Jun 11 2009

questions on educational development

by at 4:59 pm

My final paper will ask what development strategies can implement best practices of education for the least advantaged students around the globe. The paper will have to address some basic questions. First, what do we know? Second, what don’t we know? Third, what changes can and should we make? Fourth, how can we make those changes? And fifth, what theory could support or challenge the strategies we would set out? In this post, I will outline what each of these questions might entail.
A global map, arranged by the "education index", provided by the Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program

A global "education index", provided by the Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program

So, what do we know? This question will have to be answered in several different ways. For example, we know that educational institutions often reflect the social organizations in which they are embedded. We also know that educational models provide some of the most effective means by which young people are socialized into cultural patterns. Since culture directly influences institutions, and therefore markets and politics, we know that culture and institutions form a reinforcing feedback cycle. Thus, we know how hard it is to change the practices of cultural institutions, and we can also infer how effective small changes can become over a long duration. Finally, we know which practices work, and which do not — to which we shall return.

Then, what don’t we know? We cannot know all of the externalities that also affect culture and institutions, nor can we predict what externalities will arise from small changes in those systems. We do not know the depth or complexity of each individual who participates in these educational systems. Most importantly, we do not know what form the most effective innovations in education will take, nor from where they will arise. However, all of these uncertainties and gaps in our knowledge can be harnessed productively.

What changes can we make, and what should we do? Here, the questions lose some objectivity and blend into subjective, cultural territory. We can say, generally, that we should aim to change educational practices from worse to better, and there are already measures that can help us direct those efforts. For example, we can look to previous research that indicates effective educational models, like Japan, Denmark, India, Finland, and South Korea. We can also seek out failing or defunct educational institutions, like Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, and Mexico. Finally, we can look at the relative efficacy of international, national, regional, and local educational institutions to determine what our strategy should be.

So we come to the question of strategy. This involves determining both what opportunities we have before us, as well as what challenges. Once the research indicates some particular, concrete institutional models, how we go about instituting the necessary changes will be radically contingent on the culture and the model in question. This blends into the theoretical aspect of the foregoing research, since the cultural, economic, institutional, national, linguistic, and many other networks that affect education itself will require analysis. We can say, however, that if we identify some interstitial, as-yet-untapped resources, like the apparent multilingual advantage of those in less-developed regions, then we can target our strategy to those advantages, and at the same time, minimize resistance to the small changes that will likely lead to structural revolutions.

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Jun 09 2009

Qatarization – a Genius Idea

by at 2:47 pm

Qatar is an interesting country to consider through Jane Jacobs’ lens because it epitomizes a nation whose capital city was born and rebuilt through innovation – but Doha’s vibrancy spun off of its colonial past. In some ways, Doha does fly in the face of some of Jacobs’ arguments, but the city’s constant reinvention and innovation follow Jacobs’ sequencing to create a successful city. I think Jacobs would be a big fan of Doha. Continue Reading »

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Jun 07 2009

Technology shouldn’t be forced

by at 10:03 pm

Technology is helping widen the chasm between the haves and have nots – and is quickly becoming characterized by the “knows” and “knows nots.” That is, those who can use technology efficiently and with a purpose and those who cannot. Technology, such as e-business, has been a pet project of the development community for the past several years. Projects of all types, including rural development, agriculture, water safety and women’s cooperatives, include technology components. Sometimes this addition makes sense, but all too often, project organizers insert a technology component without consulting stakeholders because it is easier to secure money for such a project. In many cases, it would make more sense for technology to be part of a “phase 2” in development projects rather than foisting it on uninterested people. Technology is like democracy; it should not be forced on people.

Last fall I took Prof. Singh’s Technology, Culture and Development class and he recounted a story about a women’s cooperative in India. As the focus of a development project, the cooperative received funding, business training, better weaving equipment – and a computer. The weaving business took off and orders flew in. But the computer sat unused in the corner. Technology and a push toward e-business was the development organization’s idea, but the women simply weren’t interested.

Perhaps times have changed for these women. Perhaps their business is slowing down locally. Or not – perhaps they simply want to expand. Then now would be the proper time to reapproach the cooperative and begin discussing options, including an e-business. With that would come training on basic computer skills, funds for machinery repair and upgrades and opportunities for ongoing skills development to keep abreast of changing technologies. As we heard from the Apple technology in the classroom anecdote, technology without know-how and support is useless.

