Category: Capacity

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Blame it on reading James Scott’s argument for an “anarchist squint” in social sciences on the flight over to Oxford, blame it on an increasingly limited tolerance for the word “neoliberalism,” but a lightbulb of sorts went off during my first day at 2013 UKFIET conference on the Post-2015 development goals. My realization was that, as a field, we seem to only be able to think of power in social world that education is constructed in as (a) being necessarily institutionalised and (b) sitting on a monochromatic spectrum ranging from public to private, from state to business, from black to white. And rather than talk about the state as a “thing,” in a Latourian / Actor-Network Theory sense, we often speak instead with the euphemism of a “public sector” – which is not a “thing.”

Capacity China Development Diversity Inequality Politics

One of the keynote speakers for CESHK 2013 was the Dean of Teacher Education at Cebu Normal University, Filomena Dayagbil, who spoke about quality issues in Philippine education. Internal and external (TIMMS) testing showed that there has been a precipitous drop in math, reading, and science scores in the Philippines that show up in even short, year-to-year timeframes. She spoke about three new approaches to remedy the issues: a new policy to increase the length of schooling from K-10 to the more conventional K-12 system, the role of teachers colleges in increasing teaching quality, and change away from English Medium of Instruction to mother tongue instruction.

I found myself disagreeing with the overall framing of educational quality issues in the Philippines. In general, it’s difficult to disagree with the idea that teachers can and should be better or that K-12, under the right conditions, would make the Philippines more academically competitive. But this ignores the fact that expanding enrollment rosters without increasing funding to go with it would likely decrease quality even further. This is exactly what has been happening over the past two decades, as successive Philippine governments failed to adequately prepare for a population boom. A 2009 New York Times article summed up the issues very succinctly:

According to the World Bank, the Philippines spends $138 per student per year. By comparison, Thailand spends $853 per student, Singapore spends $1,800 and Japan spends $5,000. The Philippine government spends 2.19 percent of its budget on education, according to official figures, well short of the 6 percent that educators say is optimal — despite a constitutional mandate to make education a priority. At the start of the decade, educators talked of a radical overhaul of the education system, but the main change since then has been increasingly intense overcrowding, Mr. Luz, of the policy study institute, wrote in a recent paper.

Asia Capacity Development Economics Education Philippines statistics

Capacity Complexity Development Economics Uncategorized

Probably a good place to start this is with The Wall Street Journal comparing Hong Kong’s recent typhoon to Beijing’s flood, under the headline Hong Kong vs. Beijing: A Tale of Two Storms:

At least 37 people died in fierce rains that lashed China’s capital city over the weekend, prompting flooding in various neighborhoods and structures to collapse in the downpour. Many residents were highly critical of how the city’s infrastructure failed to successfully weather the storm, with many asking why the city, with its all its investments in dazzling Olympic facilities, could still experience such deadly floods. By contrast in Hong Kong, while a handful of scattered flooding incidents were reported, Vicente appeared to pass through without doing any serious damage.

Let’s leave aside that these were two very different storms. Though wet, tropical cyclones are mostly wind events and most damage comes from storm surge. Hong Kong never went over an Amber rainstorm signal during the recent typhoon. That’s the lowest of the three rainstorm signals.

Let’s instead talk about comparisons and expectations.

Flooding in Yunnan, photo by Dennis Kruyt http://www.flickr.com/photos/phantagom/

Before I left to teach English in China, I sat on the porch with one of my best friends who had recruited me into the job and was trying to cover every base, so to speak, of what to expect in China. I tried getting a fifteen-minute Chinese lesson and walked away with “ni hao” and “xie xie.” I also asked her what her best piece of advice was: let China be China.

I quizzed her on what she meant by that. “Don’t judge China by American standards. Also, you’re not going to change anything. Just accept it for what it is,” she told me. And it was great advise. I’ve also come to understand it works both ways – don’t judge China by American standards, but also be careful not to expect China to be like other “third world”/developing countries. I had at least two teachers in my employ who flew into Shenzhen expecting rice fields and conical hats. I personally expected a police state and endless grey factories. Beyond the superficial, there are a lot of similar issues that look and behave differently in China than they do elsewhere.

Capacity China Uncategorized

From Keith Lewin’s Taking Targets to Task Revisited: How Indicators of Progress on Access to Education can Mislead In reality financial and non financial bottlenecks often result in progress falling…

Capacity Economics Education