“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”

5 Dec



Drones for the Congo

5 Dec

The United Nations has recently launched the first surveillance drones ever deployed by a UN peacekeeping force. And where else but the Democratic Republic of Congo, home of the first UN peacekeeping force ever authorized to use lethal force in an effort to weaken – and ultimately help defeat – the recently surrendered M23 rebel movement in DRC’s North Kivu province. Following justifiable concerns that a lethal peacekeeping force could have a detrimental impact on the humanitarian presence on the ground in DRC and the ability of civil society to effectively deliver aid to those in need, the UN has been further criticized for providing too little help, a little too late.

Two Falco drones, manufactured by the Italian Selex ES, were launched this Tuesday after the UN Security Council approved their trial use in January. Another drone will be on the way later this month and two additional drones are expected to be launched in March 2014. The drones will be used to monitor population movements in areas affected by recent violence, as well as monitor the alleged transfer of arms and munitions from neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

If the UN has managed to approve a mandate to launch drones to monitor military presence, what could this mean for the future work of UN agencies like OCHCR, UNHCR and other coordinating bodies for monitoring forced displacement, attacks on schools, and the myriad widespread human rights violations that plague DRC and surrounding regions? Ideally, this increase could signal an imminent expansion of the United Nations’ global reach into the safety and well-being of populations usually too remote and removed from urban centres to adequately monitor.

Like here in the United States, many may argue that the increased use of surveillance drones by the UN could constitute an invasion of privacy. Or, as in the case of recent allegations aimed the International Criminal Court, African nations could interpret this move as yet another “toy of declining imperial powers,” being used to remotely monitor and ultimately influence the affairs of African populations.

Here in the U.S., I for one do not generally lose too much sleep over Orwellian prophecies (despite my love of sci-fi). Perhaps that is because there is nothing that the government could pick up in my phone calls or find in my mail that could ever get me into any trouble, but I do believe that such ‘Snowden-era’ surveillance (despite the geopolitical and moral implications) is ultimately conducted in an effort to keep us safe, not to control our thoughts or actions. With a new mandate to launch surveillance drones now in the UN’s hands, could this indicate new options for the future of global security? Could this mean that rural populations in the developing world may one day be afforded the same protection and security that is arguably offered in the United States? Will the people of Syria, Mali, Central African Republic and Sudan be able to benefit from this effort to monitor the interactions of armed groups and civilians? Or will this program simply run out of support and funding next year and be remembered only as a waste of time and money?

Doctoral Research in Education in Emergencies

9 Sep

A quick, quick followup to last week’s post: INEE’s online discussion series on “Teaching Education in Emergencies” continues this week with posts by The Brookings Institution’s Allison Anderson (former director of INEE), Harvard’s Sarah Dryden-Peterson (a huge inspiration for my own research) and none other than NYU’s own Amy Kapit!

Amy provides some wonderful insights into a few lessons-learned while conducting her doctoral research and collecting data in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Her reflections touch on the utility of qualitative methodologies and the plethora of doctoral research opportunities in the field of education in emergencies, while highlighting some innovative research coming out of NYU’s IE Program. I also particularly liked her piece because it addresses a key factor for me personally in deciding to delay my entrance into a doctoral degree program: the benefits of solidifying connections in the field prior to conducting doctoral research. Keeping my personal focus on forced displacement in East Africa in mind, studying with Amy helped me and many others in IE realize the importance of having a strong network of practitioners in our regions of interest prior to beginning data collection, which many of us are now using our entry/mid-level career paths to do. We at HREC all wish her the best as she finishes up her doctoral work! Give it a read, and check out the other online blog posts and discussions over on INEE’s website – and don’t forget to keep an eye out for Dr. Dana Burde’s post on September 23rd!

On that note, for those of you starting your Fall semester at NYU or Columbia (or anywhere!), I highly recommend looking into a training seminar on “INEE’s Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response, Recovery.” It’s a great community in which to be involved, and it may just change the course of your graduate studies…

Additionally, Allison Anderson makes mention of INEE’s academic space on its website – this is a growing resource to see what other academics are researching in the field of EiE, and also a great resource for submitting your own research down the road.

Okay, so that wasn’t a quick, quick followup.

INEE: Teaching Education in Emergencies

3 Sep

A quick recommendation for those who are unaware:

The Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) is currently holding an ongoing online discussion forum entitled “Teaching Education in Emergencies: Good Practices and Challenges.” The forum is part of an effort to educate future EiE workers through research, feedback and reflections from practitioners in the field of education in emergencies worldwide. New articles become available each week, and all are welcome to join in the discussion.

Also, for those who don’t have the patience, time, energy or desire to read all those pesky written words, check out INEE’s new multimedia page, full of visual EiE goodness.

