Philippine Education ReformsPhilippine President, Rodrigo Duterte, has signed a bill that will grant free tuition to students attending state universities. Free higher education could prove to be a much-needed step out of the poverty trap for the 42 percent of Filipinos living on less than $2 a day.

The law, which was signed August 3 against the recommendation of the Duterte’s economic advisers, is estimated to cost nearly 100 billion pesos – roughly $2 billion US – per year. Some senators have claimed that when the plan is fully implemented it will only cost a quarter that much. The challenge for Duterte is the full implementation throughout the country’s 112 state schools.

There are some strings attached. Free tuition will only be available to students who maintain high grades throughout secondary education. In addition to that, all students – even those in private higher education institutions – will be required to pass drug screenings to attend school. The latter requirement is an extension of the recent crackdown on drug usage by the Duterte regime.

This bill is just the latest of many Philippine education reforms. In 2012 and 2013, the Kindergarten Act and the Enhanced Basic Education Act extended the formal education timeline by three years, from 10 to 13. Around the same time, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) became involved with the Philippine education reforms.

In 2011, after the launch of the U.S. led Partnership for Growth project, USAID began working closely within the Filipino school system, helping the nation reach its literacy goals and foster new partnerships between each nation’s higher learning institutions.

Even with the help of the U.S., the price of education has been a consistent problem for people in the Philippines. Unable to cover the costs of schooling equally in its 13 districts, the government has historically chosen to focus efforts and money on primary schooling. Duterte’s new law is the first of its kind to focus on higher education. Only time will tell whether his Philippine education reforms are financially feasible, but many Filipino lawmakers realize the importance of investing in human capital.

Education is commonly seen as being one of the steadfast ladders out of poverty. This tuition bill is just a piece of Duterte’s promised grand social spending plan– the regime hopes to add more skilled workers to its labor pool who are ready to take on the changing demands of a highly technological economy.

Tj Anania

A Need for Reform and Research of Education in Turkmenistan
With 40 percent of Turkmenistan’s population under the age of 15, educational training and youth services are an absolute must for the country. According to experts, there needs to be more research and improvement for education in Turkmenistan if the country wishes to continue gaining economic success. UNICEF believes, however, that the new government in Turkmenistan is beginning to make headway in education reform, which shows a promising future for Turkmenistan.

There is currently a primary net enrollment rate of 97 percent and secondary net enrollment rate of 85 percent in Turkmenistan. These numbers sit above average for the Central Asian and Central Eastern European regions. However, there is very little access to pre-primary education, especially for isolated populations. School quality is also questionable, but impossible to analyze due to the lack of research into education in Turkmenistan.

Additionally, current research shows that many of the school buildings are deteriorating due to the lack of financial investment in education over the past few decades. UNICEF states that “as school buildings crumble, classrooms become more crowded, intake rates drop and enrollments decline.” Overall, it is evident that the people of Turkmenistan are still impoverished, and there is room for educational improvement.

After President Berdimuhamedov was elected in 2007, the change in government has brought hope for education in Turkmenistan, because the new president is making the education system a priority. President Berdimuhamedov was formerly the minister of health and later became deputy prime minister, a role in which he was responsible for education, science and health. His experience and passion show his potential for positive impact on education in Turkmenistan.

President Berdimuhamedov has invited the U.N. to partner with Turkmenistan, where the government and nonprofits will focus on Turkmenistan’s social and education agenda. Additionally, the Ministry of Education has partnered with UNICEF in order to create curriculum guides for education in Turkmenistan. These guides bring new and innovative approaches to teaching, testing and administering.

In cooperation with UNICEF, Turkmenistan’s government is also undertaking a comprehensive education sector review. This is absolutely crucial since there are huge gaps in data and research for education in Turkmenistan. Once research is compiled, the government will be able to create effective reforms that will address issues within Turkmenistan’s education system.

It is hopeful that with the execution of education research and the implementation of improved education reforms, current issues regarding education in Turkmenistan will be addressed.

Morgan Leahy

Photo: Flickr

As of 2013, there are an estimated 7.3 million people that are considered to be in poverty in Thailand, according to the World Bank.

Lack of opportunities, education and income inequality have been major contributors to the cause of such high poverty numbers. Although it is claimed the number of the poor has decreased in recent years, the rate overall remains consistently high.

Basic needs are not the biggest problem that families face. It is that the difference between the income of the lower and upper classes is increasing. Thirty percent of the population possess the wealth, most of which was obtained in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the earning capacity of the remaining 70 percent remains relatively low.

Beginning in 1997 and lasting throughout 1998, what is commonly referred to as the “Asian Crisis” took place. Prior to this, Thailand was experiencing an abundance of economic growth. In 2011, a flood occurred just after the global financial crisis of 2008. From 2013 to 2015, political turmoil further contributed to the problem. Since then there has been less and less global demand for Thailand’s chief exports, such as shrimp. Currently, growth is predicted to increase this year at 3.5 percent.

