Archive for the 'Education' Category

Jan 30 2012

Education, Sanitation and Entrepreneurship – a WISER approach to Economic Development

Teaching at an international school affords me the privilege of encountering and learning from truly unique and diverse individuals. Last week, my Economics classes were lucky to have as a guest speaker one very interesting and inspirational young man named Andrew Cunningham. Andrew, originally from Vermont, graduated from Duke University in 2008 and has helped co-found a non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on promoting grassroots strategies for economic developmentWISER (Women’s Institute for Secondary Education and Research) serves a community of 35,000 in Kenya’s Muhuru Bay, an area where the per capita income is around $1 a day and 38% of the population is HIV positive.

Traditionally, less than 5% of young girls complete primary school in Muhuru Bay. In the town’s history, only ONE girl has ever gone to university (she would become the only Muhuru Bay native to complete her PhD and would eventually co-found WISER with Andrew). A combination of tradition, culture, and most importantly poverty had prevented improvements in the plight of woman in this poor corner of Africa. What was needed, decided Andrew and his founding partners, was an all-girls boarding school where opportunities for young women were promoted and academic achievement encouraged and fostered. WISER opened the community’s first all-girls secondary school in 2010 to 130 local girls who had made it through primary school.

Beyond female education, WISER have embarked on several other development projects in the last year and a half. In his visit to our IB Economics class, Andrew told the story of human development in Muhuru Bay as occurring primarily in three realms.

I will briefly summarize the three main development strategies WISER has employed in Muhuru Bay, starting with education.

Education as a development strategy:

Education is a primary and fundamental strategy for eradicating poverty. A nation’s human capital is its most vital resource, and the road to prosperity requires an effective education system that does not discriminate based on race, gender, or socioeconomic status. In Muhuru Bay, which is 14 hours by car across un-paved roads from Kenya’s capitol, the education system had failed to achieve meaningful results, both for boys and girls. Student performance on national examinations across the primary grade levels had historically averaged around 11% passing rates. Boys out-performed girls, but as a whole only about one in ten Muhuru Bay children passed the examination required for admittance to secondary school in Kenya.

WISER wished to improve this dismal statistic. If they were going to build a secondary school for girls, they would need to first get girls to pass the national exam for entrance to secondary school, or else their new building would be full of empty desks.

Andrew first talked to my class about the traditional development community (think World Bank, UNICEF, USAID) approach to promoting education in Africa. You are probably thinking the way to help these kids is to give them resources to improve their education. Build better schools, give them textbooks and school supplies, maybe uniforms, build a library, electricity in the classroom, chalk boards, heck, how about we give them laptop computers! All of these ideas represent the traditional development community’s approach to improving education in poor countries. The problem is that these strategies focus only on the inputs into education, and completely fail to look at the output.

Inputs and outputs are common topics of discussion in any Economics class. To produce anything, three resources are required: land, labor, and capital. The traditional approach to improving education in Africa focused primarily on the land and capital. Things such as pens, notebooks, laptops, and new libraries are great, but they have little actual impact on what gets learned in a school. The neglected factor was the labor (i.e. the teachers!) In Muhuru Bay, teachers were paid so miserably and worked in such dismal conditions that the incentive to actually improve their students’ results was just too weak! With passing rates at 11% on national exams, WISER set about figuring out how to use incentives to improve the outputs of education in Muhuru Bay.

A simple and relatively low-cost plan was put into action. Teachers were told that if their students’ scores increased by only 15% on the exams, they would receive a 100% increase in their salary. Andrew and WISER worked with the national education ministry to develop interim exams that could be given quarterly to help the teachers measure their students’ improvement before the annual national examination.

With only minimal investments on the land and capital resources (i.e. textbooks and classroom materials) in Muhuru Bay schools, and by spending less than $10,000 on teacher raises, the passing rate among Muhuru Bay schools increased in one year from 11% to 36%. Hundreds of students, boys and girls, who would not have been able to enter secondary school the previous year, instead passed the exam and were eligible for a secondary education, a crucial step towards a better future!

