore Singh, the “UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education” is totally freaking out that apparently the government of Liberia is planning to outsource all of its primary schooling to Bridge International Academies. “education is an essential public service and instead of supporting business in education, governments should increase the money they spend on public educational services to make them better.”Kishore is of course commiting Mike Munger’s unicorn fallacy. The public primary school system in Liberia was frankly pretty rubbish, even before the Ebola crisis hit, and there is no evidence that just spending more money is likely to improve things.RTI did a baseline for their early grade reading intervention project in 2008. They found that children in Grade 3 in Liberia could read 28 words per minute. To put this in perspective, in the US children are considered to be at risk if they can read fewer than 70 words per minute at the end of Grade 2

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Tom Kane on Education RCTs

“If our goal is to change behaviour and drive policies towards more effective solutions, what we have done so far is a complete failure. People who are running the What Works Clearing House don’t even have a theory [of how evidence would affect policy], or to the extent that they have a theory, its been proven wrong. … We’re just deluding ourselves if we think the 5 year, $15 million studies are having any impact whatsoever.”That’s Tom Kane (somewhat echoing Lant) on the Education Next podcast. His preferred alternative to the RCT+systematic review approach though has nothing to do with crawling on any design spaces. Rather it’s doing much more quick turn-around quasi-experimental research using the multitudes of outcomes data now being collected in the US for teacher and school accountability purposes

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What’s the single biggest growth opportunity that no-one really tried?

Paul Collier and Astrid Haas just wrote an IGC blogpost “Why Kampala holds the single biggest growth opportunity for Uganda.” Single biggest? Well indeed, the first rule of blogging is HYPERBOLE, but then the first rule of reading blogs should be a heavy dose of scepticism. Second, I’m reminded of Michael Clemens’ presentation on The Biggest Idea in Development That No One Really Tried. Might migration (the kind that Paul apparently thinks is harmful for poor countries) hold a bigger growth opportunity for Uganda than better urban planning in Kampala?At present, around 1% of Ugandans live and work overseas (roughly 400,000 of a population of 37.6 million). This 1% of the population send home 4% of Uganda’s GDP in remittances.

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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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