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An Investment in Education Can Fuel the Caribbean’s Growth

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Education is a strong pillar for the qualitative growth and improvement of human capital. In the Caribbean, which is home to 11 million young people between the ages of 15 to 29, investing in education is not just good for youth, it is good for the nations. It can help countries build more resilient, productive and peaceful societies.

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In my visit to Guyana in August, I had a chance to step into a brand-new school. It was beautifully equipped with state-of-the-art technology, modern labs, and spacious classrooms. The school was a testament to the government’s commitment to invest in education and give the best opportunity to their young people. However, something was missing from the picture – the students.

That picture of empty schools is replicated throughout the Caribbean as governments grapple with the impact of the pandemic. According to UNICEF, over 114 million children are out of the classroom in Latin America and the Caribbean – the world’s largest number of children without face-to-face schooling. The Government of Jamaica estimates that about 120,000 of its students are absent from school due to pandemic. There are some Caribbean countries that are beginning to welcome students – the school I visited in Guyana is now seeing its first students, but there are countries where students are still either attending online schools or not being educated at all.

The prolonged closures of schools that began with the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 have led to the most serious education crisis in the last 100 years. According to a recent World Bank report on the education sector in Latin America and the Caribbean, initial estimates of the effects of school closures in the region are staggering and could lead to about two out of every three students not being able to read or understand age-adequate texts. Moreover, school closures and harsh economic conditions are contributing to more students dropping out of school. According to International Labour Organization data from 2019 and 2020, due to limited education and employment opportunities, about three out of every ten young people in the Caribbean are not in school, employed, or being trained.

Limited access to the internet, books, proper spaces to work, and guidance from parents and teachers is likely to lead to children and youth not attaining their full human development potential.

Even before the pandemic, many Caribbean countries faced significant human capital deficits. On average, a child born in the Caribbean can expect to attain only 55% of their full productive potential, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Human Capital Index.

The ongoing pandemic crisis will only exacerbate this problem.

The latest economic forecast from the World Bank projects that the Latin American and Caribbean region will grow only 2.8 percent in 2022.  The outlook for the Caribbean is mixed, most countries will have modest growth, but some nations continue to fall behind.  In 2022, GDP growth is expected to land at 4 percent in Jamaica and Guyana, 3.2 percent in Haiti, 1.8 percent in Suriname, 10.6 percent in Saint. Lucia and 8.3 percent in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

While the scars of the COVID-19 pandemic on human capital and the future productivity of the region could become permanent, countries across the Caribbean have an opportunity to take the right actions to protect our children and build a brighter future for people in the region. These actions should focus on three priority areas:

Expanding post-secondary and preschool education opportunities

Providing better and more affordable options for secondary school students to build their technical and vocational skills will be critical for upskilling and reskilling the population. This could be done, for example, by increasing the number of certification programs offered at upper secondary and post-secondary levels. Additionally, it will be essential to expand the enrollment and improve the quality of preschool education to ensure that students entering basic education do so with adequate levels of academic and emotional readiness.

Channel efforts towards remediating learning losses.

Some students, especially those from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds, will have fallen behind when schools reopen and will require remedial education and socio-emotional support. Actions like simplifying curricula, but preserving certain learning standards, modifying academic calendars, and canceling high-stakes examinations may be required to adapt teaching and learning to the new reality. At the same time, investments should be made in teacher training to reinforce teachers’ pedagogy, counseling, and digital skills.

Use Education Technology (EdTech) to improve service delivery.

Many Caribbean countries have made necessary efforts towards providing students with access to computers and the internet. While these efforts need to be sustained and expanded, governments can capitalize from the existing infrastructure to utilize education technology to expand access to academic programs and student services such as counseling, remediation, and career services.    

Some of our work at the World Bank is already helping to address the issue.  For example, the Saint Lucia Human Capital and Resilience Project is helping to make post-secondary education more accessible and relevant to students by creating new technical programs in professions of high demand. The program is also helping to build stronger links with employers so that graduates have a smoother education to work transition.  The school I visited in Guyana was built and resourced under the Secondary Education Improvement Project, also supported by the World Bank.

I have met with young people from across the Caribbean since I was appointed in July. Recently, I had a conversation with youth leaders in Saint Lucia who inspired me with their enthusiasm and desire to contribute to the growth of their region. One of the things that they told me is that people in the Caribbean see education as a way to escape poverty. I couldn’t agree with them more.

As we navigate these times of uncertainty, I believe the Caribbean countries are well-positioned to lay the foundation for a resilient recovery, with a renewed focus on our most precious asset – the people.

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Ron Paul: Biden Administration accept that it has a “Zelensky problem”

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Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Last week the world stood on the very edge of a nuclear war, as Ukraine’s US-funded president, Vladimir Zelensky, urged NATO military action over a missile that landed on Polish soil.”