The Millennium Developmental Goals can be reached in Thailand on an aggregate basis. The rates of maternal and under-five mortality rates have decreased. Efforts have also been made to increase access to clean water and sanitation in urban and rural areas alike. The biggest concern is environmental sustainability. There is a need to make more employment opportunities available to those in rural areas. In addition, educational resources for parents to assist their children or micro-enterprise business opportunities need to be made available.

At its worst, the top 20 percent earned 15.8 times more in contrast to the lowest 20 percent. At times, the average income is found in the most impoverished region in the northeast; it has been recorded as being 11.9 times lower than Bangkok. This has driven rural workers to seek work in urban areas like Bangkok. It is a contributing factor to the slum areas in cities. Bangkok is considered a concentration of economic activity, services and goods. This is evident given that 50 percent of Thailand’s GDP is from Bangkok.

An additional reason for poverty is the government’s lack of responsibility during its financial and industrial reforms. During these times there has been a lack of social services implemented. Another reason stems from the failure of the Thai government to provide social safety nets amid the country’s rapid growth and industrialization.

Since the 1990s the government in Thailand has embraced the MDGs. It has adopted more aggressive methods in confronting the root problems of poverty and income gaps. In addition, programs to utilize rural workers have been developed. As the Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 development agenda near, and will eventually replace and advance the progress of the MDGs, Thailand and other countries will have the opportunity for renewed efforts to combat poverty and inequality.

– Erika Wright

Sources: Nations Encyclopedia, World Bank
Photo: Flickr

education in columbia
In the past decade, resource-rich Colombia has risen to become one of the second world’s emerging powers. Its resource production and role in global trade have increased rapidly, and in turn, education is in the process of reform. While education in Colombia has improved in recent years, the government is continuing to make reformative change.

Only 37.2 percent of young Colombians continued their education past high school in 2010. In response, the government made a goal for half of young Colombians to continue their education after high school by 2014. College degrees have been shown to make a significant difference in individual incomes: Colombians who get bachelor’s degrees generally earn about 3.5 times more than those who only graduated from high school.

The Colombian government formed the Everyone Learns program in 2012, which focuses on elementary students in public in schools in the country’s poorest areas. Everyone Learns is primarily geared toward mathematics and language and has reached approximately 2.4 million students. Education Minister Maria Fernanda Campo lead the program, which selected more than 3,000 of Colombia’s best teachers to bring in another 90,000 in the countrywide initiative.

Colombia is very focused on improving early childhood education. The country and its neighbor Ecuador have joined with Italy and the United Nations to support their desire for new childhood development goals to be included in the Millennium Development Goals. The countries are primarily interested in increased and accessible programs in early childhood education.

In a 2012 report titled Education for All, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) explained that the rapid growth of Colombia reveals existing inequalities in social class, gender and ethnicity, which is aggravated in large part due to a lack of access to education. The UNESCO examination reports that while Colombia has a good adult literacy rate, there is a low rate of education among children and an even lower index in post-secondary studies.

While many students in wealthier households might have access to education, those from families living in poverty often have less accessibility to schools. Forty-two percent of children from the poorest households start late, as opposed to the 11 percent who start late from more affluent families.

From when they begin school on into secondary school, the large majority of students from wealthier families have access to education, whereas about only half of youth from families in poverty attend school. “Colombia has been one of the fastest growing countries in Latin America, but growth is volatile, affected by conflict and discrimination,” the report said.

Colombia is in the process of evolving: the disparities revealing themselves as Colombia develops have left some of its poorer citizens with less access to education. However, the government is focusing on making change and is promoting initiatives to increase accessibility to schooling.

– Julia Thomas

Sources: OECD, World Bank, Colombia Reports
Photo: The Guardian

Thousands of immigrants in the state of Washington are demanding the attention of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by staging a large hunger strike at the Federal Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Along with better food and safer work conditions, their campaign is directly aimed at immigration reform and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The strikers want Obama to sign an executive order that would halt all deportations, as well as provide alternatives to detention while immigrants in question await trial. Tacoma’s facility is owned by GEO Group, the largest provider of detention and correctional services in the country, who lobbied against these reforms in Congress last year. At the core of the argument is the economic fate of 11 million workers currently immobilized by investigations into their legality.

ICE reports that the strikes are comprised of 550 detainees. However, there are conflicting statistics from the Latino Advocacy Organization, which claims there are actually 1,200 immigrants involved. This means the majority of the detention facility’s 1,300 total inmates are involved. Additionally, these numbers do not even take into account the hundreds of advocates who have been joining outside every afternoon to display their support.