“Personal anecdote trumps data”

3 Sep

What “works” in education? Educational stakeholders and international development workers alike strive to answer this question and, ideally, apply their answers through real-world programming that is contextually suited to the specific populations the programmes seek to benefit. The NYT ‘Science Times’ special section on “Learning What Works” highlights attempts made by the Institute of Educational Sciences to discern what truly “works” through the use of randomized control trials (RCTs). To date, 175 trials have been supported by the institute, testing the effectiveness of instructional supplies, curricula, and computerized learning platforms.

I spent most of my graduate studies at NYU learning of the burgeoning value of RCTs in the field of educational development, with some professors incorporating RCTs into their own research during my time there. Coming across this piece in the Learning What Works series illustrates the importance of utilizing these assessment methodologies:

Without well-designed trials, such assessments are largely guesswork. “It’s as if the medical profession worried about the administration of hospitals and patient insurance but paid no attention to the treatments that doctors gave their patients,” the institute’s first director, Grover J. Whitehurst, now of the Brookings Institution, wrote in 2012.

But the “what works” approach has another hurdle to clear: Most educators, including principals and superintendents and curriculum supervisors, do not know the data exist, much less what they mean.

A survey by the Office of Management and Budget found that just 42 percent of school districts had heard of the clearinghouse. And there is no equivalent of an F.D.A. to approve programs for marketing, or health insurance companies to refuse to pay for treatments that do not work.

Unfortunately, this type of research is costly – not only in terms of funding and staffing required to carry out the data collection, but RCTs take a significant amount of time, and as implied by the name, also require a level of control that may not be available in the case of education in emergency situations. This is a challenge faced by ministries of education and education stakeholders alike. However, without proper assessment of programs, the likelihood of education programming doing more harm than good inevitably increases. Regardless of where your heart is and what your intentions may be, some ideas are simply bad ideas. When we ignore the data coming out of the field, there can be no hope for educational development anywhere in the world, in any context. Even the best laid plans and ideas can flop if not paired with sufficient assessments and evaluations (a new book critiquing Jeff Sachs’ Millennium Villages Project highlights exactly that). Research truly is the key to sustainable interventions, and I am very fortunate that my graduate studies and my professors at NYU were able to place such a strong emphasis on that fact.

Don’t worry field, we’re bringing our skills to the table.


Liberia students all fail university admission exam

26 Aug

Liberia students all fail university admission exam

I don’t have any substantive commentary to add to this headline: it is so bizarre as to be worth a repost, and it allows me to actually mention education (for once), but beyond that, I really have no idea what to make of this. Usually I’d associate absolute numbers like this with the sort of brazenly doctored statistics of authoritarianism – zero crime, perfect literacy, entire electorates, etc. – but I can’t see why anyone would contrive this. If anything, this seems a moment ripe for a little less transparency: surely someone could have bribed or flattered their way to a passing grade?

Technology in the Field: RapidFTR

22 Aug

I came across this little gem the other day, and thought I would share before the technology becomes obsolete, as technologies so quickly do. This piece was particularly striking to me, not only because it fits in nicely with a growing discussion of how technology will continue to shape the field of development and humanitarian relief in the coming years, but because the technology itself comes straight out of New York University.

While NYU Tisch always stands out in my mind as the training grounds for some of my favorite musicians and filmmakers, it is clearly also home to innovators for the humanitarian world. Former NYU Master’s student Jorge Just used his thesis in Tisch’s Interactive Telecommunications Program as an opportunity to expand upon the new RapidFTR app, designed collectively in NYU’s “Design for UNICEF” class and developed by Mr. Just over three years.

The RapidFTR (Rapid Family Tracing and Reunification) app is a “versatile open-source mobile phone application and data storage system” that can be used by humanitarian workers to “collect, sort and share information about unaccompanied and separated children in emergency situations so they can be registered for care services and reunited with their families.” By taking pictures, collecting sufficient data on the child and then being able to quickly share this information, the app allows for expedited reunification between children and families following displacement. It has been able to reduce the time necessary to register information about separated children from more than six weeks to a matter of hours.

The technology is being further developed and implemented by the Child Protection in Emergencies team at UNICEF with funding from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (go ahead, drool over their incredible projects for a bit). You can read more about how RapidFTR is being used by the Ugandan Red Cross to reunite Congolese refugee children with their families here, or keep an eye on further progress on RapidFTR’s blog. Just another amazing way that mobile technology is being used to shape the future of the field and the futures of children all over the world.

So the question now is: what app are YOU going to design, and how many lives will it change for the better? If you’re tech savvy, I say it’s time to rise to the challenge.