Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ode to my iTARDIS

Results-Based Management

This reading week began with a lovely and very useful workshop on results-based management. We were focused on logical frameworks, ensuring that grant-funded projects in development and poverty issues are actually doing what they mean to be doing. It was primarily an exercise in learning the current language and framing used by donor agencies, but it was really helpful. It was particularly interest for me, because we did this at GenCen all the time...and I would frequently proofread or format the frameworks, but I never really understood why on earth we used the particular format we did. I get it now! :)
The instructors were particularly good - I really enjoyed them both as instructors and as people. Current PhD students who have a good deal of practitioner work, so they bring a wealth of experience in bridging the practice-academic divide.

Next up: some interesting talks on campus, a job interview to be an admissions ambassador for North America, and a trip to London!

Kevin meets Sandy

While I lolly-gag about without classes during reading week, Kevin is also out of classes...except he doesn't have classes because his town is being ravaged by Frankenstorm. I'm sure there will be some updates on his blog, so be sure to check it out!

I will update you about the great workshop I am participating in tonight when it is done. :)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Happy Daylight Savings Time!

Clocks in the UK shifted back an kid at 2 am this morning. I am always appreciative of extra sleep, of course, but it isn't as wonderful as usual because this is reading week for me and I do not have classes. So the extra sleep could be acquired regardless. Ah well.
I will be participating in a grant workshop, interviewing for a job, visiting friends in London, volunteering at a conference, and writing an essay this week. Here goes!

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Greetings from Becca's iPhone 5, featuring unlimited Internet. You're in trouble now...the posts will be unceasing. :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rose Tavern

Last night, the Water Security and Climate Change students had a social night at the Rose Tavern in Norwich, accompanied by our course directors and other instructors.  It was a lovely time; got to chat more with several of the PhD students and instructors I haven't had much yet in class.  I haven't been too all that many English pubs, in reality...this and the place Reen and I went for dinner on Monday night are really the only ones.  To be rectified, I suppose...

Education in Tunisia

A few rambling and not all that fleshed out thoughts on educational investment in Tunisia, written for my "Introduction to Education for Development" class.

Imagine a country that has actually managed to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education (European Back for Reconstruction and Development, 2012).  A country with a virtually 100 per cent youth literacy rate (World Bank, 2012).  A country ranked in the top ten globally for its science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education (World Economic Forum, 2009: 230-231).  A country where women outnumber men in tertiary education enrollment (Millot at al., 2003; European Back for Reconstruction and Development, 2012).
This country actually exists.  On paper, Tunisia has done everything right, in the education for development realm at least.  Over one-fifth of government expenditures are invested in education (World Bank, 2012).  Ben Ali’s government bought into – and seriously invested in – a popular assumption about how to grow a country.  They focused on education, particularly in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, and worked toward basic gender equality in education.  The government minimized the rural-urban gap in school enrollment so prevalent in developing countries.
Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, Tunisia was touted as an example for developing countries.  Here was a country that did it right, that properly prioritized and was well on the way to economic prosperity and inclusion in the society of “developed” nations.
And then came 17 December 2010, the self-immolation of a young Tunisian street vendor that sparked widespread protests in Tunisia and throughout the region.  By 14 January 2011, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s government was no more.
This was not, to say the least, how the story was supposed to go.  Development economists and others have been selling a promise for decades, a path leading from incapable, ignorant people to a skilled, productive workforce through investment in human capital and the promotion of education.  Making education a government priority is supposed to result in prosperity, not overthrow.
What went wrong?  Using ideas from three dominant frameworks of education (human capital, human rights, and capabilities), this paper will critique the “educational myth” that guided Tunisia and falsely promised individual- and state-level success.  The paper will conclude with some suggestions about improving educational investment so that Tunisia, once an exemplar for the “right” way to do things, does not become merely the first in a long list of countries made chaotic by a narrow model of education.