This is a comment from the prominent American political leader Ronald Ernest Paul was for many years the member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas. Three times he sought the Presidency of the United States: once as the Libertarian Party nominee and twice as a candidate for the Republican Party. He continues in his comment:

“But there was a problem. The missile was fired from Ukraine – likely an accident in the fog of war. Was it actually a Russian missile, of course, that might mean World War III.

‘While Zelensky has been treated as a saint by the US media, the Biden Administration, and both parties in Congress, something unprecedented happened this time: the Biden Administration pushed back. According to press reports, several Zelensky calls to Biden or senior Biden Staff went unanswered.

‘The Biden Administration went on to publicly dispute Zelensky’s continued insistence that Russia shot missiles into NATO-Member Poland. After two days of Washington opposition to his claims, Zelensky finally, sort of, backed down.

‘We’ve heard rumors of President Biden’s frustration over Zelensky’s endless begging and ingratitude for the 60 or so billion dollars doled out to him by the US government, but this is the clearest public example of the Biden Administration’s acceptance that it has a “Zelensky problem.”

‘Zelensky must have understood that Washington and Brussels knew it was not a Russian missile.

‘Considering the vast intelligence capabilities of the US in that war zone, it is likely the US government knew in real time that the missiles were not Russian. For Zelensky to claim otherwise seemed almost unhinged. And for what seems like the first time, Washington noticed.

‘As a result, there has been a minor – but hopefully growing – revolt among conservatives in Washington over this dangerous episode. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene introduced legislation demanding an audit of the tens of billions of dollars shipped to Ukraine – with perhaps $50 billion more in the pipeline.

‘When the Ukraine war hysteria finally dies down – as the Covid hysteria died down before it – it will become obvious to vastly more Americans what an absolute fiasco this whole thing has been,” writes Ron Paul.

International Affairs

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The G20 is dead. Long live the G20

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The seventeenth G20 Heads of State and Government Summit held in Bali, Indonesia, on 15–16 November stands out as a consequential event from many angles. The international politics is at an inflection point and the transition will not leave unaffected any of the institutions inherited from the past that is drifting away forever. 

However, the G20 can be an exception in bridging time past with time present and time future. The tidings from Bali leave a sense of mixed feelings of hope and despair. The G20 was conceived against the backdrop of the financial crisis in 2007 — quintessentially, a western attempt to burnish the jaded G7 by bringing on board the emerging powers that stood outside it looking in, especially China,  and thereby inject contemporaneity into global discourses. 

The leitmotif was harmony. How far the Bali summit lived up to that expectation is the moot point today. Regrettably, the G7 selectively dragged extraneous issues into the deliberations and its alter ego, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), made its maiden appearance in the Asia-Pacific. Arguably, the latter must be counted as a fateful happening during the Bali summit. 

What happened is a negation of the spirit of the G20. If the G7 refuses to discard its bloc mentality, the cohesion of the G20 gets affected. The G7-NATO joint statement could have been issued from Brussels or Washington or London.  Why Bali? 

The Chinese President Xi Jinping was spot on saying in a written speech at the APEC CEO Summit in Bangkok on November 17 that “The Asia-Pacific is no one’s backyard and should not become an arena for big power contest. No attempt to wage a new cold war will ever be allowed by the people or by the times.” 

Xi warned that “Both geopolitical tensions and the evolving economic dynamics have exerted a negative impact on the development environment and cooperation structure of the Asia-Pacific.” Xi said the Asia-Pacific region was once a ground for big power rivalry, had suffered conflicts and war. “History tells us that bloc confrontation cannot solve any problem and that bias will only lead to disaster.”

The golden rule that security issues do not fall within the purview of G20 has been broken. At the G20 summit, the western countries held the rest of the participants at the Bali summit to ransom: ‘Our way or no way’. Unless the intransigent West was appeased on Ukraine issue, there could be no Bali declaration, so, Russia relented. The sordid drama showed that the DNA of the western world hasn’t changed. Bullying remains its distinguishing trait.

But, ironically, at the end of the day, what stood out was that the Bali Declaration failed to denounce Russia on the Ukraine issue. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey give reason for hope that G20 can regenerate itself. These countries were never western colonies. They are dedicated to multipolarity, which will ultimately compel the West to concede that unilateralism and hegemony is unsustainable. 

This inflection point gave much verve to the meeting between the US President Joe Biden and the Chinese President Xi Jinping at Bali. Washington requested for such a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit, and Beijing consented. One striking thing about the meeting has been that Xi was appearing on the world stage after a hugely successful Party Congress. 

