The World Bank introduced today an ambitious new Learning Target, which aims to cut by at least half the global rate of Learning Poverty by 2030. Learning Poverty is defined as the percentage of 10-year-olds who cannot read and understand a simple story.
Using a database developed jointly with UNESCO Institute of Statistics, the Bank estimates that 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read and understand a simple story by the end of primary school. In poor countries, the level is as high as 80 percent. Such high levels of learning poverty are an early warning sign that all global educational goals and other related sustainable development goals are in jeopardy.
“Success in reaching this learning target is critical to our mission,” World Bank Group President David Malpass said. “Tackling learning poverty will require comprehensive reforms to ensure domestic resources are used effectively. The target points to the urgency of investments in better teaching and better coordination of vital learning priorities.”
This new target aligns with the Human Capital Project’s efforts at building the political commitment for accelerating investment in people. Much of the variation in the Human Capital Index – used to track countries’ progress in health, education, and survival – is due to differences in educational outcomes.
“We know that education is a critical factor in ensuring equality of opportunities,” said Annette Dixon, Vice President, Human Development, World Bank Group. “Many countries have almost eliminated learning poverty – with levels below 5 percent. But in others, it is incredibly high, and we are putting at risk the future of many children. That is morally and economically unacceptable. This Learning Target aims to galvanize action toward an ambitious but reachable goal.”
Several developing countries are showing that accelerated progress is possible. In Kenya, progress has been accomplished through technology-enabled teacher coaching, teacher guides, and the delivery of one textbook per child (in both English and Kiswahili) with contents suitable to the level of students. In Egypt, the government has changed its curriculum and assessment systems, so students are evaluated throughout the year, with the key element of the reforms focused on learning, instead of getting a school credential. And in Vietnam, the clear and explicit national curriculum, the near-universal availability of textbooks, and the low absenteeism among students and teachers are credited for contributing to the country’s outstanding learning outcomes.
Unfortunately, in many other countries the current pace of improvement is still worryingly slow. Even if countries reduce their learning poverty at the fastest rates seen over the past 20 years, the goal of ending it will not be attained by 2030.
“Cutting learning poverty by at least half is feasible but requires large political, financial and managerial commitments and a whole of government approach,” said Jaime Saavedra, Global Education Director, World Bank Group. “Taking learning poverty to zero -assuring that all children are able to read- is a fundamental development objective, as is eliminating hunger or extreme poverty. All children have the right to read – and in each country, a national dialogue is needed in order to define how and when learning poverty can be eliminated, and to set intermediate targets for the coming years.”
The Bank will use three pillars of work to help countries reach this target and improve the human capital outcomes of their people:
A literacy policy package consisting of country interventions that have proven to be effective in promoting reading proficiency at scale: ensuring political and technical commitment to literacy grounded in adequately funded plans; ensuring effective teaching for literacy, through tightly structured and effective pedagogy; preparing teachers to teach at the right level and providing practical in-school teacher training; ensuring access texts and readers to all; and teaching children in their home language.
A refreshed education approach to strengthen entire education systems — so that literacy improvements can be sustained and scaled up and all other education outcomes can be achieved. This approach comprises of five pillars: i) prepared and motivated learners, ii) effective and valued teachers, iii) classrooms equipped for learning, iv) safe and inclusive schools, and v) a well-managed education system.
An ambitious measurement and research agenda – to include measurement of both learning outcomes and their drivers, as well as a continued action-oriented research and innovation, including smart use of new technologies, on how to build foundational skills.
Change is needed at scale, quickly, and for large populations. That cannot be done without technology. Open-source digital infrastructure and information systems will be used to assure resources reach all teachers, students and schools.
Tracking progress calls for a dramatic improvement in the capacity to measure learning, particularly in low-income countries. A World Bank-UNESCO Institute for Statistics partnership will help countries strengthen their learning assessment systems and improve the breadth and quality of country data on learning to better monitor performance over time and in internationally-comparable ways. Further, the World Bank’s new Learning Assessment Platform will enable countries to evaluate student learning more efficiently and effectively.
New Data: 2020 PPI Saw Huge Drop, Stabilizing as Year Ended
New data from the World Bank shows that private participation in infrastructure (PPI) in developing countries, while taking an historic plunge in the first half of 2020 due to COVID-19, saw a very modest uptick in the second half of the year. The 56 percent drop in PPI in H1 from the previous year moderated to 52 percent for the full year. Infrastructure investment commitments in 2020 stood at $45.7 billion across 252 projects in developing countries.