The Tacoma campaign is not an isolated event, either. Similar protests and strikes have been emerging in various immigrant detention centers across Arizona, Illinois, California and Virginia. It is also linked to a popular advocacy project, called “Not One More Deportation,” started by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network as a way to host events against unlawful deportation across the country. April 5 is expected to be a similar day of action, with sit-ins and strikes in front of the White House.

Immigration reform has become an increasingly contentious dilemma under the Obama Administration, whose efforts have been repeatedly stalled by GOP Congressional members. Lenient new measures are frequently criticized by the Republican Party as unnecessary “amnesty” at the expense of America’s well-being.

In response, Obama notes that the children of undocumented immigrants “study in our schools, play in our neighborhoods, befriend our kids, pledge allegiance to our flag. It makes no sense to expel talented young people who are, for all intents and purposes, Americans.”

In 2012, Obama declared an end to the deportation of young undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children. The order protects anyone under 30 years of age who came to the United States before they were 16, citing the improbability of their posing a security or criminal threat and the benefits they have provided for the military and work force. The same year, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act was approved, providing similar protections for the children of undocumented immigrants.

Protection over the human rights of immigrant families is increasingly necessary, as recent years prove. In 2011, 396,906 individuals were deported, the largest number in ICE history. This is even more shocking, considering a 2009 study proved that four million immigrants are inaccurately defined “illegal,” having been born here despite their parents’ having entered the country without proper documentation. This means that the majority of “illegal” immigrants are thus wrongfully and systematically denied access to the rights that other American citizens enjoy.

The participants of the hunger strike in Tacoma complain of experiences with this first hand. They allege that GEO Group only compensates them $1 per day for the janitorial and kitchen services they fulfill. Effectually, they are then earning almost no money while they await their trial, causing a severe financial burden for themselves and their families. The status of immigrant detainees is practically that of slave labor.

“Its just ironic that the government is detaining people for working without a social security number; meanwhile, they allow this company to exploit their labor,” states Latino Advocacy founder Maru Moro Villalpando.

The strikes began March 7 and are projected to continue until they receive congressional acknowledgement. Friday was chosen as the start purposefully to honor those who have already been deported, as that is the day of the week prison guards round up all those who will be sent back the following Monday morning.

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Al Jazeera, CNN, Huffington Post, Washington Times, Washington Post, Think Progress
Photo: Al Jazeera

Many have called for the Turkish government to spend more of the national budget on social aid as poverty rates in Turkey are over the average for countries in the European Union. Current spending on social aid policies is a paltry 1 percent of Turkey’s budget. But in addition to establishing policies that help the impoverished, some are also questioning whether Turkey is doing enough to diminish the extreme income inequality.

Even though it has maintained a 5 percent annual growth and is experiencing rising employment, Turkey has one of the highest income inequality rates among the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. This income inequality is largely due to educational problems. The poverty rate for the illiterate in Turkey was 30 percent in 2009, compared to the only .7 percent for those who graduated from a university. As a result, the many agricultural laborers are stricken with poverty. The reason for this is that the agricultural industry in Turkey accounts for 9 percent of its GDP, but is around 25 percent of overall employment.

The overall education levels need to improve in Turkey with the help of more social aid spending, but, most urgently, educational rates for girls also need to rise. The literacy rate of men is much higher than that of women, causing more women to face the risk of living in poverty.

Even though the country has gone through many phases of immigration, urbanization, population rises, and changes in family structure, the social services and aid policies have not been properly reformed to address changes adequately. The institution in charge of social spending, the Family and Social Policies Ministry, has not allocated more than 1.2 percent of the GDP on policies that combat income inequality and poverty. Many are calling for a change, the Turkish government needs to make more of an effort to engage in social intervention.

But social aid policies are of no use if not managed properly. Turkey should to transfer policy implementation to local authorities instead of the current system of having social aid policy centrally controlled. If funds are managed by individual provinces, funding and resources can be more efficiently utilized, and efficaciously target poverty and income inequality within the region.

Over the last few years, Turkey has experienced significant growth, however more than a quarter children in the country still live in poverty. Even though the total percentage rate of poverty has dropped around 8 points, the fact is that still a fifth of the population is impoverished. Turkey has been investing in sustainable technology and building urban centers, but, to fully prosper, it will have to do more than flash signs of wealth and development. A budget reform in Turkey to reallocate more resources to boosting education and employment will decrease poverty and bridge the income inequality gap in the country.

– Rahul Shah

Sources: Today’s Zaman, The Guardian, Hurriyet Daily News

7,000 Miles Saved with Food Aid Reform
Food Aid Reform is a big topic as lawmakers are working hard to get the bill passed through Congress. The reform will modernize policy that is outdated in the current global marketplace.  The food aid reform will enable USAID to purchase more locally grown food in emergency situations rather than shipping food from US suppliers. This change will save time, money, and improve local economies and the livelihoods of local farmers.