But none of this consultation happened in the first round with the Indian weavers. The development organization had its own objectives, and promoting e-business was a top-down decision. True, the women created their own agency by simply declining to use the computer. But time, money and other resources were lost on unused and unwanted technology.

Project organizers must remember to take a step back. While it’s admirable to make a big push initially and try for comprehensive development by including technology, I imagine it can be extremely overwhelming for the people targeted by development projects. If I was a weaver in India, my first aim would be to make enough to support my family and keep the collective running, not learning how an online business may help.

Technology can be daunting and while the Internet is invaluable for many, its promise is not certain for those like the Indian women weavers. E-businesses as part of development projects are a dime a dozen, and there is no guarantee any business will attain success. More importantly, just as political or cultural changes are incremental, so is acceptance and desire of technology. This must be respected without forcing the latest bells and whistles on people just because “technology” looks good as a project keyword.

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Jun 04 2009

on dynamic stability

by at 3:28 pm

We speak of “flows”. By these, we mean the movements — of ideas, of information, of resources, of people — that describe paths through, around, and in the networks we speak of as landscapes. In this way, we talk about dynamics. We begin to think of change, in the structure of relationships, as constant. And, as we turn our attention to these flows, we find that they move in the same way metaphorically as physically. That is to say, the changes we describe tend to follow the paths of least resistance. Continue Reading »

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Jun 02 2009

the conditions for radical change

by at 4:47 pm

We can look at contemporary institutions all we like, but as Putnam points out, their adaptivity and other structural characteristics may not be immediately apparent to us. “Those concerned with democracy and development should … lift their sights beyond instant results.” Well, we are certainly concerned with development. The question is, how concerned are we with democracy itself?

Continue Reading »

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Jun 02 2009

Lip Service at the World Bank?

by at 11:58 am

Hope and hype about the World Bank’s adaptability run high. Scholars and development practitioners preach the need for bank projects to adapt to local conditions, and the World Bank has published dozens of papers and books in recent years affirming that need. In Population and the World Bank (2000), a bank publication, an “action plan” stressed “effectiveness also requires adaptation to the increasing diversity and rapid changes in demographic and related social and economic conditions in countries.” Excellent – but is the World Bank following its own prescription? That is less clear. Continue Reading »

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Jun 01 2009

A broad framework

by at 3:35 pm

I have argued strongly in previous posts that no one-size-fits-all development project exists because terms must be tailored to individual populations. Yet there is a broad framework that all development practitioners should abide by; doing so helps appropriately tailor projects without prescribing, for instances, steps that would work in Uzbekistan but not Uganda. Three guidelines for approaching development are: respecting the notion of incremental change; recognizing the integrative nature of development that does not ignore the reality of networks; and creating adaptive development projects that respond to changing needs of the population. Continue Reading »

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May 26 2009

Which nodes create successful networks?

by at 10:56 am

Nodes in a network often reveal the network’s infrastructure and focus. Globalization seeks to restructure social, political and economic relationships between individuals, businesses and even states. Depending upon where the focus lies, the results and system’s structure can look very different. These factors (politics, economic relationships, and social foundations) can change the perception of the actors involved in the network and drive the network to success or failure. Globalization means these networks at their very roots are changing while at the same time they are being redeveloped.

Globalization is highly dependent on the interactions of states and other political systems.

For example, states often have control over the development of cities through restrictions and policies. Allen J. Scott and Michael Storper point this out in their essay, Regions, Globalization and Development when they talk about the benefits and sacrifices of urbanization (pg. 5). Scott and Storper identify the problem with “countries that urbanize too much and too fast, generating “macrocephalic” urban systems consisting of a few abnormally large cities in each country” which in turn put too much strain on the economy and the developmental network (pg. 5).

Macrocephaly is an abnormal largeness of the head. Something with a head too big for its body can loose its balance and result in a less manageable climate. All parts of a body must have equal function.

Thumbtack Press

Thumbtack Press

However in most cases the “nodes” are arranged by economic institutions. They often “entail the formation of routines of economic behavior that potentiate and shape activities such as production, entrepreneurship and innovation” (Scott and Storper, pg. 23). Because economic institutions are often external and are not tied to one area they have little connection to the community in which they have landed or its infrastructure. There is no link from one to another. In fact often countries are chosen because of their proximity to other countries and the number of workers available. Money drives this network. Continue Reading »

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