21 May 2019

Cassette tapes "cause" conflict

Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian published a very worrying paper in 2014 showing that US food aid causes conflict in recipient countries. Their research design used total US wheat production as a source of quasi-experimental variation in the amount of food aid countries received, to show causality rather than just correlation.

A new paper by Paul Christian and Christopher Barrett apparently debunks the study, showing that the "causal" correlation is spurious. Replace "US wheat production" with "US tape cassette sales" and you can almost exactly replicate the results. 

Which reminds me of an earlier paper showing that "average male organ length" is a strong predictor of GDP growth. We only have about 200 countries, which is not a lot of observations to power a robust statistical analysis, so you should take most cross-country empirical analyses with a pinch of salt. These "male organ" and "cassette sales" papers are helpfully colourful reminders.

HT: Jeffrey Bloem

07 May 2019

The Global Education Architecture is Broken

So says Nicholas Burnett in a (sadly, gated) essay for the International Journal of Educational Development.

Nicholas has some authority on the topic, as chair of the Board of UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning, and previously Director of the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report.

In his opening paragraph he writes;
"The international architecture for education is failing the world. There is little leadership; global priorities are obscure; the major debates are increasingly irrelevant and divorced from reality on the ground; the number of children out-of-school has stagnated for a decade; little progress has been made in tackling the global learning crisis; knowledge about what works in education is surprisingly limited; global public goods are massively underfunded; huge global financing requirements show little prospect of being met; and the neediest low-income countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, do not receive the external financial and technical support necessary if they are to develop their education systems."
Tell us what you really think Nicholas. 

He criticises:
"the work of the Right to Education Initiative lobby and its recent Abidjan Principles, which would have governments place severe restrictions on private education."
Points to a major problem being the decline of UNESCO:
"In the past, UNESCO could have been counted on to be the central voice advocating for education, including education as a human right, in international fora. UNESCO has become so weakened, however, by its internal politicization and inadequate budget, that it is no longer the respected international voice on education, rather just one of many rather weak voices. These problems preceded the withdrawal first of United States' financial support and, more recently, of US membership but these steps now mean that UNESCO cannot function effectively as it has insufficient resources. UNESCO’s total regular budget for education is now only $51 million per year."
With a few other choice quotes:
"It is a real paradox that those working in international education increasingly (and rightly) call for systems-wide approaches but fail to study their own non-functional international architecture system. 
... 
It is astonishing both how little we know about what works in education and how poorly we disseminate what we do know. 
... 
If the situation is bad regarding generating knowledge, it is even worse regarding promoting innovation in education. 
... 
There is thus no systematic regular review of how the international architecture is performing."
Well written and well worth reading in full.