Week of May 10, 2019

Editor's Note: Today's faiV is guest edited by Dave Evans, formerly of the World Bank and now a Senior Fellow at CGD. Asking him to guest edit has everything to do with his Twitter-famous comprehensive summaries of research conferences, his attention to communicating research, and his voracious reading, and nothing to do with his review of Experimental Conversations or his famous siblings (I apologize for the exceedingly inside joke).--Tim Ogden

Guest Editor's Note: I wanted to call this the Schooled, Safe, Energized and Well-Read Edition, but Tim apparently insists on cryptic references. I really enjoyed guest-editing the faiV and can heartily recommend letting Tim know you would be interested in guest-editing sometime.*--Dave Evans 

1. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week: This week, people around the United States give gifts to show appreciation for teachers. One gift that teachers really like is a decent salary. Way back in the late 1970s, U.S. teachers were paid about 5 percent less than other workers with comparable education and skills. But hey, what’s 5 percent? Did you become a teacher to get rich? Hopefully not, since the U.S. teacher penalty is now nearly 20 percent. (Incidentally, evidence from teachers in Rwanda and health workers in Zambia suggests that recruiting career-focused or salary-focused providers delivers at least as good outcomes hiring people with a focus on pro-social motivation. So even if you did go into it to “get rich,” students and patients will be okay.) In Latin America, teachers faced a gap but it was narrowing in the early 2000s. In Africa, primary teachers face a pay gap but not secondary teachers. In the U.S., teachers have been striking at high levels in the last year, in part over salary, and I recently wrote a piece on what the U.S. can learn from international research on raising teacher salaries. In most cases, raising salaries doesn’t increase effort of teachers currently on the job, but it does matter for attracting and retaining good teachers. (Salary increases can also be a good opportunity to introduce other reforms.) De Ree and others make the argument that because the returns to salary increases take place relatively far in the future, it’s unlikely to be a cost effective education investment relative to immediate quality improvements. That said, the high-income countries with the best education results are those that pay their teachers well.  

2. First, Do No Harm (in schools): The primary objective of a formal education is arguably to learn things. At least, that’s what the World Bank argues; I realize the statement is not without controversy. But the first priority – if we can separate that from the primary objective – may be to keep children safe. Salisbury has a recent essay on the dual dangers of risky school buildings and violence perpetrated by school workers in low- and middle-income environments. This has been in the news recently with the collapse of a nursery and primary school n Lagos, Nigeria, and the revelation that a staff member at a charity running schools to help vulnerable girls in Liberia was in fact raping girls [Or, you know, the US's refusal to do anything to protect children from being murdered in their schools, so that children have to sacrifice their lives to save their peers--TO]. But it’s not just the news. A recent survey of children in Liberian primary schools shows that one in four children admit to having had sex with a teacher (and more with any member of staff), and in Kerala, India, more than one in five adolescents reported sexual abuse in the last year. Three-quarters reported physical abuse. I’m reminded of this horrifying line inJennifer Makumbi’s masterful novel Kintu, when a primary school girl in Uganda is raped by her math teacher: She “bowed in gratitude, forgetting that teachers were not shepherds, that even if they were, once in a while shepherds had been known to eat the lambs in their care.” It’s hard to imagine children learning and thriving in school under threat of violence.
3. Get the Lights On: By the latest estimates, more than half of people in Sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to electricity. Last week, Arlet, Ereshchenko, & Rocha highlighted that this is not a village problem: one quarter of the unelectrified are in urban areas. Part of the problem is the irregularity of the available power: regular power outages – common in many countries – deter households from connecting to the power grid. Another factor is how complicated it is to connect to the grid, which is unsurprising: If we want people to do things that they probably want to do anyway (like connecting to the grid), then make it easy for them. Yesterday the World Bank launched a big report on energy in Africa, which showed that in some places, people don’t get electricity even if they live within access to an electrical grid. Connection costs are high and – in addition to the consistency problem above – “electricity connection via conventional AC (alternating current) supply requires minimum building standards that many existing houses do not meet.” 

4. In the long run, we’re all dead. But our kids aren’t!: A central paper in modern development economics is Esther Duflo’s study showing that school construction in Indonesia led to more schooling and higher wages. A new study by Akresh, Halim, and Kleemans [] shows that the increased schooling reduced fertility for women. It also increased secondary and tertiary education for the next generation, especially for girls. The biggest impacts were on increased mothers’ education leading to education gains among their daughters. This is consistent with recent work that I’ve done with Fei Yuan showing that some of the programs that deliver big gains in girls’ education are – like the school construction program in Indonesia – not targeted to girls. (There’s still certainly room for girl-targeted programs that satisfy girl-specific constraints, but some constraints to access and learning that girls face are not gender-specific and so can be met with general programs.)   

5. Ethnography, aka Reading: This week I finished reading or listening to my 49th book of 2019, Huda Fahmy’s aptly named Yes, I’m Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab. Fahmy is from Michigan (USA), but twenty of the other books I’ve read this year have been by authors from twenty different African countries. Two were memoirs of children surviving terrible events or achieving great things or both. Clemantine Wamariya fled Rwanda at the age of six, during the genocide, and traversed several African countries, both in and out of refugee camps, before landing in the USA. If you want to feel the impact of conflict on children’s lives, read her book (written with Liz Weil). Over in Malawi, William Kamkwamba developed a vision of wind-powered energy as a child and essentially taught himself to build a windmill, which led to other opportunities. His memoir – written with Bryan Mealer – includes lots of insights into the rural public education system in Malawi at the time.
Fiction also offers a useful lens. African fiction, just like fiction from everywhere else, is not ethnography: It’s art. But just as an ethnography is the compilation of many interviews and other data sources, I think of fiction as a little interview with the author. She may not have a representative view of her nation, but if you piece together enough American or Nigerian or Botswanan fiction, you learn something about the society (and you also enjoy the art in the process). I recently read a collection of short stories by South Sudanese writers – you know, a literary focus group – that took me into a wide range of environments in the world’s youngest country.

* Dave Evans denies he wrote this sentence.

Along the lines of learning from fiction, occasionally a bit of comedy speaks deep truth. Such is the case with this faux ad for Romano Tours, which – as you plan your summer trips – reminds you of exactly what vacations can and cannot accomplish and is reminiscent of Tara Parker-Pope’s coverage of research showing that  when you get back from vacation, pretty quickly you’re back to being the same person you were before . Surprise!

Along the lines of learning from fiction, occasionally a bit of comedy speaks deep truth. Such is the case with this faux ad for Romano Tours, which – as you plan your summer trips – reminds you of exactly what vacations can and cannot accomplish and is reminiscent of Tara Parker-Pope’s coverage of research showing that when you get back from vacation, pretty quickly you’re back to being the same person you were before. Surprise!

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