Buying and Selling the Myth
The government was not the only actor in Tunisia who bought into a myth about education.  The state, in turn, sold the idea of citizens successfully navigating several years of school, receiving a valuable degree, and finding a good job with that degree.  It is a common story in our world, this door that education is supposed to open.
But the realities in Tunisia simply do not allow for this myth to play out in many people’s lives.  Unemployment in the country has been above 13 per cent for the past decade (World Bank, 2012).  These rates are even worse (above 20 per cent) among individuals with higher education (Achy, 2011: 8), because Tunisia’s economic growth strategies have focused on low-skill sector investment with cheap labor even as its government has focused on intense educational improvement (ibid: 3).  Thus, though some data seems to indicate that there are jobs available in Tunisia, it seems likely “that increased education raises the expectations of these new entrants to the labor market, making them reluctant to take the jobs that are actually available” (Rama, 1998: 71).
A serious mismatch has arisen between educated skills and existing jobs; this no doubt was a significant contributor to the political unrest in 2010 and 2011 (World Economic Forum, 2011: 6).  The perception of overeducated yet unemployed individuals in the country is so strong in the country that several news outlets reported that the street vendor whose self-immolation set off the Arab Spring had a university degree, even though he never graduated high school (Ryan, 2011).  Many of the leaders and participants in the protests, however, were unemployed youth with university degrees.  As Achy (2011: 10, 17) puts it,
Education turned out to be a double-edged sword by raising the expectations of educated youths and fueling their frustrations. Most educated youth choose to wait for jobs in the formal and public sectors, which offer better wages and benefits. On average, each university graduate remains unemployed for two years and four months, which is nine months longer than for of nongraduates…
The poor and middle class invest in the education of their children and reap frustration and unmet dreams and expectations.
The implied guarantee that a good education provides a good job is further confounded when children and youth from rural areas generally need to travel for their education, often resulting in disconnects with village life and the creation of local power struggles (Hill and Woodland, 2005).  Given the tensions between urban and rural, traditional and modern, and the apparent mirage of education’s promise, it is not surprising that the populace rose up in protest in what some are labeling a “higher education bubble burst” similar to the US’ housing bubble burst (Carney, 2011).

Too Much Education?
A complete picture of Tunisia’s economic and educational situation begs the question “Could there be such a thing as ‘too much’ education?”  This paper will conclude by analyzing this question through three dominant frameworks of education: human capital, rights, and capabilities (Robeyns, 2006).
From a strict human capital understanding, there may indeed be too much education happening in some areas (Woodhall, 1987).  Human capital is based on the assumption that current investment in individual’s skills and abilities can reap future benefits through higher wages and the like.  In Tunisia, though, the rate of return on this investment is currently rather minimal for both the individual and the state; indeed, it is all too often essentially zero in terms of wages and productivity.  If the purpose of education is to invest in human capital, you can indeed have too much investment, especially when human investment and investment in other forms of capital are unevenly spread. A proponent of human capital might argue that there is nothing wrong with the myth of “educationàgood job”; instead, Tunisia’s government did not properly diversify investment.  The solution, then, is to ensure that human investment matches other investments, so that the kinds of jobs and workers available balance.
Human capital is often critiqued by human rights advocates arguing that education should be regarded as a human right, valuable in its own right and not merely as a tool to enhance productivity.  Tunisia’s focus on and investment in universal primary education is important in the human rights framework regardless of whether or not an educated populace is more economically valuable.  As a friend put it, “what’s wrong with having philosophical factory workers?”  But most human rights advocates would also consider the ability to have a job or make a living a human right.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights lists “protection against unemployment” among its rights (United Nations, 1948).  The human rights framework is notoriously bad at making value judgments between rights.  While there may be strong ethical arguments for refusing to prioritize certain rights, this stance makes it difficult to determine whether Tunisia should be chided for providing too much education or too few jobs given its limited resources.  A human rights advocate would probably argue adamantly against the idea of too much education but might concede that governments should ensure all other human rights are met before pushing past primary education levels.
The capabilities approach to education believes “the intrinsic aim of educational policy should be to expand people’s capabilities” (Robeyns, 2006).  The idea of “capabilities” focuses on ensuring that individuals have the freedoms to be and do what they wish, living the lives they have reason to value (Sen, 2000).  Robeyns (2006) argues that the capabilities approach is the best of the three frameworks in acknowledging the many roles that education can take (increasing wages, expanding values, sharing cultures, enhancing enjoyment from life, etc.).  From a capabilities standpoint, it is difficult to think of any level of education as “too much,” unless it is a faulty education that is detracting from, rather than adding to, capabilities.
Here is the true question and problem: What kind of education?  Any amount of the “wrong” kind of education is too much.  But what makes for the “wrong” kind of education?  Each of the three frameworks can shed some light on this issue.  From a human capital standpoint, education that is provided promising future returns on investment when those returns are not truly present is the wrong kind.  Tunisia’s training a huge number of engineers without creating an equivalent number of engineering jobs made for bad educational policy.  From a human rights perspective, education that negatively affects your own or another’s rights is the wrong kind of education.  Models of education that systematically destroy or offend cultures are the wrong kind of education.  Importing an educational system and knowledge from the West to rural Tunisia, without proper precautions and alterations, is likely to do exactly that.  The wrong kind of education, from a capabilities standpoint, has already been alluded to.  Education must expand people’s capabilities and abilities to live a fulfilling life.  In Tunisia, educating a generation with a myth in place about the promised returns of an education detracted from that generation’s ability to live happy lives.  The current attempts at educational reforms going on in Tunisia should not focus on how to get more people in schools; instead, they must focus on creating schools that people want to go to, with transparency about the purpose of schooling and a multi-potentiality of uses for that education.  We must somehow find a way to make educational systems that enable people to be fulfilled in many walks of life, not merely one narrow path whose dominance is quickly declining.