“Hopefully, this data signals that the worst effects of COVID-19 on private sector infrastructure finance are now behind most developing countries,” said Imad Fakhoury, the World Bank’s Global Director for Infrastructure Finance, PPPs & Guarantees. “While this situation remains in flux as the pandemic’s trajectory changes, we’re keen on scaling up private investment in sustainable and quality infrastructure in these countries going forward—but need more resilient frameworks and enabling environments.
Fakhoury emphasized, “This is critical for building back better post-pandemic, restoring progress towards the 2030 Sustainabe Development Goals, and delivering on climate commitments to ensure green, resilient and inclusive development.”
COVID-19’s global impact on infrastructure was widespread and swift. Since the start of 2020, existing infrastructure projects were delayed or cancelled due to supply-chain disruptions, travel and shipping restrictions, and other obstacles. Decreased demand or required renegotiations also prevented or delayed many projects already in pipelines from achieving financial closure. Moreover, as public debt globally has risen to record levels and sovereign credit ratings have been downgraded across the developing world, the private sector reacted with caution.
Private investment commitments fell in all regions except Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, where development finance institutions played a strong role. The pandemic’s impact was most severe in East Asia and Pacific, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia.
Sectorally, transport investment commitments were the lowest in the past decade—due to lockdowns, mass transit services and toll roads were hugely affected. Ports and railways were affected as well, with decreased volumes of cargo. A bright spot is that the disruption caused by the pandemic has not affected the longer-term shift towards renewable energy: of the 129 electricity-generation projects tracked in PPI’s data,117 were in renewables.
Brazil, China, India, and Mexico retained their positions among countries with the top five investment commitments, with Brazil moving to first place, at $7.7 billion. Bangladesh is a new entrant to the top five, with financial closure of seven projects, including one megaproject. Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Togo had the first PPI transactions recorded in the past five years.
Twenty-one percent of all PPI projects received support from development finance institutions through loans, equity, guarantees, insurance, interest rate swaps, and transaction advisory services. This underlines the importance of these actors in providing resources, instruments, and de-risking comfort to investors in developing countries, especially in the most difficult contexts.
Tanzania helpline calls time on child marriage and abuse
Child marriage continues to affect many young girls across Tanzania, in East Africa, but now a series of interventions supported by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) are allowing children to get the support they need to avoid unwanted and potentially damaging relationships.
It was 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon when Grace*, a counsellor at the National Child Helpline in Tanzania, received a call from a concerned teacher in Msalala, a small town in the remote Shinyanga region in the north-west of the East African country.
One of her brightest students Eliza*, aged 13, had not gone to school that day following worrying rumours that her parents intended to marry her off. She learned that they had accepted a payment in the form of a bride dowry from the family of the intended groom. The man chosen for Eliza was at 35-years-old, more than 22 years her senior.
On a recent two-day visit to Tanzania, UNFPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem, met with counsellors at the National Child Helpline, in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. The helpline is run by C-Sema, a national NGO, in collaboration with the Government.
The #116 toll-free service, available across all mobile networks in Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar, responds to around 3,500 calls a day from women and children who are at risk of violence, and from family and community members who report abuses.
The helpline has reported an increase in calls during the COVID pandemic as school closures made children more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
Trained volunteer counsellors like Grace give women and young people support, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The counsellors also liaise with support networks and protection systems in the callers’ locality to provide further assistance.
Eliza’s story has a happy ending. As a result of Grace’s coordination with local government authorities and district social welfare officers in Msalala, officers from the Police Gender and Children’s Desk visited Eliza’s parents and the marriage did not take place.
A whole-of-community effort
Dr. Kanem expressed gratitude to C-Sema and counsellors for their dedication to advancing gender equality and the health, rights and well-being of women and young people, including through the use of digital platforms and new technologies.
Despite progress and the commitment by the Government to tackle gender inequalities and discrimination, as articulated in the Five-year National Plans of Action to End Violence Against Women and Children, violence remains a daily reality for many women and adolescent girls.