The teachers’ incentive pay program was such a success in Muhuru Bay last year that the state government has taken notice and intends to implement it in other rural communities throughout Kenya. By focusing on the outputs (student learning), rather than the inputs (classroom resources) WISER has assured that when their all-girls school opens in January, its seats will be filled with qualified students who successfully completed their primary education.

Health as a development strategy:

The second topic of Andrew’s discussion with my IB Economics classes focused on health and sanitation, specifically solving the problem of open defecation (“OD” is a technical term used in the development community referring to the fact that in many poor communities basic latrines are non-existent, and therefore people shit in the open). OD in Muhuru Bay contributed to the poor health and low life expectancy of locals; According to Andrew an estimated 60 people were dying each year of cholera, a disease spread via human waste.

In the health realm of traditional economic development programs, the same basic dilemma between focusing on the inputs or the outputs had stymied previous attempts to reduce OD in Muhuru Bay. Recently, an outside aid organization had made loans to the community to build 30 public latrines. Within a year, however, the latrines had fallen into disrepair and were essentially useless. When Andrew and his team asked the community members why they had let the latrines fall into such a poor state, their answer was predictable. These were not their latrines, they belonged to the aid organization that had built the latrines. If they were broken, the aid organization could fix them! Such logic reflects a common problem in economics, that of the tragedy of the commons. Because the latrines were public, no one owned them. Because no one owned them, no one cared for them. When the latrines fell out of repair, people quickly reverted back to OD, and instances of cholera and other diseases increased once more.

WISER decided to tackle this problem using a similar approach as the one used to fix primary education in Muhuru Bay, by focusing on the output, rather than the inputs. In this case, the goal was simple: create incentives for people to build their OWN latrines, which they would then have an incentive to take care of and use. The strategy for promoting personal latrines they decided to employ is one that has been successfully implemented throughout the developing world, and is now funded by UNICEF, which trains facilitators to go into a community and in a very short time, and at a very low cost, incentivize the locals to take sanitation into their own hands and build their own latrines.

Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is a mind-blowing and shockingly blunt way to promote sanitation. Rather than spending thousands of dollars to build public latrines, the CLTS approach brings community members together for an afternoon of discussion and education about sanitation issues. Locals are asked to take an index card and go to “where they shit” and collect a sample of their own waste. A large pile of human waste is placed on a table in front of a room full of locals right next to a large selection of delicious foods. The facilitator then goes about discussing basic facts related to OD in the community, such as “If you added up all the shit your community produces in a year, how many donkeys would it weigh as much as?” or, “How many bags of rice would you have to eat to create this much shit?” In the mean time, of course, hundreds of flies have descended on the pile of waste in the front of the room, and the community members look on in utter disgust as the flies jump from the feces to the food and back again.

At the end of the lecture, the facilitator turns to the food and says, “Well, it’s time for lunch, who’s hungry?” In utter disgust, the locals ask the facilitator if he has gone mad. The lesson, of course, is that the food and water the community consumes is most likely being contaminated by the waste they produce and deposit in the open around their village. Within a few weeks of the CLTS project in Muhuru Bay, 256 new latrines were built by the community members themselves. Whereas previously, only around 15% of the locals used latrines regularly, after the CLTS project around 75% had access to the “facilities”.

The total cost of the CLTS sanitation project? Around $55, a tiny fraction of the cost of building the public latrines that had previously been neglected by the community. By focusing on the outputs rather than the inputs, real development in the health of the community was achieved at a very low financial cost.

Entrepreneurship and micro-lending as a development strategy:

The final approach to human development in Muhuru Bay Andrew discussed with my classes focused on the economic empowerment of community entrepreneurs. Micro-lending is a much talked about and widely used development strategy that provides financial credit or technology loans to entrepreneurs in poor communities to create small businesses, ideally ones with a socially beneficial purpose. Watch the first 12 minutes of the video below to get a better idea of the history and purpose of micro-finance as a strategy for achieving economic development.

In Muhuru Bay, the micro-lending scheme Andrew has pioneered involved not financial capital, but physical capital (i.e. technology).

