Tag Archives: Education

Jaden and Willow Smith’s Guide to Global Development

In recent years, there have been tremors around the edges of celebrity activism and involvement in global development. Most recently, it was Bob Geldof getting BandAid back together. Angelina Jolie is a constant, but we can only fault her for her acting. Hermione Granger Emma Watson brought the house down at the U.N early this year and created gender equality. Madonna. Bono. Clooney. Affleck. Persons who have become synonymous with celebrity activism and advocacy. But, we are missing two.

Now, this is a story all about how / two kids got the ‘net flipped-turned upside down.

And, I’d like to take a minute / just sit right there.

I’ll tell you how these two princelings found new flair (in global development).

Jaden and Willow Smith attempted, perhaps inadvertently, to break the Internet, in what is perhaps the most wonderfully bizarre interview ever given by two children.  Willow, after whipping her hair repeatedly, became a youth ambassador for Project Zambi, which provides assistance to Zambian children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Jaden, the new karate kid, is also an ambassador. With their powers combined, they have created a unique framework for addressing global development. Digging through their interview reveals there are three pillars to this framework: education, economics and health.

The Jaden and Willow Smith Guide to Global Development

Education: The distribution of teaching and learning materials to schoolchildren to increase achievement and learning needs to end. Jaden and Willow (henceforth referred to as J-Low) advocate for a self-directed and independent approach to reading, learning and literacy. “There’re no novels that I like to read, so I write my own novels, and then I read them again, and it’s the best thing”, says Willow. Rather than distribute costly teaching and learning materials, students should be encouraged to write their own books and then read their own books. It is a sustainable and student-centred solution that will lower costly school resourcing and help create a never-ending cycle of reading and writing.

In addition to reading and writing their own books, J-Low advocate for a school-free approach to learning. Jaden explains, “You never learn anything in school. Think about how many car accidents happen every day. Driver’s ed? What’s up? I still haven’t been to driver’s ed because if everybody I know has been in an accident, I can’t see how driver’s ed is really helping them out.” His philosophy is backed by evidence, which shows that, while more students are attending school, they’re not achieving learning outcomes or completing full cycles of basic education and are instead dropping out. Indeed, teacher attendance, time on-task and other measures of effectiveness are low, forcing us to ask: is school even necessary?

Willow went to school for one year, and then, like many girls in developing countries, dropped out. “It was the best experience but the worst experience. The best experience because I was, like, ‘Oh, now I know why kids are so depressed.’ But it was the worst experience because I was depressed”, she recalls. J-Low back a lifelong learning approach to education, arguing that learning never ends and that the school they go every morning is life. They join other education advocates in ensuring lifelong learning is captured in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Economics: J-Low argue for a return to the economic shock therapies of the 1980s to reinvigorate not only national economies, but the global economic system. The IMF and World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) provided loans that came with conditions on public spending, and were aimed at shocking free-market policies and programs into being. “The only way to change something is to shock it. If you want your muscles to grow, you have to shock them. If you want society to change, you have to shock them”, says Jaden, advocating for greater austerity measures, particularly reductions in education budgets as this aligns with their education approach. Willow sees this as more than a pragmatic policy measure. Indeed, there is an art to it, and SAPs can be considered a form of art. “That’s what art is, shocking people. Sometimes shocking yourself”.

Health: As global health challenges continue to mount with Ebola, malaria, polio and non-communicable diseases going uneradicated, it is perhaps time to harness a new approach to global health and well-being. Prana energy. Jaden explains – “When babies are born, their soft spots bump: It has, like, a heartbeat in it. That’s because energy is coming through their body, up and down. It’s prana energy because they still breathe through their stomach. They remember. Babies remember.”

J-Low advocate for the mainstreaming of prana energy into global health policies, programs and interventions. Maternal and newborn health programs need early screening and detection of prana energy, with community sensitisation and public awareness-raising campaigns to educate the public on how to harness prana energy. Although there are no current impact evaluations, it is recommended that randomised control trials seek to understand and measure the efficacy of prana interventions. #PranaForAll

In the end, global development is not about education, economics or health. It’s not even about livelihoods, employment or having enough money to support yourself and your family. For J-Low, it is about the sustainable artistic journey and the footprint you leave. “That’s another thing: What’s your job, what’s your career? Nah, I am. I’m going to imprint myself on everything in this world.”

Featured image is Jaden and Willow Smith. Photo from Pretty Much Amazing.

Disability is not our priority area

An open letter to organisations that don’t fund disability-focused projects.

Dear Funding Body Rep,

Thank you for your reply to our expression of interest. In rejecting our submission, the main reason you gave was, “Disability is not our priority area.” I’d like to explain why it has to be.

There are over one billion people with disabilities in the world.  And in the poor countries where you work, up to 20% of the population has a disability. If you ignore 20% of your target group, you’re not really working to help the most vulnerable.

You say, “Our focus is health. Disability is not our priority area.” But the two are inextricably linked.

Of those with disabilities, 98% do not have access to basic health care services. However, because of complications that arise from disability, and the fact that they’re usually poorer than most, people with disabilities are usually in greater need of health services. Amongst the people that need services the most, they are often the most excluded.

You say, “Our focus is education. Disability is not our priority area.” But the two are inextricably linked.

This is Ouk Ling. He’s a child I met recently who lives outside Siem Reap, a town in the north of Cambodia. From looking at him, most of the people in Ling’s village thought that he was stupid. After receiving a basic health care service, speech therapy, he has been able to show that he isn’t stupid, he just has a communication problem. After some simple therapy, he’s now going to school and has worked his way to become second in his class. Hopefully, one day he will use his education to be a contributing member of society.

Photo credit: Anna Clare Spelman
Ouk Ling with CABDICO Child Rehab Officer Chea Phearom. Photo by: Anna Clare Spelman.

Ling is one of the lucky ones. 90% of children with disabilities will never go to school. If we want to reach universal primary education, Millennium Development Goal Number Two, then we all need to do something about this.

Of course, getting children to school is not enough. We also need them to learn.  Statistics from around the world have shown that funds, controlled by people such as yourself, have helped an enormous number of people. Currently, 84% of adults in the world are literate. This is a great achievement.

