Thursday, September 23, 2010

The UN Millenium Development Goals 10 Year Anniversary: Time for a Reassessment

There is plenty of comment at this time on the 10th anniversary of the UN Millenium Goals. There are this week lots of questions –were they too ambitious, too vague with too many countries willing to make rash promises of large amounts of cash for the developing world and not having much intention of delivering?

Does the entire process have to be re-thought so that it is more transparent and accountable? For example the Financial Times criticizes the Millenium Development Goals for being unrealistic

“Achieving universal primary education and halving the proportion of hungry people in 1990 was a daunting, if not impossible, task.”

Jeffrey Sachs avers that the system is “broken” and needs to be rethought.

“we must replace the fragmentation of bilateral programmes with a new strategy based on multi-donor pooled funding that has clear timelines, objectives and accountability.”

Bono a well known celebrity fighter for these goals (that he refers to as MDG) writing in the New York Times,  thinks the record is better than Sachs and others are prepared to make out,

“Tens of millions more kids are in school thanks to debt cancellation. Millions of lives have been saved through the battle against preventable disease, thanks especially to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Apart from fallout from the market meltdown, economic growth in Africa has been gathering pace — over 5 percent per year in the decade ending in 2009. Poverty declined by 1 percent a year from 1999 to 2005.”

Bono however, agrees with Sachs however that there is a greater need for transparency,

“Right now it’s near impossible to keep track. Walk (if you dare) into M.D.G. World and you will encounter a dizzying array of vague financing and policy commitments on critical issues, from maternal mortality to agricultural development. You come across a load of bureau-babble that too often is used to hide double counting, or mask double standards. This is the stuff that feeds the cynics.”

He recommends the creation of an independent unit “made up of people from governments, the private sector and civil society — to track pledges and progress, not just on aid but also on trade, governance, investment. It’s essential for the credibility of the United Nations, the M.D.G.’s, and all who work toward them.”

As the major western donors struggle with recession –a clear need is to help explain to the people why we need to care about these goals. Goals that did start out in 2000 as quite simple and obvious such as Goal 1 to eradicate poverty

Target 1:

Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day of poverty had diminished in almost every region

Target 2:

Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people

Target 3:

Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

Contrary to what Bono claims the data is not "impossible track"--the  UN data is pretty good in showing you the progress towards the goals through such items as interactive maps that show the passage of time regarding key indicators such as the number of people in the world who are living on $1 dollar a day in 2010 compared to 2000 when the MDG were first established:

But Obama is right the information is scattershot and not clearly presented so that a voter could see where his or her money went to what program and with what result. 
Another part of the  problem, perhaps a more important one,  seems to be the media’s difficulty in reporting on long term stories. The TV news is much happier with reporting dramatic incidents and accidents than offering stories that require the perspective of time. When the politicians announce a the famous summits whether it be at “Monterrey in 2002 (to reach 0.7 per cent of GNP in development aid), Gleneagles in 2005 (to double African aid by 2010), L’Aquila in 2009 (to direct $22bn over three years to raise productivity of smallholder farming) and Copenhagen in 2009 (to add $30bn over three years for climate change adaptation and mitigation)” it captures the TV headlines but does not register. Nor does the story of why what these seemingly vast sums mean in terms of real change on the ground—better nutrition, less disease and how these amounts we are spending which are bare fractions of our GDP compare to the extent of the problem. President Obama clearly had in mind the country’s mood, to steer towards less foreign entanglements and less intervention, when he made his remarks before the UN General Assembly the other day concerning the MDG , 'With our economies struggling, so many people out of work, and so many families barely getting by, why a summit on development?' " Obama told an audience of several hundred people in the U.N. General Assembly hall. "The answer is simple. In our global economy, progress in even the poorest countries can advance the prosperity and security of people far beyond their borders, including my fellow Americans."