The Food Aid Reform Act would eliminate requirements that food must be purchased from the US and sent on US ships. It would enable food to be delivered quicker and reach an estimated 2 to 4 million more people. The increased flexibility would allow on the ground organizations more freedom to make decisions and meet needs quicker. In addition to increased efficiency, the reform would lower shipping costs significantly.

Right now, USAID spends 50% of it’s food aid budget on shipping. If food is purchased in the mid-west of US, it is transported to a US port, put on a ship, and sailed 7,000 miles around the world where it is unload and transported by land to the emergency area. This does not seem like the most profitable use of government funds when food is available in many of these economies for purchase. This will allow USAID to save the 7,000 mile trek it must send food on currently. The food aid reform would also help to stimulate local economies.

Now is an excellent time to call your Congressional Representative and ask them to support the Food Aid Reform Act. Find their information here.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: Independent Daily European Express
Photo: House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Downsides of Big Data
It is easy to get excited about all the new information we now have about the world’s development projects. Maps and tables, charts and graphs flood our inboxes with ‘big data.’ Most recently, AidData published a huge dataset on Tracking Chinese Aid to Africa. All the hype has caused some backlash, and rightfully so. Big data is still data and requires the same careful handling as any other dataset. This is not meant to dull enthusiasm or lessen the use of data. This is a precaution against the misuse and overgeneralization of big data. One size does not fit all, and overgeneralizations from large or small datasets can be dangerous. Here are Big Data’s 4 downsides found by practitioners and academics.

1) Big data is not a panacea. One size does not fit all. The dynamic nature of development projects means that many are time-place specific. While sweeping data collection projects can lead to better practices at high-level institutions, implementing policies based on improperly generalized data is bad policy and poor use of data.

2) Difficulties in filtering relevant information. Data from developing countries regarding health systems, political upheaval, natural disasters, etc. are most often reported by vulnerable people experiencing the event first hand. The sourcing of the data is often social media. Aside from possible problems with the validity of the data, the sheer amount of potential data is enormous. Key word searches across selected media yield thousands of data points which have to be carefully reviewed to filter for relevancy. The computer programs are simply not nuanced enough to pull out the differences between hate speech, for example, and slang (as shown in a study on mapping hate speech in twitter recently). Additionally, a parallel problem is availability of reliable and secure statistical processing. Unlike data processing for pharmaceutical companies, aid data processing is not backed by billions of dollars in profit.

3) Data exhaustion on the ground. By the time social scientists are through cleaning, manipulating, and making sense of the data, the situation on the ground has often changed. This is called “data exhaustion.” The big data collectors (UN, World Bank, USAID, AidData) are constantly playing catch up. This means that the people on the ground are not able to use the most up-to-date information. The use of social media has mitigated the delay; however, data extraction and implementation of policies based on data is a top-down approach that may not accord with the culture of the project or practical feasibility. For example, the best way to empower women according to big data analyses might be to get women into the work place allowing them independent incomes. The on-the-ground reality might be that they are already responsible for non-paid work, such as childcare or maintaining subsistence crops, which already takes up their whole day.

4) Validity of data is questionable. As indicated by the debates over the validity of AidData’s Tracking Chinese Aid to Africa, socially sourced data cannot be the only source of data to influence policy. Self-reporting has inherent “barriers, blindspots and biases.” For example, the information collected from the Arab Spring was based on self-reporting of goings-on. The outside world used information from texts, Tweets, Facebook and blog posts to analyze the situation.

These four potential downsides of big data all suggest the need for caution in using data to inform development policy.

– Katherine Zobre

Source: Relief Web

Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General
Kofi Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations preceding the current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. In a recent town hall-style discussion at Yale University, reports Jim Shelton of the New Haven Register, the former U.N. official reflected on his tenure, during which he received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for his work in advocating on the issue of HIV/AIDS and other global issues. Annan also expressed his support for reforming the U.N.

He stressed that reform was necessary both in expanding the membership of the U.N Security Council, which has five permanent and ten non-permanent members, and addressing the issue of global poverty, which is one of the Millennium Development Goals due to be re-examined in 2015.

Annan’s most recent and well-known diplomacy role has been as the U.N.’s envoy to the Arab League during the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2012. Annan’s frustration with the inaction of the U.N. in addressing the issue famously led him not to renew his contract for the position of envoy in August 2012.

Annan said the U.S. and Russia must lead the way in shaping international consensus on a solution in Syria. Otherwise, a “chaotic collapse” there may lead to ethnic cleansing and ever greater global tension,” writes Shelton.

Kofi Annan’s urging towards effective diplomatic action is a rallying cry for nations to help assuage the mounting violence in Syria. With all the respect garnered through his long history of international diplomacy, we can only hope that Annan’s colleagues in the U.N. heed his advice.

– Nina Narang

Sources: New Haven Register, United Nations, BBC
Photo: The Elders