References Cited
Achy, Lahcen, 2011.  “Tunisia’s Economic Challenges.”  The Carnegie Papers.  [Online].  Available at: http://carnegieendowment.org/files/tunisia_economy.pdf [accessed 24 October 2012].
Carney, John, 2011.  “Here’s The Real Story of What’s Happening in Tunisia: A Higher Education Bubble.”  [Online].  Available at: http://www.cnbc.com/id/41237865/Here_s_The_Real_Story_of_What_s_Happening_in_Tunisia_A_Higher_Education_Bubble [accessed 24 October 2012].
European Back for Reconstruction and Development, 2012.  “Country Assessment: Tunisia.”  [Online].  Available at: http://www.ebrd.com/downloads/country/technical_assessments/tunisia-assess.pdf [accessed 24 October 2012].
Hill, Jenny and Wendy Woodland, 2005.  “Globalisation and Culture: A case study of two subterranean communities in southern Tunisia.”  Geography 90 (1), pp. 42-53.
Millot, B., Waite, J. and Zaiem, H., 2003. “Tunisia.”  In D. Teferra and P. G. Altbach, eds. African Higher Education: An International Reference Handbook. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, pp. 601-610.
Rama, Martin, 1998.  “How Bad is Unemployment in Tunisia?  Assessing Labor Market Efficiency in a Developing Country.”  The World Bank Research Observer 13 (1): pp. 59-77.
Robeyns, Ingrid, 2006.  “Three models of education: Rights, capabilities and human capital.”  Theory and Research in Education 4 (1): pp. 69-84.
Ryan, Yasmine, 2011.  “The tragic life of a street vendor.”  Al Jazeera, 20 January 2011.  [Online].  Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/01/201111684242518839.html [accessed 24 October 2012].
Sen, Amartya, 2000. Development as freedom. New York: Anchor Books.
United Nations, 1948.  “Universal Declaration on Human Rights.”  [Online].  Available at: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml [accessed 24 October 2012].
Woodhall, M.,1987. “Human capital concepts.”  In G. Psacharopoulos, ed.  Economics of Education: Research and Studies. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
World Bank, 2012.  Tunisian Country Data.  [Online].  Available at: http://data.worldbank.org/country/tunisia [accessed 24 October 2012].
World Economic Forum, 2009.  Africa Competitiveness Report 2009.  [Online].  Available at http://www.weforum.org/s?s=africa+competitiveness+report [accessed 24 October 2012].
World Economic Forum, 2011.  Africa Competitiveness Report 2011.  [Online].  Available at http://www.weforum.org/s?s=africa+competitiveness+report [accessed 24 October 2012].