However, the global literacy rate for adults with disabilities doesn’t make for pretty reading. 97% are non-literate. For women, it’s even worse: 99% of women with disabilities are non-literate.

You say, “Our programs must be gender-inclusive. Disability is not our priority area.” But the two are inextricably linked.

Is your work inclusive of one of the most marginalised groups of women in the world? Women and girls with disabilities face triple discrimination: they’re female, they have a disability, and they’re often poor.

If we really want to improve the lives of the women in this world, let’s start with the ones who are the most vulnerable.

Here’s what one woman had to say about her own experiences:

“I think the outside world does not really understand what the real difficulty is for women with a disability. I repeat again and again, for women with disability, it is really hard to live, so please include us.” 

Josephine Namirimu, from Uganda's Young Voices program.
Josephine Namirimu, from Uganda’s Young Voices program.

Would you be comfortable telling this woman, “Disability is not our priority area?”

There is a wealth of information out there on how to better include people with disabilities in development and healthcare programs. This is not to say that including them in mainstream programs is the panacea. We also need resources to do disability-specific work.

However, it’s not a lack of resources that’s the problem. It’s the will. There are over 1 billion people in the world who must become our priority.

Yours sincerely,

Weh Yeoh

Co-Founder, WhyDev

Valuing choice in education

What American holidays or festivals do you know?

american holidays

Believe it or not, this is taught in Cambodia.

The fascination with the Western world means that teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) in Cambodia is modeled on Western paradigms. This approach tends to take three forms.

First, the content draws heavily on Western lifestyles. Learners talk about their foreign vacations in Mexico, ordering food at drive through and booking train trips. Yet Cambodia has no trains, no drive-throughs and is not anywhere near Mexico.

Second, this approach is premised on the idea that the learners will be receptive to Western methods of teaching. It presupposes background knowledge amongst students which most here do not possess.

Lastly, English tends to be taught as a subject to master rather than as a means to communicate. The combined effect of this approach is to dictate irrelevant content rather than considering the students’ choices whilst at the same time imposing an arbitrary ‘gold standard.’

As with all development work, education can reflect bottom-up or top-down thinking. We believe that development organisations should include, value and act upon the needs and desires of those involved. Development cannot succeed without giving individuals the freedom to make their own choices regarding how they want their lives to change. This freedom is both a means and an end to development.

With this background in mind, we chose to engage students in the process of developing their own curriculum. This way we were able to recognize their choices regarding what they wanted to learn. We found out that they were eager to share their traditions and uphold their cultural identity. So the curriculum we developed drew upon on that by incorporating Khmer food, celebrities, travel destinations and ceremonies. This results in a cross-cultural dialogue between our students and their teachers, who come from across the world.

When a curriculum reflects the realities of Cambodian life, students are engaged and are motivated to talk about their culture in English.  This is effective not only in motivating students to speak and practice English, but also to promote a balanced exchange of ideas.

cambodian meat

In addition we use a transversal approach when selecting the topics for the different levels. This means students study the same topics across levels enabling them to share ideas with other students outside of class. This makes English a real-life communication tool. It empowers our students to become independent and confident users of English, which is essential given that the majority of their interactions using English will be with other non-native speakers. (See Seidelhoffer 2005.) In the context of regional integration, where English is the sole language of ASEAN and set to become the region’s language of the workplace by 2015, this is vital.

Addressing the challenge of teaching English in the development context is complicated.  We have to balance successful teaching, empowering and responding to learners and also avoid giving undue weight to the Western content. Key is rejecting the unnecessary ‘golden’ standard prevalent in English teaching today. The standard not only values knowledge of the West above host cultures, but also demands learners master a Western ideal of English.

Instead, we’d like to see the field recognize the primary value of English as being a communication tool for everyone. By tailoring our teaching to match student choices, we begin to achieve this.

David Picart and Eleanor Paton work with Conversations with Foreigners in Cambodia as Education Services Manager and Volunteer Recruitment and Marketing respectively. They can be contacted on Twitter @david_cambodia and@eleanorpea. More information on Conversations with Foreigners can be found at www.volunteerincambodia.org.

Volunteering to teach English is the new volunteering in an orphanage

There’s a totem poll in development. On top is economics. Closely followed by a combination of medicine, public health, law, finance, international relations, HR, communications, social media and so on until we get to the two bottom.

Meet education and social work. This is clearly displayed when it comes to young, energetic do-gooders going abroad and either: a) having an epiphany about making a difference because of the two weeks they spent in [insert poor country]; or b) said epiphany occurred back in Melbourne and they are on their way to volunteer in [insert poor country].

Voluntourists - Travelling for Change. Image credit: Facebook
Voluntourists – Travelling for Change. Two Melbourne guys travelling to change the world. Image credit: Facebook

This young, starry-eyed volunteer directs her (more often than not these two fields are still extremely gendered) efforts to one of two places: either into social work or education. By social work, I mean volunteering at orphanages. And by education, I mean volunteering to be an English teacher at a primary or secondary school.

I’m not going to beat the orphanage drum, which has had its fair share of drum solos. (See here, here, here). Little has been said about volunteer English teaching, which I find surprising. The duty of care of a teacher to the students is arguably on the same level as that of a social worker with vulnerable children. With little or no training, you can be given the care of anywhere between 10s and 100s of children in classrooms throughout the world. If you chose not to start an orphanage as a MONGO (My Own NGO), an education delivery service is usually next in line of the totem poll.

Take for example, this application form to teach at the Westminister Comprehensive School in Kumasi, Ghana. Qualifications are not sought, only “Teaching skills” and languages spoken. This testimonial from Nick Wood is particularly illustrative: “Whilst I had teaching experience from a year spent in France directly before I came to Ghana, don’t let it put you off if you haven’t taught before.” The only requirements listed on the school’s website are:

  • 18 years or above
  • Proficient in English or French
  • Has interest in working with young people
  • Should be independent
  • Strongly motivated to make their stay in Ghana a success

Or take Volunteering Solutions, which offer a range of experiences in over 20 countries at a cost to the volunteer. (Is volunteering still volunteering when the volunteer has to pay a fee? Are you not then just a customer in a user-pays system?). After creating my account, the application page was very similar. I just needed to indicate my “language level”, motivation and medical conditions, followed by my credit card details. (There is an application fee of US$200).