WISER was able to secure several technology donations, including a copy machine, several laptop computers with cellular internet connections, a foot pump for water, and a digital LCD projector. WISER then solicited loan requests from several “young entrepreneurs”. Young men and women wrote business plans outlining how they would use the technology loans to generate income for themselves and the community, and provide services that would benefit others in the Muhuru Bay community. The technology would not be donated to the recipients; rather they would be required to pay back the value of the capital through their business revenues.

It is simply amazing how a few pieces of second-hand technology, items that we in the rich North would take for granted as relatively common and thus of very little social or economic value, can completely change a poor community in Africa for the better. Here’s how some of the capital Andrew and WISER loaned to young entrepreneurs were put to use to achieve meaningful development in Muhuru Bay:

  • The copy machine was installed and powered by a generator. It was the first such machine ever installed in Muhuru Bay. Local businesses, students, job seekers and other could now, for a few cents, photo-copy their documents locally, avoiding the two hour drive previously required for such a service.
  • The laptops were installed in an internet café and made available to local students and businesses. Farmers and fisherman could check product prices in the cities hours away, increasing efficiency and bargaining positions when middle-men came to town to buy their produce. Job openings in the city newspapers’ classifieds could be printed and posted for the local community to see, improving information symmetry between the poor countryside and the cities where job opportunities existed. The cost of access to these services was cheap, yet the entrepreneurs who were granted the laptop loan were able to pay back the cost of the technology in no time at all, and the community as a whole benefited from their existence.
  • My favorite entrepreneurial venture involved the LCD projector. This piece of technology, which now hangs from the ceiling of thousands of classrooms around the rich world, had never before been seen in Muhuru Bay. You may think it ended up in a classroom or in an office building, but no; the entrepreneurs who received the projector hooked it up to a satellite dish which captured and projected English Premier League football matches onto the wall of a large room in a local building. The business was to sell tickets to local football fans who were more than happy to pay to watch English football matches in full color on a wall-sized screen. Before the projector, dozens would have huddled around a tiny television with poor reception to watch football matches. The “football theater” business was the most successful of all, and paid back its loan fastest.

All three of these entrepreneurial endeavors were very low cost, using donated technologies. The reason for their successes, however, must be attributed to the model for implementation. They were not simply “given” to the community. Such a strategy would certainly have led to the same “tragedy of the commons” experienced when the outside aid organization funded the construction of public latrines. The capital would have been neglected and fallen into disrepair. By lending the technology to businesses, however, the incentive for innovative and socially beneficial ventures was created, and a business model was developed to best utilize the resources in a profit-earning, sustainable manner. With very little inputs, fantastic outputs were achieved, enriching not only the entrepreneurs, but the entire Muhuru Bay community.

Economic Development the WISER Way:

Andrew’s visit to Zurich International School was eye-opening in many ways. He brought to light both the successes of WISER and other community projects in rural Kenya, but also shined a light on the failures of the traditional development community’s agenda. When I think about the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been committed to economic development in Africa over the past decades, and on into future decades, I wonder whether the diplomats and the politicians in the “aid community” have any idea how much has been accomplished on the ground in places like Muhuru Bay thanks to community-based organization like WISER.

With so little, so much can be accomplished. The poor of Africa and the world need resources, but more importantly they need education, health and sanitation, and business opportunities so that they can enjoy the benefits of development from the bottom up. Development aid, as it has traditionally been distributed, comes from the top down, funneled through national governments. Waste and corruption are rampant, and typically only a fraction of what has been given ends up on the ground in places like Muhuru Bay. Even when it does, the tragedy of the commons often results in inefficiency and waste, as the “inputs” are managed and distributed from the top down, leading to uncertainty of ownership and misaligned incentives once the resources are on the ground.

Perhaps aid from the outside is still needed, but Andy’s visit showed me and my students that something much more basic lies at the core of successful economic development. Education focusing on outputs rather than inputs, sanitation focusing on outputs rather than inputs, and entrepreneurship that empowers business leadership, have improved the lives of thousands in one Kenyan community. What could such a re-thinking of development strategies do for the rest of Africa and the developing world?

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Sep 04 2010

Excellence and teacher pay: A New York charter school is not the only school paying teachers $100,000+!