President Obama is right of course to frame the debate that way if it means gaining the support of the US Congress during a time of national austerity –but the media has to be able to help shape the story and tell the positive stories about International AID such as the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria, which argues Sachs is a better model than the MDG offers because it “pools resources from many donor nations, with an independent review board approving national programmes according to scientific and management criteria rather than bilateral politics. Educators must do their part too to keep up and explain the story that too many of our leaders and our media have failed to illuminate.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Problem Based Global Teaching

Global education is often a matter of bringing topical issues into the classroom in an engaging way that helps students appreciate the complexity of the world they live in. One way to help students realize that they are not just bystanders concerning the key questions that will affect their futures and potentially the fate of the planet is through problem based learning. Students often enjoy serious role play and particularly when they deal with scenarios involving today's headlines.

Students today with their ready access to all kinds of media and information are eager to part of not just a national but a global conversation and because of the Web 2.0 revolution they are primed to do so. After all it is their their blogs, their use of Digg and Twitter feeds, their YouTube uploads that are driving much of what

the media is now interested in writing about and vice versa. Those readers in the main happened to be under 30 and for schools to ignore the power of this transformation in our literacy and news consuming habits seems to be folly. Yet as Pew and other surveys routinely point out the Internet particularly in its Web 2.o form still tends to be viewed skeptically by schools.

But where and how to get started? Global education lends itself in my view to problem based learning, and to innovative uses of technology.

After all the issues related to global learning are ever changing and we have yet to come up with perfect textbook answers to respond to them. Clearly both of the last two facts tend to make teachers more nervous and less comfortable with the idea of including global education. The prevailing culture suggests that teachers need to know the answers and to be in control of the information. What to do?

My advice is to go slow and convince yourself that the old ways of doing business –teacher leading a lecture discussion with students textbook on text following along -- while comfortable and manageable are not working to prepare students for the 21st century world they actually inhabit. Employees don’t discover problems scattered around in textbooks, and answer sheets are nowhere to be found in the modern office. Workers collaborate and communicate online and form project teams that have goals and missions as they seek out evidence for their arguments. Apart from this the evidence suggests that students are bored out of their minds in the traditional settings and many of them simply tune out—and quietly rebel by failing to read set materials and “going through the motions” when it comes to responding to questions.In too many schools the situation is reminiscent of the old Soviet Union teachers pretend to teach and the students pretend to learn.

How to wake students up and engage them is tough—you have to find the right ways into the issues, but if you read newspapers with great world coverage like the New York Times on a regular basis you are sure to find on a fairly regular basis stories that can excite passions and energize conversations and most importantly of all--spark research and the kind of authentic learning that stays with the student long after the test is completed. Take this one I found in the New York Times magazine the other day. It is entitled the Peanut Butter Solution. The article tells the story of how a French pediatrician discovered a cure for child malnutrition and in doing so revealed the fault lines between the interests of free market western capitalism and those of the developing world. So this story can be educational in the best sense if teachers can find the time to think through how to use it in a classroom as a way to help students understand not just the way global economics works, but also the deeper moral questions that often get ignored by the media related to the need to respond to the continuing tragedy of global childhood malnutrition kills  five million children a year and  a third of all deaths of children under five. So the question for students after reading this is what would you do about the situation. Before they are able to answer that question it is a good idea for them to understand other points of view that they might not have entertained prior to answering that question. They can best do this through participating in a simulation.

After reading the New York Times article students might review  an analogous set of facts involving patents in the case of HIV drugs that prior to the Clinton Foundation interventiuon    were unaffordable for most of the developing world where the problem of HIV was most severe. This article has a good summary of the issues.

What would be an ideal set of activities for a unit like this? Perhaps a simulation like this:
Divide up the class in teams representing:

i) The French company that holds the patent.

ii) A country in a developing world that wants to develop the same kind of company as Paul Farmer in Haiti has done

iii) A US Peanut coalition that wants to manufacture and sell a peanut based product to the developing world.

iv) An international team of experts that is developing recommendations for what UNICEF, and World Patent bodies should do in regard to this issue.

Have each present their reports on why their views should prevail and argue their cases based on evidence that they have found in researching the issues. Have the international team of experts hear the cases being made and then in turn present their own findings. If one group wants to appeal have them present their case to another group of independent experts sitting in quasi judicial manner and have them write their report either upholding the intial recommendations or reversing them.

Provide a rubric on what kinds of evidence and arguments will be most favorably considered. Complete the assignment by asking the students to write how personally they would resolve the issues and the arguments and evidence they considered to reach their conclusion.