UNFPA Tanzania is supporting efforts to eradicate gender-based violence and to strengthen protection systems across the country In addition to supporting the National Child Helpline, it is also working with police officers who staff specialized gender and children’s investigation units which meet the needs of women and girls, and other one-stop support services that provide holistic care all in one place to ensure that victims of abuse do not have to go from one place to another to get medical care, psychosocial support or legal assistance.
Community centres, where women support each other and take the lead in ending violence in their communities, have also been set up.
Empowering men and boys as agents of change
Efforts to end violence are not only focused on empowering women and girls. Men and boys, and traditional and community leaders, are also included in conversations in recognition of their role and contribution to gender equality. Through extensive community outreach, UNFPA’s partners are encouraging discussions around harmful stereotypes of masculinity and positive ways to support the rights of women and girls.
Engaging men in holding other men accountable is critical to creating the basis for greater equality and they must not be left out or left behind, stressed Dr Kanem. “Every girl and boy should be valued and should be taught that the expression of their right and empowerment should not be centred on overpowering others.”
Supporting government-led efforts
During her visit to Tanzania, Dr. Kanem met with the country’s first female President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, who expressed Tanzania’s commitment to eliminate preventable maternal and child deaths, gender-based violence and harmful practices, including female genital mutilation.
Dr. Kanem commended the government’s leadership and reaffirmed UNFPA’s support to Tanzania to realize development targets and stronger, more inclusive socioeconomic growth with the goal of leaving no one behind.
*name changed to protect identity.
Myanmar coup: ‘No sign’ of end to brutal crackdown on all fronts
One hundred days since the Myanmar military seized power, the “brutal” repression of protesters has continued, despite all international efforts to end the violence, the UN rights office (OHCHR) said on Tuesday.
“The military authorities are showing no sign of letting up in their brutal crackdown on opponents in a bid to consolidate their hold on power”, spokesperson Rupert Colville told journalists at a media briefing.
According to credible reports, as of 10 May, at least 782 people have been killed as security forces used unnecessary, disproportionate and lethal force, to suppress demonstrations and other forms of public participation, since the military coup on 1 February.
“While much of the world’s attention has been on the number of peaceful protesters and bystanders killed by the security forces, the authorities continue to commit other gross human rights violations against the people of Myanmar”, added Mr. Colville.
The OHCHR spokesperson called for greater international involvement to prevent the human rights situation there from deteriorating further.
In particular, he urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to “react quickly and to intensify its actions” to ensure Myanmar’s military leadership adheres to the commitments it made in the five-point plan agreed at the regional bloc’s meeting of leaders on 24 April, in Jakarta.
The five-point consensus agreed to an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and that dialogue should be held among all parties to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.
‘Daily raids’ on homes and offices
Mr. Colville went on to note that there are daily raids on private homes and offices, with more than 3,740 people currently in detention, including many in situations that may amount to enforced disappearances.
“Of those in custody, the vast majority have not been brought before a judge, while most of the 86 people prosecuted thus far have been tried in secret, with limited or no access to any form of legal counsel”, he said.
“Military tribunals and courts martial have been established in several townships in which martial law was declared. At least 25 individuals have received the death sentence to date – some 20 of whom were tried in absentia.”
Military ‘taking relatives’
Over the past month, the military leadership has issued more than 1,561 arrest warrants against civil society activists, trade unionists, journalists, academics, public personalities and online voices, driving the vast majority of them underground.
“To intensify pressure, the military authorities have resorted to taking relatives of wanted people into custody to force them to turn themselves in to the police”, Mr. Colville said, adding that there is also increasing pressure on civil servants to go back to work.
In recent weeks, more than 3,000 civil servants – nearly 70 per cent women – have been dismissed, removed, or suspended by the coup leadership. Those suspended also include 990 university professors, researchers and assistants.
In addition, there are reports that up to 11,000 more workers in the education sector were suspended on Monday.
‘Deeply concerned’ for those fleeing persecution
The OHCHR spokesperson also voiced “deep concerns” for the people fleeing persecution, especially human rights defenders and journalists.
The people seeking safety outside Myanmar must receive such protection and support from Myanmar’s neighbours, Mr. Colville urged, adding that while it can take time to decide whether an individual fleeing the country is a refugee or not, “at the very least they should be treated as an asylum seeker and not forced to go back”.
“This is particularly important for people with jobs as sensitive as journalists and those active in the civil disobedience movement, opposing the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military).”
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