It is no secret that disciplines and professions such as social work and education are looked down upon. They are at the bottom of the totem poll. This extends beyond volunteering opportunities in Ghana, Cambodia and elsewhere to Australia, the U.S. and Canada. Teachers are simultaneously praised and vilified, under-paid and over-worked. In order to attract more students and graduates, the professional life expectancy of a graduate teacher in Australia is just three years, more and more blended learning pathways to teaching are appearing. Teach for China, a cousin of Teach for America, has a very rigorous application process. However, when it comes to training before these young graduates are placed in southwest Yunnan province, the program is weeks. Not months, not years. Weeks.

[Soap box alert] Education is an academic discipline and a professional practice. It has a body of theories, epistemological and ontological debates, discussions and developments. It crosses disciplinary boundaries and rarely can educationalists be accused of spending too much time in an ivory tower. Education is all-encompassing. There are professional standards of practice, much like accounting. There are codes of conduct, much like law. The well-being of countless children are in educators’ hands, much like doctors.

It takes 1.5 years full-time at the University of Melbourne to earn your Masters of Teaching (secondary). It takes two years for the primary school stream. A Bachelor of Education (primary) at the University of Sydney takes four years fulltime. Years. Not weeks.


As Facebook friends are wont to tell us, through the selective quoting of Nelson Mandela [R.I.P], “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”. This weapon, however, is being brandished by amateurs. By those who don’t know whether the safety is on or off. The World Bank states that “Education is one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality and lays a foundation for sustained economic growth.”

Since 1950, we’ve witnessed astounding growth in access to education, with the average number of years of education an adult has rising from two years in 1950 to 7.2 years in 2010. Attention is quickly shifting from access to quality. (Despite the misleading path enrolment figures can take you down). And quality, I would argue, begins with teachers. It is estimated that 6.8 million teachers will be needed if universal primary education is to be achieved by 2015. There is a shortage of trained teachers in rural, deprived areas of countries like Ghana and Cambodia, and volunteer English teachers from abroad are not a solution, either stop-gap or long-term. Children deserve, and have the right to, better education and better teachers.

So, why can I spend five minutes in an online application, list my English proficiency, ethnicity and age, and be considered fit to teach English to Ghanaian primary and secondary school children?

If you want to teach, teach. If you want to travel, travel. Don’t do both. Don’t mix business with pleasure. Take the challenge. Teach for Australia appears to be a far more intensive, academic and practical program over two years; a mixture of placement, study, leadership training and mentoring, culminating in a Masters of Teaching. According to their website, 71% of alumni are still teaching beyond the program. Education is the most powerful weapon. Conditions apply. Please read instruction manual before using. Not safe for volunteers with no qualifications.

Can we afford not to include disability in development?

A classmate in an economics class once said that special education was a poor public policy choice because the return on investment would not be high. Unfortunately, this is the type of misguided utilitarian thinking that has largely left disability off the international health and development agenda.

In societies with innumerable needs, persons with disabilities are not considered a priority.  Can we really ask countries to have services for people with disabilities when even the “regular” people have trouble accessing basic healthcare and even “normal” children are often out of school?

The question should not be: can we afford to address the needs of persons with disabilities? The real question is: can we afford not to? More than 15% of the world’s population, over one billion people, have some kind of disability. While disability is not mentioned at all in the Millennium Development Goals, from the evidence it is clear that the inclusion of persons with disabilities is going to be absolutely essential for their realisation.

Credit: Brendan Rigby
Credit: Brendan Rigby

Let’s first look at this problem at the micro level. When a child with a disability is born it is sometimes viewed as a great shame or curse on the family. Due to this stigma associated with disability, often times the father and/or extended family will abandon them. The mother often finds it difficult to work because, without a support network, no one can care for the child. This plunges the family into poverty.

Without assistive equipment and therapy services, the child is at greater risk of health complications. Children who need assistance with toileting in areas with poor sanitation are at greater risk of diarrhea and urinary tract infections. Lying in one position tied to a bed all day causes terrible bedsores, which can also become dangerously infected. Children who have difficulty with swallowing are at greater risk of aspirating and getting pneumonia, the leading cause of death of children worldwide.

The additional expense of treating these problems is often unaffordable for the family that is already in economic straits because of social exclusion. Even if they do try to go to a doctor, persons with disabilities are three times more likely to report being denied care. The cost of leaving them untreated can be deadly, and it is the reason that UNICEF estimates the mortality rate for children with disabilities is as high as 80% in some countries. Yet for all this vulnerability, disability is not often a major topic in conversations about reaching MDG 4: reduce child mortality.

Thinking about persons with disabilities as a lost cause is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Keeping children with disabilities hidden and locked away at home or in institutions sentences them to a lifetime of being kept that way. Studies show that 98% of children with disabilities worldwide are out of school. Without any therapy or services and exposure to the outside world, they will never be able to fully enter and integrate into it. Yet despite this staggering statistic there is little conversation about what MDG 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education means for children with disabilities who may need special education.

Families that are stigmatized and without support are caught in a poverty trap of a different kind too often overlooked by major development organizations. It is a vicious cycle that costs both families and the societies they live in an incredible amount in healthcare spending and lost productivity, both from the individual with a disability who has been denied a chance to work and their family who must take care of them instead of engaging in other productive pursuits.

These injustices and denials of basic human rights compound to have major effects on a macro level. Indeed, a study done by the International Labor Organization found that the cost to society in low- and middle-income countries of excluding people with disabilities is “large and measurable, ranging from 3 to 7 percent of GDP”.

That cost is not something that developing countries can afford. So, what if instead we imagine the life of a child with disability as one full of possibilities? Community-based services for persons with disabilities can make a world of difference for both them and their families.  Promising models for promoting inclusive societies in the developing world are beginning to emerge.

Take, for example Ima* and Neemah*, two individuals with intellectual disabilities in Tanzania currently being served by a small local program called Building a Caring Community. Since attending a small community care center in their local parishes, they received basic education and occupational therapy services.

While at this safe and nurturing place, their mother had the opportunity to work – one taking a micro-credit loan to start a small shop and the other working in a social-business sewing co-op. After reaching adolescence, they attended a local vocational training center alongside non-disabled peers. Now they are employed, Neemah cleaning and helping her mother raise chickens, and Ima in the program’s social-business construction co-op alongside fathers of children with disabilities. They are participating and included members of their community.

Even children with the most severe disabilities and their families can be helped by such services. Take for example, Eli*, a child with severe cerebral palsy and intellectual disability. In addition to receiving a custom wheelchair and attending the center, his mother, Jan, underwent training in disability care and basic therapy techniques and is now employed by the center. She is now able to both provide for her son and also serve as a leader in her community, teaching mothers and creating a virtuous cycle of acceptance and improved health.

For those for whom the moral argument is not enough, this economic argument shows when we invest in society’s most vulnerable, the ripple effects are huge. Mothers that would have had to drop out of the labour market to care for their children are now starting businesses. Children who would have been written off as useless burdens on their families are contributing and participating members of the community. Even those whose impairments are severe are treated with human dignity.

Persons with disabilities must no longer be ignored in the post-2015 development agenda. We need more research on what community-based disability services models are most effective and how to bring them to scale. We need mainstream development programs to be inclusive of persons with disabilities in their operations.  The possibilities to make great strides in the tangible realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities are huge – if only the international community is willing to make the strategic investment in their equality.


*Names of all children have been changed for privacy purposes.

Travel is not education

Recently, I came across the following quote on a personal blog:

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.”

The quote was unattributed on this blog, but Google attributes it to the Prophet Muhammad. Google also indicates that it appears on many lists and blogs with titles like “25 Inspiring Travel Quotes,” “Top 50 Inspirational Travel Quotes,” “Travel And Open Your Mind,” and “The 80 Greatest Travel Quotes of All Time.”

As much as it pains me to argue against words offering so much inspiration to so many, reading them made me roll my eyes so hard I think I popped a few blood vessels.

Though it is patent nonsense, I understand why the sentiment exists.

We’ve all felt that way, haven’t we? Particularly for those of us who have not only traveled, but who have also lived and worked overseas. Amongst aid workers, it can be a source of pride to boast about the countries we’ve been to or worked in, and how “rough” they were.

Our experiences in these countries shape us, change us, and teach us things we would never have learned at home. They help us understand the gap that often exists between theory and practice, as well as the complexity of issues and places for which we were fed simple narratives. Traveling and living elsewhere also helps us understand ourselves and our home countries better.

And that is nice for us. But our appreciation for these lessons sometimes leads to a smug worldliness that views those who don’t travel as lesser beings. (Even worse are those who not only stay in their country, but also stay in their hometowns, and incredibly seem to enjoy themselves there.)

This attitude is not only arrogant but also misguided.

Here’s why travel does not equal education: it is not necessarily an antidote for ignorance and it is no replacement for curiosity.

One of my family members doesn’t like to travel, and has never been to Portugal, yet knows more about their harm reduction approach to drugs than I do. Does my firsthand knowledge of Lisbon’s bars trump his knowledge of Portuguese public policy?

I’ve met people who have lived on multiple continents that scoff at the idea they would know anything as obscure as the heads of state of any African countries (it is good to suss these people out to avoid having them on your team at a trivia night). I’ve also met Cambodians who haven’t left southeast Asia, yet know about the French nuclear power industry, and the Canadian banking system’s resilience during the 2008 recession.

Which leads to another reason that conflating travel and education is really stupid – the ability to travel is largely dependent on your wealth and your nationality.

As a Canadian, I get really irritated when countries require me to have a visa to visit. It is just such a drag to have to get the passport photo, go to an embassy, and fill out the paperwork, you know? The worst.

I stopped complaining about that when I fully comprehended that for many, their nationality means they can’t just pay the visa processing fee and go. It means that they can’t go at all.

For a Cambodian to visit the United States, they require a host in the US, a ton of money in their bank account, proof of their English proficiency, and they are also screened via an interview process.

For a Canadian to visit the United States (or Europe or Morocco or Malaysia or, or, or…), they have to show up at the border with a passport.

So if we’re valuing travel above education, we’re valuing a very Western experience that is unavailable to many. We’re also undervaluing our own formal education, something I’ve come to appreciate more and more as I live in a country where the public education system is terrible.

Let me be clear: I like traveling. I’ve spent considerable time and money on travel because I think it is enriching and worthwhile. Given the often negative aspects of voluntourism, I often wish people would just visit the countries they’re interested in, and go see the Taj Mahal without bothering to build the school or visit the Amazon without running the day camps for kids.

But I’m not deluded enough to think that travel replaces education.

Robert Delong is right: sometimes we think travel and being somewhere different are progress. Or even education.

But it’s just movement.

The roadmap to ending extreme poverty by 2030: a street directory or GPS?


To much fanfare, the roadmap to end extreme poverty by 2030 was released Thursday. The high-level panel (HLP, one letter short of HELP) is co-chaired by David Cameron with the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian president. The forceful and well-oiled verb ‘eradicate’ was used to describe how extreme poverty would be ended. It would be eradicated. It is an interesting choice of verb and one which we never tire of using. Eradicate. The original Latin meaning to ‘uproot’. So, we want to ‘uproot’ poverty and do what with it? How are we going to uproot extreme poverty?

12 goals. 54 targets. 15 years.

‘Sustainability’ is mentioned a lot  (in fact, 25 times). ‘Sustainable’ is mentioned a whooping 186 times. The phrase ‘sustainable development’, 99 times. Ok, so once extreme poverty is uprooted, the seeds that fall back to the ground will not find root. They will not grow again. This time, it’s sustainable.

And yes, this time it is different. I am sure much more qualified and knowledgeable people will comment, troll and discuss this report (indeed, some already have such as Andy Sumner and Alex Cobham here, and Claire Melamed here). And yes, there are plenty of eye-rolling statements and narratives, such as when you read that the panel discussed “the daily reality of life on the margins of survival” (p.15). In London. Or, the new and oft-repeated catchphrase of the report to “leave no one behind”. And, speaking about a “global ethic”, which apparently is financial in philosophy as the panel proceed to list off a cost-benefit analysis of development interventions.

I just want to touch on a few features and then speak more specifically about the education sub-directory in the roadmap.

The X factor

Although the goals are universal, the targets are not all universal. “Almost all targets should be set at the national level or even local level, to account for different starting points and contexts” (p.41). Rather than stating that there should be universal access and completion of pre-primary education, Goal 3(a) states that there should be an “Increase by x% the proportion of children able to access and complete pre-primary education”. According to the panel, they have gone to great lengths not to be prescriptive but to illustrate examples.

Furthermore, indicators will be disaggregated by income, gender, location, age, people living with disabilities and relevant social group. This is landmark. But, it is also a huge ask of the current and future state of data collection, validation, analysing and synthesising capacities of many national governments, both in terms of district, regional and national-level data.


The basic framework for the goals is the old acronym that we all learn: SMART. Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. They are SMART goals. Or are they? The panel acknowledge the risks of a single agenda, ranging from “unworkably utopian” to “overloaded” to “business as usual”. Despite the acknowledgement, the panel does not satisfactorily address these risks in the report.

Much like the ‘risks and assumptions’ written for a LogFrame, they are just there because they have to be. The panel states that the “best way of managing these risks is to make sure that the post-2015 development agenda includes clear priorities for action that the international community can rally behind” (p.26). This just sounds like business as usual (aka MDGs) and doesn’t actually address the risks identified.

Goal 3

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There are three ideas that standout in the education sub-directory of the roadmap, otherwise known as Goal 3:

  • Pre-primary schooling. After much evidence clearly demonstrating the impact, pre-primary schooling gets a look in. Also known as ‘early childhood education’ or ‘early childhood development (ECD)’, this is a cross-cutting issue of the roadmap and will begin to feature prominently in development initiatives and interventions. However, there is a lot to be learned from the MDGs in regards to ensuring equitable and effective access to schooling. It will be more than a matter of just building pre-primary schools, recruiting teachers and producing textbooks. The inclusion of secondary schooling in this goal was a preordained due to the MDGs focus on primary schooling.
  • Standards. The move towards standards is one already being played out in OECD countries both at the secondary and tertiary levels of education. Here, both B and C look to promote and achieve ‘quality’ by measuring students against standards and outcomes. While it focuses on accountability and measuring students’ performance and learning outcomes, a standards agenda can often come into contest with inclusion-driven agendas.
  • Get a job! In another boost to the life-long learning agenda and concept, D recognises the need for vocational and technical education for ALL, and not just education for children. Also known as vocational and educational training (VET), it has a long, storied and debated history in regards to its role in public education, the national economy and political and educational discourse and agendas. It is often framed around the notion of providing alternative, low-skilled career and workforce pathways to young adults who do not succeed in the traditional education system. Its inclusion here is perhaps in response to rising youth unemployment rates and the lack of alternatives for young people who are unable to ‘succeed’ in the traditional education system.

Within this goal, there are also a number of glaring issues and questions that only academia will probably address, think about and write on. The issues mainly reflect broader and deeper issues of power and Discourse.

  • Who decides what standards and which standards? A few key phrases stand out: “completes primary education able to read, write and count well enough to meet minimum standards”. What constitutes ‘well enough’? Well enough for what, for whom? To do what? Who will decide what the minimum standards are? How will these standards be monitored, appraised and renewed? Will all children be tested against the same standards, regardless of circumstance? Where does creativity, music, art, drama and other non-science subjects fit into the curriculum and standards? How will a standards agenda co-exist with a focus on inclusion?
  • Who decides what skills and which skills? With jobs and skills featuring prominently, it is stated that we need to “Increase the number of young and adult women and men with the skills…needed for work by x%”. What skills are those? Are they the skills needed to work jobs that do not currently exist but will exist in the future economy? Who will decide what skills to address? Are they traditional skills?
  • “regardless of circumstance”. This is a nice, convenient phrase, expressed as a means to addressing (or at least referencing) inequality and inequity. It captures a child in northern Ghana who has a disability, lives with his grandfather in a rural area and is not attending school. It also captures a young girl in northern Vietnam, who was married at the age of 12 and no longer attends school. Or a young refugee from Burma still living in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border. It is a clumsy phrase and perhaps dismissive of the role circumstance (read: inequality) plays. It is not just a matter of regarding circumstance as regardless. This phrase does not capture inequality and inequity. Remember, it is mostly the political, social, economic and cultural circumstances of children and their families that keep them from accessing, attending and completing schooling. Throw in the broader circumstances at community, national, regional and global levels, and more needs to be said and addressed than just ‘regardless of circumstance’.

There are many things to admire about this report and the roadmap is describes. Its scope. Its ambition. It is just down-right tenacious in the vision it puts forward. At the same time, it raises a lot of questions and does not put to bed many prior concerns with a single, global agenda formed by an elite few. While the panel’s roadmap is not a GPS for ending extreme poverty, it does offer the vision and the conditions for doing so. In effect, it is a street directory, which individuals, communities, organisations and governments can use to find the best path forward towards meeting many of the goals and ending extreme poverty.

A picture is worth 1000 words: what does aid/development mean to you?

Weh Yeoh’s recent post about aid work, ego and selfies, which generated a lot of head nodding and fist shaking, taps into something very personal. It challenges self perceptions around who we think we are, not only as aid workers, but as people. For me, the actions described by Weh of selfies, #humblebrags and feet pics are not created in an effort to communicate with family and friends; to keep those close to us updated and involved in our life no matter where we are. They are taken, written and posted in an effort to collect likes and be likeable; to generate reinforcing comments and seek attention. Ultimately, to remind family, friends and the other 95% of Facebook Friends, who are not actually your friends, that you exist.

These actions are not about aid/development work, and aid/development work is not about you. But, you cannot take yourself completely out of your work. For many, their professional life defines them (for better or worse). However, you can change, and collectively, we can change, how we communicate about ourselves and what we do. Indeed, it is important to acknowledge what your work means to you. This is in no way similar to making your work about you.

We asked the participants in our Peer Coaching Pilot to respond to the following question with an image: What does aid/development mean to you?

We have six submissions so far, and want to open this call to action to you. Send your image that best describes what aid/development means to you.

You can send your images to submissions@whydev.org. Please include a short description of the image and why you chose it.


most encouraging email

“Aid, to me, is all about encouragement. I may not always be able to give money to the people seeking grants, but that doesn’t mean I can’t treat them with respect and give their email a thoughtful response. Replies like the one shown in my photo are the ones that keep me going. If I was the most encouraging person he had interact with in 6 years, then I must be doing something right. Also, for me, aid/development work IS computer/email work!” – Tanya Cothran


“I like this picture because to me, international development is working for the people to get them the tools to work for their own development. In this picture, the teacher is Haitian and she is teaching Haitians. She was educated in this school. What I also like in this picture, is that it is a woman teaching mechanics to men mostly in a professional school.” – Johanne Veilleux

A common thing we heard was _why should the refugees have a high standard of living, when many Indians don't even enjoy one__

“This photo was taken in Delhi, India, next to a conference room where a group of us were working with refugees from Burma, Afghanistan and Somalia. Sitting in this room, we were discussing the situation that they faced in Delhi and how their problems might be addressed. Although, at times, the discussion seemed quite theoretical and disconnected from reality, it only took one look outside the room to see the incredible poverty that surrounded us. These two men were sorting through an enormous pile of rubbish by hand, looking for whatever they could find, which would be of value for sale. This scene reminds me that no matter at what level you work at, and how disconnected from reality you get, it is always important to keep some links with what people are facing on a day to day basis.” – Weh Yeoh


“This photograph was not taken by me, but by Rahamatu, a 15-year old Fulani girl in northern Ghana. She agreed to take part in a participatory research project I facilitated , which included a photography component. Children participated in the research process by exploring literacy in their homes and communities. She was out-of-school, but enrolled in an accelerated literacy and numeracy program. Rahamatu is bright, charismatic, motivated and a natural photographer. But, she is also a girl, belongs to an ethnic minority, lives in a remote community in northern Ghana and dropped out of school after Grade 1. In other words, the most likely to be excluded from full participation in education and suffer the consequences of such exclusion. Development means supporting the aspirations of girls like Rahamatu and having high expectations of them. Development means ensuring their right to education and laying a foundation for change that will run through the future generations of her family.” – Brendan Rigby


“Development to me is about people and relationships. It is about trust, understanding, friendship and shared learning’s. This photo is of a grandmother I met in Malawi. Her granddaughter attended a school I visited. The girl brought me back to her village to show me where she lived and introduce me to her family. At first the grandmother was reluctant to have me in the village and questioned who I was and my intentions. After I explained who I was,  just a dirty, sweaty traveler and not a government official or NGO worker, she relaxed and allowed me to stay a while and play with her granddaughter. As I was leaving she gestured for me to take her picture so that I had something to remember her by. This interaction reminded me that sometimes as development workers we forget that our beneficiaries are people first, and a story, case study or statistic second.” – Rachel Kurzyp

Flood Dist copy

“Cambodia, November 2011 – travelling from Kampong Thom to Phnom Penh after a week distributing supplies to those affected by the devastating floods. Myself and four colleagues (in the 5 seater car there were actually 9 people). Development often means getting ‘close’ to people and coming to terms with things not happening quite like they do back home.” – Jacqui Collis

Update! Three new submissions


“I agree with a previous post that aid and development is about people and relationships. I also think it is about empowerment. This photo is of a maize farmer from Northern Ghana and even though he is in his mid-seventies, he possessed an enviable enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge that was only eclipsed by his sense of humour. He was always willing to offer his time and energy to our programs. This photo was taken shortly after interviewing him on camera. He was articulate, demonstrative and passionate and said the reason he participates in aid and development programs is to learn new skills that can help his family and that he can teach the rest of his community. He said ‘These programs help me to learn, because I always want to try and do things better.’ I later attended a conference where he travelled 12 hours by bus each way to take part in a one day practical workshop.” – Lee Davelaar


“This photo was taken in dec 2012 with Jan Khan (14yrs old) in Lunda village, Charsadda, Khyber Punkhtoonkhawa, Pakistan. Jan dreams is to become a film maker. For a day, I trained him and allowed him to ‘play’ with my camera! Her sister Khatija was born during floods 2012 and I have been following her life since her birth. Based on my experience working with donors, volunteers and the beneficiaries, I understand aid/development to be a partnership with all stakeholders: donors, volunteers and beneficiaries. A partnership based on respect, trust and confidence in each other. I believe our role as aid workers should be of support: knowledge, relevant training, providing the right guidance, tools and equipment and most importantly smiles to all involved. Our job as aid workers should be seen as a servant, serving donors, volunteers and beneficiaries. With this attitude, donors will donate more, volunteers will give more time and their energy and beneficiaries will lead and rise i.e. will be empowered and communities will achieve resilience.” – Habib Malik


“This picture is taken in Fort National – one of the most challenging and depressed neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It is an area characterized by violence, absence of economic activities and significant destruction after the earthquake. The women in the picture live in this neighborhood and have been involved in the project to remove the debris generated in January 2010. This has been done by hand because machines couldn’t reach the destroyed houses. Aid is for me creating the conditions for people to move on with their lives again, especially in the years following a disaster or violent conflict when the humanitarian emergency workers have left. It is for me about facilitating a process where opportunities can bear fruit and people start to experience that ‘hope’ is not an empty word. Aid is for me also about  listening and questioning the common logic. For example – it was assumed that manual debris removal would not be an appropriate activity for women because of its physical character. However, the women themselves told us loud and clear to be involved. For example, the women in this picture have been the most effective workers to get the job done. They have invested their revenue into the household and/or the community while the majority of the men were occupied with other less pressing priorities. Therefore, ensuring that women are at the center of any kind of aid project is of the highest essence. Finally, the debris removal and recycling programme in Haiti has been a deeply humbling experience.” – Afke Bootsman


“To me, development is about many things. It’s about sharing knowledge, from complex, technical expertise on mobile health platforms to something as simple as the ABCs. It’s about people – listening to them, working with them, and involving them every step of the way. It’s about getting your hands dirty. But most of all, it’s about striving every day to create peace and stability in the world.” – Jen Foth