The resonance of his voice was unmistakable. Xi underscored that the US has lost the plot, when he told Biden: “A statesman should think about and know where to lead his country. He should also think about and know how to get along with other countries and the wider world.” (here and here)

The White House readouts hinted that Biden was inclined to be conciliatory. The US faces an uphill challenge to isolate China. As things stand, circumstances overall work to China’s advantage. (here , here and here)

The majority of countries have refused to take sides on Ukraine. China’s stance amply reflects it. Xi told Biden that China is ‘highly concerned’ about the current situation in Ukraine and support and look forward to a resumption of peace talks between Russia and China. That said, Xi also expressed the hope that the US, NATO and the EU ‘will conduct comprehensive dialogues’ with Russia.   

The fault lines that appeared at Bali may take new forms by the time the G20 holds its 18th summit in India next year. There is reason to be cautiously optimistic. First and foremost, it is improbable that Europe will go along with the US strategy of weaponising sanctions against China. They cannot afford a decoupling from China, which is the world’s largest trading nation and the principal driver of growth for the world economy. 

Second, much as the battle cries in Ukraine rallied Europe behind the US, a profound rethink is under way. Much agonising is going on about Europe’s commitment to strategic autonomy. The recent visit of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to China pointed in that direction. It is inevitable that Europe will distance itself from the US’ cold war aspirations. This process is inexorable in a world where the US is not inclined to spend time, money or effort on its European allies.

The point is, in many ways, America’s capacity to provide effective global economic leadership has irreversibly diminished, having lost its pre-eminent status as the world’s largest economy by a wide margin. Besides, the US is no longer willing or capable of investing heavily in shouldering the burden of leadership. Simply put, it still has nothing on offer to match China’s Belt and Road Initiative. This should have had a chastening influence and prompted a change of mindset toward cooperative policy actions, but the American elite are stuck in the old groove.

Fundamentally, therefore, multilateralism has become much harder in the present-day world situation. Nonetheless, the G20 is the only game in town to bring together the G7 and the aspiring developing countries who stands to gain out of a democratised world order. The western alliance system is rooted in the past. The bloc mentality holds little appeal to the developing countries. The gravitation of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia toward the BRICS conveys a powerful message that the western strategy in conceiving the G20 — to create a ring of subaltern states around the G7 — has outlived its utility. 

The dissonance that was on display in Bali exposed that the US still clings to its entitlement and is willing to play the spoiler. India has a great opportunity to navigate the G20 in a new direction. But it requires profound shifts on India’s part too –away from its US-centric foreign policies, coupled with far-sightedness and  a bold vision to forge a cooperative relationship with China, jettisoning past phobias and discarding self-serving narratives, and, indeed, at the very least, avoiding any further descent into beggar-thy-neighbour policies.

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President Biden under fire

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Republicans announced that they are launching an investigation that will focus on President Biden himself and any illicit or unethical financial ties he had to his son Hunter’s overseas dealings, writes “The Daily Mail”.

Now Joe Biden and his family are facing an onslaught of subpoenas from the House majority members, who say they know where the proverbial bodies are buried.

Rep. James Comer led the press conference, where he made clear that the president himself was the target of the House GOP’s probe. He is a ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, will have the power to issue legally-backed demands for documents, information and testimony once the 188th Congress begins on January 3.

The congressman laid out his plans to use that power to go after the Bidens for alleged wire fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, illegal foreign lobbying and defrauding the government.

The evidence Comer is currently combing through, and is seeking to claw via subpoena, could ultimately result in articles of impeachment for the president and prison for the First Son.

Comer is also asking the Treasury for copies of more than 150 suspicious activity reports (SARs) involving the Bidens, filed by banks under anti-financial crime laws, that could be key to tracing the flows of foreign funds to the family’s coffers.

Amid all the shocking messages involving Joe Biden, possibly the most important email of the 154,000 on Hunter’s abandoned laptop is the infamous ‘big guy’ email, suggesting that the president was secretly involved in, and set to profit from, an alleged Chinese influence operation.

In total Joe met with fifteen of Hunter’s business associates according to White House visitor logs and records from the First Son’s laptop.

Emails on Hunter’s abandoned laptop published by DailyMail.com show that Hunter and Joe paid each other’s bills, and Hunter’s business partner Eric Schwerin did Joe’s taxes and visited the then-VP at the White House at least 27 times.

Joe also hosted Hunter’s best friend, business partner and now convicted fraudster Devon Archer at the White House just days before Archer and Hunter were appointed to the Burisma board (Ukraine) in 2014.

Archer was entertained at the West Wing on April 16 2014 according to visitor logs. Joe traveled to Kiev five days later on April 21. The next day, Archer joined the Ukrainian gas company’s board. On April 28, British officials froze $23million in accounts belonging to Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevsky, accusing him of fraud. The following month Hunter also joined the gas firm’s board.

Soon we may see some ugly tricks of Biden’s Ukrainian friends revealed…

International Affairs

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