Imagine yourself as a 12-year-old. Perhaps you’ve just squeezed your first zit or been crippled by your first crush. You’ve also just graduated from primary school, and are about to begin secondary.
You haven’t learnt that much during your first years in school – the teaching is so bad that half your colleagues failed to graduate. From primary school. Class sizes averaging 50 and sometimes hitting 200 didn’t help, nor having to share a textbook with four other students.
Often there weren’t enough chairs or desks in class, so you would have to stand all day at the back in the 35-degree heat (the fans overhead never turned). Your teachers were poorly paid and trained, demotivated, often absent, and when they did teach they used such antiquated methods that all you ever did was copy down whatever they wrote on the blackboard and, if you had the time or energy to study in the evenings, try to learn it by heart without ever understanding what it meant.
Not surprising, then, that some of your 12-year-old peers can barely read a word in your own language, much less a whole sentence. And forget other languages – although the study of English was obligatory in primary school, the teacher masked his weak grasp of his subject by conducting lessons entirely in your mother tongue. Since you could barely read or write in that, there was little hope that you’d be able to do so in a language of which you knew nothing.
So you’re getting ready to start secondary school, probably feeling a little daunted after just scraping through primary. Possibly feeling more daunted still because the rest of your schooling is to be conducted not in your own language, the language you’ve been working hard to familiarise yourself with for the past few years (it is itself not the language of your tribe, and not always spoken at home), but in English, a language neither you nor anyone you know speaks.
And you won’t just be studying the subject of English in English – this might actually be useful, or it would be if your teacher were better trained – but all other subjects too. And if you thought your English teacher had a weak knowledge of English, wait until you hear how your biology teacher speaks it, or your maths teacher. Most of the time they won’t bother, of course: they admit to using the local lingua franca – in Tanzania’s case, Kiswahili – reasonably arguing that since their students don’t understand English there’s no point trying to educate them in it.
But the textbooks you share with your colleagues are written in English. Your homework is supposed to be written in English. All the exams you take are in English. Throughout your secondary school career, therefore, you will be taught in one language but expected to produce the outputs you need in order to progress through the levels in another.
In theory, increasing your exposure to English makes sense. It’s the most important global language, after all, and while research shows that you will learn more effectively in primary school if you’re taught in your mother tongue, it also shows that young people can learn a second language well if they are confident in their first language and if it is introduced gradually, “in carefully managed stages”.
There is nothing gradual or careful about the introduction of English in Tanzania. English is supposed to replace Kiswahili wholesale. Students have a six-week English crash course before they begin secondary school, delivered by a teacher who has been through the same dysfunctional system. After that they are left to fend for themselves. The old-fashioned teaching methods, with a distant disciplinarian handing down diktats to cowed and silent subjects from the front of the classroom, allow no scope for thrashing out an understanding during an interactive discussion.
Teaching is bad enough in Kiswahili – asking teachers to use an unfamiliar language makes it worse. Asking children to learn in one language while they take exams in a different language that they can’t speak is likely to be a fundamental reason why 60,000 drop out of secondary school every year, why only 12% complete lower secondary education when they should, and why only 1.9% enrol in upper secondary school.
Before Tanzania’s last election, in October 2015, the ruling party suggested that it would ditch English-medium education and revert to using Kiswahili at secondary as well as primary level. No progress has been made on this pledge, and the new government has had little to say about it. This was one of the previous administration’s better ideas. Tanzanian students are hobbled by the current system. Teaching English well as a subject and teaching everything else better in Kiswahili will free them to realise their potential.
[This article first appeared on Daily Maverick, and is reproduced here with permission]
On his last day in Downing Street, David Cameron said one of his proudest achievements was to honour the commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on international aid.
It was partly an attempt to stake out his legacy and partly a pitch to his successor, Theresa May, to stick to, what remains, a Conservative manifesto pledge.
Unfortunately for Cameron, even though he has an honourable record on aid, his legacy will be dominated by Brexit.
The former Prime Minister is destined to be remembered as the man who called the referendum on the UK remaining a member of the European Union and lost it, causing a political and economic shock that continues to reverberate well beyond the Britain.
As Mr Cameron was leaving his job, I was starting a new one as Director of News for Sightsavers, the NGO that works around the world to eliminate avoidable blindness and promote equality for people with visual impairments and other disabilities.
The sense of shock the vote to leave the EU, and the uncertain mood that has surrounded it among people working in international development in the UK, was one of the first things that struck me.
Despite David Cameron’s emphasis on international aid in his parting words, the leave vote has generated a lot of pessimism among development NGOs about the post-Brexit future.
