The most pressing issue with Education

Feeling the pressure to do something during the summer I continue applying for internships and recently send in my application for one at the Education Policy Institute. After filling in my personal details I braced myself for another round of questions of the type "Give examples of where you demonstrated skill x" or "Show how you have effectively worked in teams before", but instead of standard questions that are frankly a pain to answer they came up with more specific scenarios. They did ask me where I saw myself in 5 years (President of the world, obviously) but one of the questions was "What do you think is the greatest challenge facing education today?". Intuitively I sighed at the thought of having to write another 400 words, but the question did get me thinking. What *is* the greatest challenge facing education today. From inequality in access to education around the world as well as a difference in the quality of education on a broad scale to the divide between private and public education in the UK, there are many to choose from.

Channeling my all time present feminist rage I decided to write about the gender differences in education. First, in many African countries, boys are still more likely to go to school than girls. The reasons for this are diverse, but the combination of poverty and persistent gender stereotypes provide us with a good starting point in trying to explain this gender gap. Girls might be expected to stay at home and help with chores (because who could be better at washing dishes than a woman???) or families can only afford to send one of their children to school, favoring the sons. Even when girls do attend schools the expected years of education and quality of education can be ridiculously low (check out this amazing visualized data thing I found on the UNESCO site to get a better picture of what's going on). Increasing the quality of education is a general concern that will require investments, but we need to take on a gendered perspective to ensure girls can benefit from this, too. Incentive schemes such as this one award cash payments to families whenever their daughter reaches a milestone in education. These types of programs should be coupled with increased awareness of the value of girls education. On an individual level education can change lives, it can open up opportunities for girls to pursue their own career, become independent and realize their own potential. The effects education has on a person's life are long-lasting and can influence not just the type of work they do but how engaged they are with politics for example. Furthermore, an increase in women's education is correlated with the development of a country. Crucially, whether education causes development is unclear, but intuitively investing in the brainpower of half of the population and giving them an opportunity to develop and apply their skills seems like a good recipe for development (at least to me). 

While it's easy to point to places where women's education still looks bleak, gender stereotypes and inequality persist in the developed world, too. On the surface, education seems to be equal between the genders, but there is a difference in the socialization between boys and girls that shapes their expectations of a future career and education plays a role in this, too. The gender wage gap persists in many countries, and we still have a particular gender in mind when we think of doctors, CEOs or managers (as opposed to flight attendants, nurses, and caregivers). As I have previously pointed out this is an issue for economics, too. So what does education have to do with this? Think of the textbooks and examples of jobs you've seen when you are a kid. How many of the doctors were female, what types of jobs did women and men have in the examples? More directly how were you advised in your career plans? Were you suggested/ encouraged to take part in science fairs and math modules or philosophy and writing? These links seem less direct or evident than hard data but what we communicate to young girls (explicitly or inexplicitly) on what type of career they can or should pursue can have a lasting impact, and education should play a role in equalizing the expectations kids have for their career. This can be done through direct encouragement of girls to get engaged in fields that have been historically male-dominated but most importantly, we need to reject the notion that education is "gender-blind" and instead take a gendered perspective on how we educate boys and girls differently. 

Education is one of the most important factors in any person's life and it's crucial that we fully recognize gender inequality in education. 
Thanks, @Education Policy Institute for giving me an opening to rant about gender, I will now return to answering more questions about situations where I have demonstrated time management/ organization/ responsibility/ determination/ focus...

Suspect Stats

Statistics are great. They can be used to confirm hypotheses, explain phenomena, underline issues and much more. They are also not the infallible construct they are sometimes portrayed to be. Statistics are often heralded as a neutral device, a bundle of facts which cannot be easily countered however, this is not always the case. Statistics can also be political, they should be interrogated in much the same way as other arguments before accepting their suppositions.

The case study I will be using in this article relates to reporting on development. The topic of global poverty and inequality is a discourse heavily steeped in disagreement and controversy, with competing perspectives on the targets and policy to reach said targets inspiring heated debate. According to Oxfam, the 26 richest people in the world have a combined wealth equal to the bottom 50% of the world's population. A 12% increase in the wealth of the world's billionaires has occurred parallel to an 11% decrease in the wealth of the poorest half of the world's population. Strangely, the World Bank uses statistics to illustrate a different picture of the world, claiming that in 37/41 developing countries and emerging economies, the Gini coefficient ( a commonly used economic tool to measure inequality) has demonstrated that inequality has either remained stable or decreased between 2007 and 2015.
But which of these is true? Well, technically both are!
Methodological differences
Key to the use of statistics is how such conclusions were reached through statistical investigation. Oxfam tends to use data with an emphasis on wealth whilst the World Bank uses income. In terms of poverty calculation, Oxfam considers relative poverty, with the World Bank opting for absolute poverty.
Data selection
The data used by respective organisations also has a large role to play within the derivation of the final statistics. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the claims made by the World Bank originate from highly selective data use. A limited number of countries being used bolsters hypotheses whilst the selection of data from 2007-2015 makes use of the impact from the financial crisis which saw even the wealthy lose out. Moreover, attempting to rebut fears surrounding the wealth of the top 10%, the World Bank chose a case study of Russia between 2008-2015 where the share of wealth for the top 10% decreased by 4%, failing to include the subsequent upturn beginning in 2016.