Next Test – Value of $125,000-a-Year Teachers – NYTimes.com

A New York City charter school is experimenting with paying teachers nearly triple the national average teacher salary of public schools. The article below describes the result:

So what kind of teachers could a school get if it paid them $125,000 a year?

An accomplished violist who infuses her music lessons with the neuroscience of why one needs to practice, and creatively worded instructions like, “Pass the melody gently, as if it were a bowl of Jell-O!”

A self-described “explorer” from Arizona who spent three decades honing her craft at public, private, urban and rural schools.

Two with Ivy League degrees. And Joe Carbone, a phys ed teacher, who has the most unusual résumé of the bunch, having worked as Kobe Bryant’s personal trainer.

“Developed Kobe from 185 lbs. to 225 lbs. of pure muscle over eight years,” it reads.

They are members of an eight-teacher dream team, lured to an innovative charter school that will open in Washington Heights in September with salaries that would make most teachers drop their chalk and swoon; $125,000 is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, and about two and a half times as much as the national average for teacher salaries. They also will be eligible for bonuses, based on schoolwide performance, of up to $25,000 in the second year…

The school received 600 applications. Mr. Vanderhoek interviewed 100 in person.

It’s amazing to me that a school in NYC that pays $125,000 a year and expects teachers to work year round gets so much attention, while some international schools have been paying teachers nearly as much for decades to work a regular school year. Yet so many American teachers seem unaware of the career opportunities available at international schools! A salary of $100,000 is not unheard of in international schools, and often times that income is tax free (at least the majority of it, since it is considered “foreign earned income” by the IRS).

In economics we study how scarce resources are allocated by supply and demand in the market place. Demand for highly skilled, qualified teachers is huge in all kinds of schools, public, private, charter and international schools alike. But only once an American school like this New York charter school comes along and offers to pay teachers a salary more than double the national average (and then receives nearly a hundred applications for every opening) do we begin to read about teacher pay in the news and reflect on the roll it plays in attracting top notch, expert educators. From one economics teacher’s perspective, it should come as no surprise at all that when a school offers a higher salary it will attract better teachers and thereby improve the quality of the education it provides.

International schools have known this simple fact for years. Unlike the American public school system, which from state to state essentially resembles the “monopsonistic employer” model (meaning each state has a “monopoly” of sorts on the hiring of teachers), the market for international teachers is highly competitive. In most big cities, even, there are several international schools competing to attract the best educators from the limited supply available. And in a particular country, for instance China, there are dozens of private international schools, all seeking to offer the best quality education in order to increase demand for enrollment, competing against one another to hire the best teachers they can.

The result of the competition between international schools for student enrollment is increased competition for skilled, qualified teachers. Add to this the fact that year after year there end up being shortages of qualified international teachers and you end up with the perfect recipe for teachers like myself and all the colleagues I’ve worked with over the years, upward pressure on the salaries and benefits packages offered by international schools.

The lesson here is clear from my perspective. Increased competition among schools for student enrollment will lead to increased competition among schools for better teachers, and therefore better teacher pay. The NYC charter school set out with a clear vision in mind for achieving students success. Attract the best teachers and we’ll provide the best education. And in order to achieve this vision, it followed the most basic of economic principles, articulated so eloquently by Adam Smith himself:

Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this: Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of.

The bargain being offered to teachers in this case is an attractive salary, and all the schools in question are asking for in return is excellent teaching. “In this manner” schools obtain from teachers a commitment to excellence and teachers obtain from schools a salary that rewards them for this commitment. Society’s need for excellent education and teachers’ need for a living wage are met. But public schools go against this basic tenet of  market doctrine when the monoposony that is the state public school system pays teachers not based on their achievement, training, excellence or results but on their years of service. The lack of competition for student enrollment leads to a failure of the incentive system for attracting good teaches, and what schools find themselves with is a burnt out, underpaid, disgruntled work force and test scores and student achievement that you’d expect to follow.

I hope this charter school succeeds. I hope the students’ scores surpass those of their public school peers. I hope this not  because I like to see the old model of education fail, but because I would love to see a new model, based on the simple market principle that individuals respond to monetary incentives, succeed. I can say from experience that the competition among international schools for the limited supply of skilled teachers benefits all the stakeholders in question: teachers are paid better, the schools that pay the most attract the best teachers and thereby attract the greatest demand for enrollment. The market has worked! If the New York charter school succeeds, how can this be ignored. How can America’s other public schools not admit that to improve education, competition for students and teachers must be embraced.

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Nov 05 2009

New tools for the Econ teacher and student: Social bookmarking Site, iPhone App and YouTube Review Videos

I’ve recently added two new great tools for Econ teachers to this blog that I think can really benefit teachers who decide to use them. Both of the following resources can be found in the sidebar to the right of this blog.

First, I have created a Diigo Group for Econ Teachers that is open for anyone to join. A Diigo group essentially is a social network for people with shared interests. The Econ Teacher group will be a place where Econ teachers can share bookmarks to online resources for use in the classroom. More than just a bookmarking site, however, Diigo allows users to annotate, highlight and leave sticky notes on articles, blogs, and other websites posted to the group, which can then be seen by group members, and further annotated. A website such as the CIA World Factbook, the BLS, or BEA, or an article from the Financial Times or Wall Street Journal thus becomes a shared document for discussion and reflection amongst any and all teachers who find it useful.

Diigo groups also have discussion forum features, so the Econ Teacher Group will become a forum for sharing collective research and resource ideas, as well as a forum for discussing how technology and the web can be used to enrich economics education. Join the Econ Teacher Diigo Group now to help grow this new social network for Econ teachers! (Once you’ve joined Diigo, I recommend adding the Diigo toolbar to your browser to make bookmarking and annotating sites to the group easy!)

Secondly, I am happy to endorse my friend and colleague Mike Fladien’s entrepreneurial endeavor aimed at helping high school Economics students prepare for their exams, “EconExamCram”. EconExamCram is an iPhone or iTouch App for sale in the iTunes store for $1.99. From the app’s description:

This app is available for download on iTunes. I intended this to aid students in preparing for tests in microeconomics. It’s a comprehensive review of 80% of the concepts covered in a micro class.

I believe that students today want to learn using today’s technology. Today’s technology is iPods, Smart Boards, audience response systems, flash animation and more. When I developed this app, I developed it for the on-the-go student who values appearance too. The student I envisioned was one who had a challenging schedule and one or more after school activities. They will carry an iPod with them, but not a five pound textbook. The student I envisioned was one who studied in “micro sessions” of 10 or 15 minutes. The touch was a natural tool for these students.

Congratulations to Mike on developing this app and making it available to us and our students to help prepare for the AP and IB Exams. Do your kids a favor and give them all the link to this app so they can start reviewing for your tests on their phones today!

The last great resource I have added to my sidebar this week is an RSS feed to a YouTube channel I’ve recently discovered. Jacob Clifford, an AP Economics teacher in San Diego, has recently begun producing and publishing a series of review videos for the AP Economics student. He calls them “Economic Concepts in 60 Seconds”.

Jacob is an enthusiastic, energetic young Econ teacher whose lecture style is fast paced and easy to follow. An since the lectures are on YouTube, students (and teachers!) can watch them over and over until his explanations of econ concepts is clear. In each video, he illustrates the concepts on a whiteboard while clearly (and quickly) explaining them in a fun and entertaining way. So far he has only produced videos up through perfect competition in the AP Micro course, but he promises to keep adding more throughout the school year.

You’ll be able to follow Jacob’s latest video posts by checking the RSS feed on my sidebar when visiting the blog. I’m hoping to team up with Jacob somehow in the future to get his videos a wider audience through this blog or in some other collaborative way.

21 responses so far

Nov 05 2009

Kids on the Economy

Published by under Education

Small Town Hall | Marketplace From American Public Media.

I love this! Marketplace Public Radio convened a “Small Townhall” with eight middle school aged kids to ask them questions about the economy. The idea is that the economic decisions made by today’s business leaders, policymakers, academics and grown-ups in general will have huge effects on today’s youth when they grow up, so why not ask them what they think of the big economic issues today? In my own classes, I often refer to the US national debt as a “teenager tax” since it will ultimately be paid back through higher taxes by income earners in the future. Well, these kids are those future income earners.

The questions the kids are asked:

  1. Should kids be allowed to have credit cards?
  2. Do you know what the recession is?
  3. What is the deficit?
  4. Has the recession changed your dreams?
  5. What do you think about debt?
  6. Do you have any investment advice?
  7. What do you think about saving money?

My favorite is the kid’s explanation of the current recession. If one of my 18 year old year two IB Economics students could explain the recession as well as this 12 year old, I’d be one proud teacher!

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Sep 30 2009

World Habitat Day – Raising awareness of the dire need for affordable adequate housing among the world’s poor!

World Habitat Day – Social Media News Release.

On October 5th the world will celebrate World Habitat Day. The purpose of this day, declared by the United Nations, is to raise awareness about the dire need for adequate housing among hundreds of millions, even billions, of the world’s poor. According to Habitat for Humanity:

Worldwide, more than 2 million housing units per year are needed for the next 50 years to solve the present worldwide housing crisis. With our global population expanding, however, at the end of those 50 years, there would still be a need for another 1 billion houses. (UN-HABITAT: 2005)

Raising awareness and advocating for change are the first steps toward transforming systems that perpetuate the global plague of poverty housing. World Habitat Day serves as an important reminder that everyone must unite to ensure that everyone has a safe, decent place to call home.

The U.N. further states that both developed and developing countries, cities and towns are increasingly feeling the effects of climate change, resource depletion, food insecurity, population growth and economic instability.

Rapid rates of urbanization cause serious negative consequences – overcrowding, poverty, slums with many poorly equipped to meet the service demands of ever growing urban populations.

With over half of the world’s population currently living in urban areas the U.N. believes there is no doubt that the “urban agenda” will increasingly become a priority for governments, local authorities and their non-governmental partners everywhere.

Global poverty facts

  • By the year 2030, an additional 3 billion people, about 40 percent of the world’s population, will need access to housing. This translates into a demand for 96,150 new affordable units every day and 4,000 every hour. (UN-HABITAT: 2005)
  • One out of every three city dwellers – nearly a billion people – lives in a slum. (Slum indicators include: lack of water, lack of sanitation, overcrowding, non-durable structures and insecure tenure.) (UN-HABITAT: 2006)
  • UN-Habitat has reported that because of poor living conditions, women living in slums are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than their rural counterparts, and children in slums are more likely to die from water-borne and respiratory illness. (UN-HABITAT: 2006)
  • Housing formation generates non-housing related expenditures that help drive the economy. (Kissick, et al: 2006)
  • Investing in housing expands the local tax base. (Kissick, et al: 2006)

The facts are undeniable. Housing for the poor is one of the basic necessities that is simply not being met, both in developed and developing countries.

Today I live in Switzerland, but during my first several years as a teacher, as well as during my own high school life, I lived in Asia, where poverty is far more visible than here in Europe. At my last school, I was able to participate in a Habitat for Humanity trip myself, to Lucena City in the Philippines. The week I spent building a house with my 20 students was one of the greatest weeks of my career as a teacher. Below is the album from that amazing week in a small village in the Philippines:

Shanghai American School, Habitat Philippinese 2007 – Lucena City

In Bangkok, where I had my first teaching job, the problem of urban poverty was visible on every street corner. As part of a senior course I taught on Service Learning, I used to take upper class international school students into Bangkok’s poorest slums to learn about the challenges faced by the city’s poor. The most obvious challenge, visible everywhere in the city of 12 million, was lack of adequate housing. I made the video below to document my students’ “Urban Plunge” into the Bangkok slums, and to raise awareness of the issues faced by Thailand’s poor:

In a few days the world will acknowledge World Habitat Day. Take a moment, follow the link at the top of this post. Read about the issues faced by nearly a third of the world’s population, and see how you can get involved. Oh, and if you have the chance to participate in a Habitat build through your school or community, do it! I promise you, the experience will change your life, but more importantly, it will help improve the life of someone in need of one of life’s most basic necessities, safe shelter, a HOME!

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