“Development (and the will to develop) is a natural, inborn process. In whichever state we may encounter communities or organizations, they have been developing long before facilitators came into their lives and will continue to do so long after. We cannot deliver development – it is already happening. We need to read, respect and work with this. Photo of Chingwenya Support Group of the Namwera, Malawi by http://jooprubens.com/“. – Jennifer Lentfer

What aid means to Mandy Lee-2

“I feel that aid is about the vibrant, voiceless individuals who often fade into the background of development projects. Three years ago, I visited Kenya on a high-school exchange trip organized by my Kenyan biology teacher. It was my first encounter with the developing world, and it quickly shattered my notions about how I thought I should help others. Pictured here is a Masai girl with her infant sister, shyly watching our group tour her village. The women and girls were silent, overpowered by their male counterparts, who made sure to encourage us to purchase beaded bracelets and other handicrafts to “support the village.” In the end, one small girl told us that the women received none of the profits from their handiwork, which sustained their families and were often squandered by the men on alcohol and entertainment. These quiet struggles of key community members must be the focus of aid projects. As I pursue global public service, I will never forget that I can make a great difference by simply listening to the people I serve and acting as their instrument to create positive change.” – Mandy Lee


What is your favourite and why?


Fearful destiny: 2014 and the next generation of Afghans

This is the second post in our groundbreaking series, ‘Voices of Afghanistan’s Youth‘, featuring young Afghan students. Again, we present two posts and two writers, who are contemplating the future of their generation and their country. Haseeb is 18 years old and is more optimistic than his peers, believing that the future of Afghanistan lies in the economy. However, Qasem, a 23-year old English Literature student, sees a fearful destiny after both US troops withdraw and Afghanistan holds it general election.


Its the economy, stupid.

By Haseeb (18 years old)

First of all, its unlikely the Taliban will come back and rule or that there will be a civil war. The party that can cause a civil war is the opposition of Karzai’s Government, as General Abdul Rasheed Dostum (the same person who once killed thousands of Afghans because they raised up against USSR) announced a few days ago that if old cards are used we will not join the elections.

For his party, Junbish-e Milli-yi Islami-yi Afghanistan (National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan), the only clear and true election is one in which their candidate is chosen as President. Most of us are waiting for 2014. Some think of war, some think of opportunities. I think its a time for opportunities. The leaders who were fighting in the civil war are now either dead or have so much wealth that the don’t need to waste their time fighting. They are happy with their wealth. My conclusion is that war is unlikely to happen. There is only a 20% or 30% possibility that there will be civil war.

As for opportunities, only we can make the opportunities for ourselves. The economy of Afghanistan is very weak, because we don’t have production, we don’t export we just import. The only serious issue facing Afghans is a weak economy. Most Afghans are unemployed (estimated 35% unemployment rate in 2008). Just look at Japan. Afghanistan and Japan both achieved ‘nationhood’ within 30 years of one another (1919 and 1890 respectively), but japan fought during the Second World War, had a large empire and after nuclear weapons were used against them, Japan was in ruins.

But, from those ruins it rose again. Afghanistan just went on losing after its independence. If u ask an unemployed Afghan to do very low skilled jobs, 80% will refuse. Everyone wants better jobs. Everyone wants more money and the Government is not creating jobs to satisfy its citizens. Since 1919, most people have worked as farmers (78.6% in 2008).

I know I said alot of things going to the contrary, but my conclusion is after 2014, the only issue we have to worry about is our economy. And, its up to us to create a good economy. Start from ourselves instead of wasting money. Make some small businesses. Even a small shop has a role in the national economy.

The Taliban might have their people in Parliament or Ministries, but do you think they were always brutal? Most of them were not. They just wanted to make people do what Islam does and what Allah says, but the real problem was that they were supported by Pakistan. So, in most cases they had to do what Pakistan told them. I think that if they do come and have a place in the Haj wa auqaf or the Parliament, or if they make some laws which are parallel to Islam and human rights, it will be a great idea because Islam itself is the biggest human right.

We are waiting for 2014 and will not move unless there is a civil war. Afghanistan is our country. Only we can rebuild it and raise it to be a greater power in the region.


Despair of the future

By Qasem

Qasem is 23 years old, and a senior student of English Literature at KEU University, Kabul, Afghanistan. Say ‘hello’ to Qasam on Twitter @Qasem_Behnud.

As we are approaching to 2014, despair of the future is flawed in us. While the Taliban Regime crashed, we all became happy. The schools’ doors opened for Afghan children. Unfortunately, after a short time, the Taliban began suicide attacks and were killing more children, burning schools. Their strength increased day by day. But, officials weren’t seriously trying to stop the killing in Afghanistan. Leaders and politicians were busy with their own political dealings. A 10 year presence of the US and UN has led to more Afghan youths trained officially by foreign professors, and more Afghans getting scholarships to foreign countries for education.

2014 will be a horrible year for all Afghans. US troops and NATO are going to leave Afghanistan. All the results which have been acquired in 10 years: freedom of expression, free media, radios and more social associations will be in danger, because no one can guarantee them after 2014. There is no assurance for freedom of expression. After 2014, the Taliban might dominate again and limit the current facilities available for the young generation.

10 years presence of the US in Afghanistan. Millions $ has helped, but we couldn’t use it correctly. The Government officials filled out their pockets. And we couldn’t use in the ways which were needed; no one thought about the future. President Karzai doesn’t know the way of administration.

I fear from 2014 that all the hard work of ten years will be destroyed. We need the US to stay in Afghanistan. It’s our problem that we couldn’t make our country; millions $ came for rebuilding, but unfortunately it was spent by our own mafia of drugs. We could do nothing and having nothing to do, we just spent the money and slept.

We brag that we are Afghan. We call peace, and the word of peace became very common. We made a bad the name of peace. Announcing it on media, newspapers, radios and websites. If we really wanted peace, why do we kill each other? Why do we help the Taliban return again and kill again? Isn’t it enough to repeat a dark period again?

Those who are able to leave the country, they are leaving and persuade others to leave as soon as they can. But, I’m unable to leave. I have to stay and keep on my life here. Maybe I will try to leave. It’s not clear what will happen in the future. Anyway, the Presidential election in 2014 will take place and it will be difficult. Who should be selected for five years as a President of Afghanistan?