Renowned economist Paul Romer, chief economist at the World Bank recently resigned after criticising the lack of integrity used within World Bank reports as motivated by ideological drivers. This further drives home the point that statistics hold purpose and we must be aware of who they are being used for and the political element entangled within methodology and selection.

The Economists Grey’s Anatomy: Kaul’s Regression Analysis

Growing up I wanted to become a doctor and in retrospect, I cannot deny that this was possibly due to me watching Grey’s Anatomy in my early teens. Re-watching the show now, as a fully-grown adult (okay, almost fully-grown, after all, I only turn 21 in a few weeks) I understand why. Grey’s Anatomy has a reputation as a chick-flick but it is so much more than that (check out my rant on twitter about this a few months ago). Surely, it has a bunch of relationship drama and I doubt everyone in a hospital can be that good looking, but it also has a ton of badass women which signaled that women can be and do anything. While I doubt making a choice about your future career based on a TV show is the best way to go, I wonder if people (especially young girls) would at least consider becoming an economist if there was a show about economists as cool as Grey’s Anatomy.

Therefore, my pitch for: “Kaul’s Regression Analysis” (if you’re a producer/work in media DM me).
We follow a young female economist who is a researcher and lecturer at a University and her colleagues through their daily life of enticing research ideas, the struggle to find grants (and motivation), and, of course, relationship drama (full disclosure, I’m only in my second year of studying economics so I don’t know too much about what the life of an economist truly looks like, but then again, I doubt Grey’s Anatomy accurately reflects the life of a doctor). I imagine scenes with the protagonist sitting in a beautiful cafĂ© with perfect lighting as she drinks her coconut latte and tries to find causal relationships in her data. Other characters could include a quirky but loveable research assistant, students at the university, her colleagues and many more. Each season could be concerned with one big research question like why do fewer women than men study economics (maybe the answer will be that there’s no cool show about economists, who knows?). Then each episode would be partly concerned with getting closer to answering that question, but will also discuss the “fun” sides of economics, like interesting papers and obscure findings – Freakonomics style.

All joking aside I do think changing the public image about economics could be beneficial to the discipline. My roommate confessed to me yesterday that he doesn’t really know what economics is (after we’ve been living together for two years) and that he always just thinks its finance. I think this misconception is widespread because whenever economics is mentioned in the media it’s in the context of financial markets or the financial crisis. This portrayal, however, doesn’t do justice to a discipline as broad as economics which could include anything from gender bias to environmental issues and risk assessment. Efforts such as the Freakonomics Books and the Planet Money podcasts that make economics fun and understandable to non-economists are a first step in making economics go mainstream and thus attractive to a broader audience. Because the potential research question I mentioned earlier (why do fewer women than men study economics) is a real puzzle that could partly be explained by how women perceive the climate in economics and their chances for success. Because if economics is perceived as mainly finance, and any economist you have ever seen or heard of is a white dude that signals women that this is just not the place for you, regardless of the fact that they have the grades (and the brains) to succeed. I imagine more creative solutions and ideas for society if economics was able to draw on a more diverse talent pool with different, original ideas. Hence my pitch for a prime-time show featuring an unrealistic share of attractive people playing economists showing how fun, exciting and diverse economics can be.

Reasons to be Happy

As I readjust to a semester of work and recover from my panicked anticipation of assessment centres, I have decided to dedicate this post to the detailing of developments (mainly in 2018) whether this be scientific, technological, political, economic etc to brighten up your Monday morning and remind you that even when all you can see is BREXIT there is life beyond. Please feel free to add to this list in the comments as I am sure there are infinitely more things to be happy about than this limited compilation.

  • Scientists have combined 3D printing technology to print organs that replicate soft tissue organs like lungs. 3D bioprinting has significant implications for the provision of organs within operations as well as facilitating learning.
  • Early detection 'liquid biopsy' has been used to identify tumours before they become life threatening and spread.
  • Human eggs are grown in a lab by researchers at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Scientists from Harvard identify processes to prevent cell death and ageing in mice. This holds implications for further progress into researching ageing processes within humans.
  • Scientists have cloned two monkeys- some may feel this is actually something to be scared about.
  • Clean energy from natural gas may soon be a possibility. The Net Power project is aiming to create zero carbon natural gas for the same price as standard natural gas

  • You may have started to see Microsoft Artificial Intelligence advertisements before your YouTube videos. This technology developed by Alibaba and Microsoft has achieved better than average performance than human beings on writing and numerical tests.
  • MIT engineers created a computer chip which processes information similarly to the human brain.
  • Watch a robot autonomously assemble an IKEA chair.
  • Virtual Reality is more effective at making people compassionate than other media formats.
  • Robots created from DNA strands are being used to fight cancer. These robots are able to target only the cancerous cells, leaving the rest of the body unharmed.
  • 3D printing has been used to print metal, potentially altering manufacturing processes and decreasing operating costs.
  • A new smart-city scheme has been conceived in Canada; rather than creating a brand new city, investment is being pumped into an existing urban neighbourhood to rebuild it using the latest technology.
  • 'Babel Fish buds' have been created in the form of 'Pixel buds' which can translate dialogue in real time.
Check out the podcast series including former Labour leader Ed Miliband to gain insight into innovative ideas within political debates: