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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May 28 2009

Educating Girls in Afghanistan with a Network Approach

by at 10:47 am

Education inarguably is key for human development, yet in many countries this opportunity is specifically denied to girls – sometimes for religious reasons, sometimes for want of laborers. When girls are cut off from education, they are kept in a cycle with fewer opportunities, less access to the legal system, worse health and other deficiencies. Yet providing girls access to education is not as easy as simply opening a school, especially where religious leaders or fundamentalists are determined not to educate women.

Afghan girls in school, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor

Afghan girls in school, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor

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