The Presidential election and leaving of foreign troops at the same time is the serious problem. Without foreign troops, it’s impossible to be secure during the election. The Taliban says that it will never accept the current constitution. They believe that the current administration should be eliminated, and the creation of a new administration by the Taliban should occur. Accordingly, no one is optimistic about the future and most of the people are afraid of 2014.

I call the presence of US in Afghanistan a golden time for changing, studying, developing and working. But, US cooperation is decreasing and limited. On the other hand, the Afghan Army is not equipped to take aerial operations or at the very least operate professionally.

Indeed, the fearful destiny of 2014 makes us hopeless. A big change is coming and it’s not clear how to live in the upcoming year. Therefore, the next election we face with various anxieties, but an unknown future will change the destination of people, who make a decision for the future which comes after 2014.


Afghanistan’s future: living in fear of 2014

This is the first post in a series entitled ‘Voices of Afghanistan’s Youth‘, which will feature the writings of Afghan university students. They are students at the American University in Afghanistan (AUAF). This unique series is both deeply personal and analytical. The students write on a range of topics from social media to security and education to aid effectiveness in Afghanistan. Allyson Krupar, an Instructor in the Department of IT & Computer Sciences at the AUAF facilitated and helped create this series. Many of the writers are her students.

President Obama, in his recent State of the Union address, announced the withdrawal of 34,000 troops by February 2014. The first two posts in this series reflect on the future of Afghanistan after this deadline and beyond. The first, entitled ‘Everybody has a plan to leave Afghanistan’, is by Zahra, a 23-year female student studying business administration. The second, entitled ‘What will happen after 2014′, is by a student who wishes to remain anonymous.


Everybody has a plan to leave Afghanistan

By Zahra

Zahra is a 23-year old Afghan woman, and currently an undergraduate student at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF). Zahra was raised in Iran, but is from Behsud, Afghanistan. She studies business administration at the AUAF. Zahra also works as project administrator in a NGO. Zahra’s family returned to Kabul 8 years ago.

I live in fear more and more as each day passes and it gets closer to 2014.

Everybody is talking about civil war again. Everybody has a plan to leave Afghanistan; they want to have a better life. But where? In a country that does not belong to them?

Everybody sees them as an unfortunate refugee. Today, in our office, my colleague said that she put her house on the market and want to go to Australia. “But how?”, I asked. She said like everybody else that goes. I said, “With an invitation? Do you know somebody there? Will they send you invitation letter?” She laughed at me. She said, “Oh no, we will go illegally”.

First India, then Indonesia. After that they will go by ship to Australia. I said it is a risk and her youngest child is only six. But, she is fed up with this life; with the situation in Afghanistan getting worse and worse every day. She wants a better life for her children, not for her self. She has been living her whole life in Afghanistan in war, in discrimination, in fighting, in bombs and suicide attacks. She does not want her children to experience those dark days like she did.

One day during the Taliban regime, she was in a bus when it was stopped by the Taliban. The men went into the bus and beat her with stick because she didn’t cover her face with a burqa. She doesn’t want to see her daughter beaten by the Taliban.

I fear what will happen. The only image that I have of the  Taliban is of men with a huge turbans, big weapons, Afghan clothes and lots of beards and mustaches. They do not like educated women like me. They want to kill those girls who go to universities or schools. When I think about the Taliban I feel nauseous. I hope they do not come back and Afghanistan does not go back to civil war again.

I am confused. What will be Afghanistan’s future? Why is this country like this? Aren’t we human? Don’t we want to spend our life in peace? Why? Why should we have reputation in the world for war and fighting. Every body knows Afghanistan as a place of fighting and war. I don’t like this. When I say I am from Afghanistan, I don’t want people to say to themselves, “She is a daughter of war. She comes from a land of war.”

God where are you? Don’t you see us? Don’t you see this unfortunate and destroyed country? Don’t you see these corrupt governors? Don’t you see these dusty and bumpy streets?

Oh god where are you? Really, where are you? What are you doing? What are you waiting for? Will it get worse? God, don’t you like Afghanistan? God, some of my people just kill themselves to come to you forever. They heard if they kill others they will reach you; is it right? People in this world have different imaginations of you. I sometimes get confused.

If Afghanistan was a peaceful country, a country without war, racism, killings then nobody would want to leave Afghanistan and put their lives and bodies in danger. We are getting crazy thinking about 2014 and civil war. We can’t enjoy our time right now as it passes. We are losing our time as these fears enter our mind.


What will happen after 2014?

By Anonymous

At the end of 2014, almost all foreign troops will leave Afghanistan, and the Afghan security forces will be responsible for securing Afghanistan. Moreover, all NGOs working in Afghanistan are expected to leave after withdrawal of US troops and the arrival of the Taliban.

Why this might be a problem?

In my view, I expect that the Taliban will re-take Afghanistan and the capital of Kabul. Although, there have been some progresses in Kabul, I think after withdrawal of US troops Afghanistan will be again a witness to civil war.

Back in 2001, the Taliban did not let people to use phones or connect with each other. They did not let girls study in schools or go outside for some reasons; they started punishing them in several ways. For instance, hitting women with a whip, stoning them in public, shooting them in public, and not letting their boys to study in best educational areas.

Military trainings were mandatory for every young person over 18. The situation of Afghanistan got better after the US invasion. Moreover, best achievements got after invasion US invasion like expanding educational areas and paving the way for youths to study on most of fields. Indeed, there are many private educational centers all over Afghanistan, which are effective. Additionally, the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was a great achievement.

Now, I am concerned about the future of Afghanistan after 2014, and I think the government will be retaken by the Taliban, and we will be under Taliban rules of law. Indeed, the Taliban mentioned in a conference for peace held in France that they do not want the current law of Afghanistan, and will demand many changes. This is a big concern; about going back to the situation prior to 2001.

The Afghan security forces are prepared to avoid harming civilians. Afghanistan’s government needs more funds to strengthen the Afghan Army. This will allow them to prepare and lead military operations throughout the country.

However, I think the Afghan government will not reach its destination, and they will fail again to control our own security. Afghans again will be the witnesses and casualties of civil war.