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The quality of India’s education system is abysmal.
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), published by Pratham in January 2015, showed that although school enrollment had increased, students’ learning levels had comparatively regressed since the previous year.
Let’s take a hypothetical development student. Mary is about to graduate with a first or upper second degree from a leading university. She is bright, ambitious and her dream is to work in international development. She knows it’s tough to get in and she’s determined to do everything it takes to get that first job and then progress. If you are reading this, chances are that you are quite similar to Mary.
At the London International Development Centre (LIDC) we’ve been running a graduate internship programme for the past six years, during which we have trained more than 70 interns selected from hundreds of applications. Our interns are clever, highly motivated young people and it’s a privilege and a delight to work with them. But many of them share the same misconceptions that sometimes hinder their progression into careers in development. I usually tell them what I’m about to reveal to you now.
What you think you need
Aspiring development workers like Mary believe that they need prior experience to get into development. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation; you need experience in order to gain experience. Mary believes that she also needs a master’s degree to secure that first job. She knows that getting her foot in the door will be a struggle and therefore she is ready and willing to “do anything” as long as it’s related to development.
“Surely she’s right?” you ask. Well, not exactly.
When it comes to dining out, most of us are familiar with the practice of ‘going Dutch’. Everyone partakes in the food, and everyone foots part of the bill. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine are now proposing that such an approach could be used to pay for HIV prevention interventions.
In a recent seminar at the School, Professor Charlotte Watts and health economist Michelle Remme discussed the emerging field of ‘structural interventions’ for HIV prevention, and addressed the all too important question of who should pay for them.
In international development, everyone knows that good intentions are simply not enough. It is critical to agree on appropriate aims and then make sure that these can be achieved efficiently.
There are several different ways to achieve development goals. Take malaria, for example: approaches might include investing in vector control (reducing numbers of malaria-carrying mosquitoes); ensuring that people can access bednets; providing education on how to avoid contracting the disease; making chemoprophylaxis (prevention medication) more accessible; or treating malaria cases with better drugs, to name just a few.
We know that some ways of dealing with development challenges, such as malaria, will be more successful than others. Some approaches will have unintended consequences, they will vary in cost and will work in certain places but not in others. So how can those designing interventions decide which approaches to choose?
What do farmers attending schools in the African fields have in common with women attending maternity clinics in England? Both groups have played a role in rigorous academic research. They have influenced studies evaluating programmes that were designed to improve their lives.
In the mid-1990s Farmer Field Schools were spreading across Africa. These schools use active, hands-on learning and collaboration to improve agricultural productivity. Their strong participatory ethos makes the field schools very relevant to those involved.
Logic tells us that these schools should make a big difference to the farmers’ yields and to their lives. However, a strong theoretical base, enthusiasm and participatory principles don’t guarantee success. A research study seeking to collect, analyse and synthesise a wide range of evaluations of field schools found their success is largely limited to pilot projects. Furthermore, success is less likely with poorer farmers and women farmers.
The post-2015 agenda is coming into the spotlight. The proliferation of interest in the agenda-setting process and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) follows the recent meetings of the United Nations Open Working Group at which, for the first time, a draft of the next set of global development goals was available for scrutiny.
The Open Working Groups are one of a number of parallel work streams that together constitute the post-2015 process. Each stream has a distinct mandate and formulation; the sum of which will determine global developmental efforts and resource flows for the next fifteen years. Most notable amongst these are the United Nations High Level Panel, co-chaired by David Cameron, the United Nations Open Working Groups (OWG), the United Nations Task Team on Post 2015, Thematic and Country consultations and various non-official processes and coalitions which are nonetheless highly consequential and effective in influencing the agenda-setting process including the civil society-NGO coalition, Beyond 2015, and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
Inter-collegiate, interdisciplinary events are always a pleasure to go to, and not only because of LIDC’s focus on interdisciplinary research in international development working with five Bloomsbury Colleges. That particular approach often unearths issues that would not have been unearthed otherwise, and bringing together academics with the NGO community and policy-makers makes such events even more stimulating.
The Bloomsbury Humanitarian Debate in June was no different. Organised for the fifth time by two LIDC member colleges: Birkbeck and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and their partner Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), this series of events explores various issues in the humanitarian sector using a debate format with academic and non-academic experts.
2.1 billion of us are obese and overweight, according to new figures. Not only are the waistlines expanding in the usual suspects – wealthy countries such as the UK and USA – but also in countries we typically think of as having problems with under-nutrition; India, China, Brazil, Pakistan and Indonesia are among the top 10 countries that are home to obese individuals. As economic growth in these countries expands, so do the waistlines of their people.
The figures are revealed in the same month that Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, called for action to end childhood obesity in her opening address to the World Health Assembly. On the same day the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, called for a new global agreement to regulate unhealthy diets, saying junk food is just as bad for global health as tobacco.
We live in a globalised world. This is true for all of us, from the suburbs of London to the slums of Nairobi, whatever our profession, and whether or not we travel overseas or stay in one location. Educational institutions have a particular responsibility for training the next generation of professionals who are prepared for the challenges and opportunities that this globalised world brings. The UK Department for International Development (DFID) recognised that responsibility a few years ago by awarding funding to a project that I’ve spent the last three years supporting – ‘Students as Global Citizens’.
A research partnership was formed between the Development Education Research Centre (Institute of Education, University of London), the Institute for Global Health (University College London), the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), the School of Pharmacy (University College London), and the London International Development Centre (LIDC). The project aimed to engage with students and staff to assess existing understanding of global and development issues, and to create and evaluate new opportunities for teaching and learning related to global health.