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Participant Observation

I had what should have been a long day today – four two-hour classes, back to back, straight from 9 am to 5 pm.  But the final class of the day was an active class on participant observation, during which we were sent out into campus and told to identify an issue/topic/problem and try to collect some ethnographic data on it.
My group and I headed straight for the door of the main Arts Learning Hub (central office), and took note of the apparent sex, nationality, and staff/student affiliation of people walking through the doors.  We also noted down whether or not people used the mobility access button to have the doors open automatically or held the door open for others.  With over 100 individuals in about thirty minutes, we almost certainly misclassified some of them (I had some staff vs. student debates, and I’m sure some of the people we wrote down as British were, in fact, American or from somewhere else in Europe.
We came back together as a group to discuss the issues we’d faced and the benefits or drawbacks of ethnography and participant observation.  I frantically analyzed data, which I had been recording in Excel.  Approximately 35% of people used the button, even though none of them seemed to have mobility concerns.  Use of the button was pretty well spread across age and sex, but British individuals seemed far more likely to use it.  (Of course, it’s very possible they were also far more likely to know where it was and be accustomed to having an automatic door opener at every door).
Anyways, that was a fun and fairly light-hearted way to end a day discussing oceanic sulphate emissions, human capital investment concerns, and Gambian conceptions of reproduction.  I am now off to have an authentic Chinese dinner, cooked by Yarui, a student who was hoping to swap accommodation with me but is still living in Mary Chapman Court and has actually come to find he really likes it.


I got to see Reenie today!  One of my good friends’ mums from Battle Creek was in London with her sister.  Her sister was at a conference; Loreen was just having some well-deserved fun after finishing another 1000-mile walk along the lakes of the United States.  Reen is a published author and quite the Great Lakes explorer – check out http://www.loreenniewenhuis.com/1_bio/index.html.
Anyways, we had a lovely time catching up and exploring London a bit.  Loreen knows the city much better than I do, as I’ve only been where the Marshall Orientation took me.  I will be going back to the city next week during part of my school’s Reading Week (i.e., no classes or seminars), so hopefully I’ll see a bit more then.
My favorite part of the day, though, was when my train was delayed…because there was a cow on the track.  Yes, indeed.  Welcome to the United Kingdom, where things that you mock in romantic comedies as being unrealistic actually do happen.  I was not, however, rescued from the cow delay by a Scottish lord on horseback.  Which is really more than fine with me.  For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, please ignore.  Just know that rom coms really are rather egregiously ridiculous.
Then again, perhaps a Scottish lord wouldn’t have gone amiss…unfortunately, someone took majorly ill in a train at a station ahead of us.  Because of the emergency services dispatched, our train was freakishly delayed.  At one point, they announced our train would be terminating early and we’d have to find other connections to our final destinations.  And then we proceeded to pass right through the station they’d told us we were stopping at…the poor conductor doing the announcing was as confused as the rest of us.  Turns out we did go straight to London, but we didn’t make all of the stops we’d planned, I don’t think.  In any case, Loreen and I found each other eventually, but it was not exactly the easy in-and-out of London I had been expecting!  We had a lovely day, even though we didn’t make the wonderful lunch reservation Reen had made.  Alack and alas.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Happy Sunday!

Today is the 207th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.  I learned this in my Unitarian Church this morning, where we were talking about healing…
My favorite take-away from today was this article from the Times about the origins of the Paralympics and an analogy with spiritual growth.

In sad news from today, my iPhone 5 won’t be in until mid-November.  Apple is not managing to churn them out fast enough…so you all must survive without many pictures taken by me until then, and I must survive without constant internet and texting.  However will I manage?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

“Rethinking Climate Conflict” Conference

I suppose I should mention something about the conference itself.  The University of Sussex hosted “Rethinking Climate Change, Security, and Conflict,” a two-day conference pulling in academics from Europe and the States.  A lot of Africanists and Middle East scholars attended, but there wasn’t much conversation around Asia or Latin America.  One doctoral student from the UK presented research on US climate and energy policy, though – that was certainly interesting as an American!
I won’t bore you with many details about the Conference content itself.  If you want it, I have thirty pages of single-spaced notes.  (Yes, seriously.  Apparently I heard a few things worth noting down…)
In any case, I had an absolutely wonderful time and heard some great things.  Primarily, though, it was incredible to meet people.  Probably half of the people presenting are folks who I have cited in my coursework; it was really great to shake their hands and hear directly from them.