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How Are the World’s Children Doing?

Children have the right to learn, photo: D Sharon Pruitt/flickr

A UNICEF report titled “The Children Left Behind”, to be released today, examines the level of inequality in the education, well-being and health of children in the world’s richest countries. The countries with the least inequality were the usual lot: Iceland, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway.

While Finland, for example, tops the list in terms of having the most equal education system, it fares less well on the health front. Despite free and healthy school meals, Finnish media decried, Finnish children are still not eating enough vegetables and fruit. Switzerland, somewhat unsurprisingly, tops the list as the country with the highest level of material well-being for kids. While Canadian authorities and media reacted with shock at how badly off Canadian children are in terms of material well-being and health, the US ranks even far below its northern neighbor (near the bottom of 24 OECD countries under scrutiny). This should ruffle some feathers in the US and show how vulnerable children in particular are to societal inequality. Sadly, given the intensely polarized political environment, this important report is likely to get buried under a myriad of apparently much more urgent policy concerns.

Yet, the US, like any other wealthy nation not only owes its children a good standard of living from a moral standpoint, but also has to provide it in order to compete in tomorrow’s increasingly crowded knowledge economy in which a pool of healthy, smart and motivated young people is a prerequisite for success. Inequality, ill-health and resentment will hamper growth and make countries less dynamic and less competitive, regardless of their relative ranking in the world today. » More

Europe’s Pariah People

One man in ten million, photo: Zsolt Bugarszki/flickr

With over 10 million members, the Roma (also called Romani) constitute today’s largest EU minority group. Scattered across a dozen countries, with their largest concentrated populations in Central and Eastern Europe, they have become Europe’s current pariah people.

In July of this year, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his government’s plans to deport thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma migrants back to their home countries. Already in 2009, roughly 10,000 Roma were expelled from France, and around the same number has been driven out thus far this year. In Italy, where authorities already started to deal with the ‘Roma question’ back in 2008, large-scale evictions of Roma from settlements across the country are already taking place. In Milan alone, officials have expelled over 7,000 Roma over the past two years.

France and Italy are, however, not alone in evicting the Roma. Across Western Europe, politicians and public officials are tripping over themselves with declarations proclaiming that Roma as an ethnic group are dangerous and predisposed to crime and other antisocial behavior, and must therefore be removed from society as quickly as possible. In light of this, numerous Western European countries (namely Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and the UK) have either already moved to expel the Roma, or intend to do so in the nearby future.

In Eastern Europe, meanwhile, where most Roma live, the situation has never been anything but hideous. Across the region, Roma communities are denied equal access to adequate housing, education, health, water and sanitation, and thus remain deprived of all prospects. In addition, anti-Roma violence remains a serious and, in many places even an increasing problem, exacerbated by the fact that most perpetrators of violence against Roma continue to act with impunity.

However, discrimination against the Roma is not a new phenomenon. » More

Soap? No, Thanks.

High-tech tools versus basic needs

High-tech tools versus basic needs

Education in developing countries is often a subject of controversy. But it can also be an example of absurdity.

Let’s take the example of technological development in Namibia.

Namibia, with 2 million inhabitants and a $5,000 a year per capita GDP, is one of the richest countries in Africa. It has also been politically stable since it gained independence from South Africa in the 1990s. Natural resources, uranium and diamonds among them, as well as tourism guarantee the country a comfortable income.

But the country is also benefiting from international aid.

The Polytechnic of Namibia, the leading technical university of the country, benefits from aid it gains from international foundations. Recently they received 30 spectrophotometers, for example. This tool is used to study the electromagnetic spectra of an object. A foundation answered to a request by the Polytechnic that wanted these tools to compete technologically with the best universities in the world. With one spectrophotometer costing approximately $5,000,  the donation amounted to $150,000.

This is a lot for a university where some professors don’t earn as much as one spectrophotometer costs during one year. And the ‘funny’ part of the story is that these tools are not used more than a few times a year.

While every chemistry students of the Polytechnic now has his or her own spectrometer, the university still lacks some basic supplies. It doesn’t have soap, for example, which is crucial when analyzing bacteria or working with chemistry products. It should be used daily in a laboratory. Last month, one international professor that was working there, had to ask the kitchen if she could borrow the soap to show the students how to clean their hands before analyzing bacteria with a microscope.

But what does this example tell us? » More

ISN Weekly Theme: Challenging Education

Empty examination desks in Singapore, photo: Richard Lee/flickr

This week the ISN takes a closer look at education, society’s great equalizer. In today’s knowledge economies, education is receiving increasing attention, but are educational policies meeting the needs of our rapidly changing and highly heterogeneous societies? What does an appropriate and effective education in the 21st century even look like?

Our Special Report contains the following content:

  • An Analysis by Jayne Brady examines the tendency for educational systems to put too much emphasis on English-language learning and on the universality of some educational standards. She calls for more focus on the local capacities and needs of developing countries in particular.
  • A Podcast with Dr Alison Wolf questions some of our core beliefs about education, including the link between education and economic success and the relative efficiency of private and public educational provision.
  • Security Watch stories on Brazil’s comprehensive national strategy that includes an educational focus, and the struggle for girl’s education in Afghanistan.
  • Publications covering the EU-Central Asia Education Initiative, India’s skills deficit, the status of religious coexistence and education in Bosnia and Herzegovina and many more.
  • Primary Resources, including President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech, which emphasized the need to transform education to meet the needs of a new age.
  • Links to relevant websites, including Liz Coleman’s TED talk on the need for radical reform in higher education.
  • Our IR Directory with relevant organizations, including the Civic Education Project and the EG West Centre.
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Fifteen Questions to Save Earth

If you have ever asked yourself one of the following questions, August 1st will bring you answers:

  • 1. How can sustainable development be achieved for all while addressing global climate change?
  • 2. How can everyone have sufficient clean water without conflict?
  • 3. How can population growth and resources be brought into balance?
  • 4. How can genuine democracy emerge from authoritarian regimes?
  • 5. How can policymaking be made more sensitive to global long-term perspectives?
    Futurism, photo: Adam Kang/flickr

    Futurism, photo: Adam Kang/flickr

    » More

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