Michael O’Donnell of the sector’s umbrella organisation, Bond, argued in a recent blog, that future aid funding was threatened by the end of EU development money and the fall in the value of the pound, as well as the slow squeeze on unrestricted funding – the money NGOs receive that they can spend on such things as research and policy-making, rather than specific projects approved by their donors.
While it’s certainly true that many of the same political and media voices that backed leaving the EU are also ones that have been vocal in their criticism of protecting the aid budget at a time of austerity, the initial signs are the new Prime Minister was listening to her predecessor and not these siren voices.
In May’s reshaping of the government machine, several ministries have disappeared, but the Department for International Development has survived – a positive sign.
And although the new Secretary of State, Priti Patel, has expressed scepticism about the value of DfID in the past, when her predecessor, Justine Greening, was first appointed, there were reports she was less than keen on the idea of aid, yet she proved an effective minister.
The public mood that led to a majority voting to turn their backs on the EU doesn’t necessarily mean the majority of people in the UK want to turn their backs on the world.
After all, aid is not just the right thing to do for straightforward moral reasons.
When all is said and done, there is a hard-headed case for continuing David Cameron’s approach to aid and international development – and, irrespective of whether Britain is a member of the EU or not, this has not changed.
As Cameron argued when unveiling last year’s National Security and Defence Review, supporting development and good governance in the world’s poorest and most fragile countries also helps to ensure their stability and make it less likely they become havens and breeding grounds for terrorism or other threats to international peace.
In the long run moreover, well-managed international aid underpins efforts to lift people around the world out of poverty which means more potential customers for British exports.
It may sound paradoxical, but this hard-headed case for aid also encompasses the boost it gives to the UK’s soft power.
There is a growing consensus among British politicians that the country’s global influence derives from more than having the world’s fifth largest economy or one of its more capable militaries – it also derives from the admiration many people around the world have for the UK, its culture and the values it espouses .
Brits are generally seen as good global citizens.
The UK has been in the top two over recent years when global soft power is assessed – and Britain’s generosity as an international aid donor is widely seen as one of the keystones of that power.
2014’s House of Lords’ Soft Power Committee report recognised this and urged the government to build on DfID’s role in boosting the UK’s influence around the world.
Many prominent Brexiteers, including Ms Patel and the new Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, argued ahead of the EU referendum that leaving the EU would allow the UK to become more outward looking and to forge a new global role for itself.
Humility is required, but Britain’s generous approach to international aid can be a pillar underpinning whatever new course the UK ends up taking in the world.
It wasn’t pressure from the EU that led the UK to achieve the 0.7% target – that was home-grown.
So, leaving the EU doesn’t have to mean a bleak future for Britain’s international aid.
What was once a storm whipped up around the question of whether the world needs 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets has now degenerated into a tempest about whether it is possible to “conservatively” tweak some of those targets to make them more meaningful and deliverable.
Last week, the poor souls who are responsible for shepherding the post-2015 negotiations (the UN ambassadors of Kenya and Ireland) released a proposal that was intended to show how this could be done.
Sadly, they have made some of the targets better rather than worse, indicating that ‘technical proofing’ – an expert-driven process supposedly stripped of political overtones – is no sure fire way to a better development agenda.
(And who on earth thought it could be? Experts disagree with each other more bitterly than governments do – fortunately they lack armies with which to settle their arguments.)
So here are five ways the tweaked targets are worse than the originals. (more…)
I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book on fragile states — Betrayed: Politics, Power and Prosperity (Palgrave Macmillan). The book focuses on the biggest challenges in the development field today: how to create inclusive societies, equitable governments, and dynamic economies that will give the poor the opportunity to accumulate the means and skills to control their own destinies. Up to now, change has proved illusive in most parts of the world, leaving three billion people — roughly one-half the population in the developing world — disadvantaged. The concrete suggestions described in my book are targeted at political, economic, and civil society leaders as well as scholars, practitioners, policymakers, and students.
The book combines the latest research on poverty and state building with my personal observations drawn from many years working in the developing world, and covers a far wider range of issues than comparable titles. These include social exclusion processes, ideology, elite incentives, strategic urbanization, connectivity, livelihood factors, power dynamics, transaction costs, social networks, and business linkages.
Former President of Ghana Jerry Rawlings wrote the foreword, calling the book “a compelling and eloquent argument for empowering all citizens, especially the poor.”
I hope you will share this information with your colleagues and friends. You can order a copy from Amazon. (more…)
Discussions about how to fix fragile states usually start and end with national level politics and institutions. But what if the key to improving their condition lies elsewhere – in their major cities? (more…)