Importance of Education in Development

A comment I had heard recently by a UNICEF expert on BCC said that for countries with limited resources, if there was one thing they should invest in, it would be education, especially that of girls. Two articles in the Economist look at education in South-East Asia and more generally, in the poor countries.

Besides abolishing fees, there are several things that governments can do to get more children into school. In rural areas, families are sometimes reluctant to let their children go to school because they need extra hands to work in the fields or perform household chores. One way round this is to provide free food in schools, as happens in South Africa and India. Pupils become less of a drain on the household budget if they are fed in school, and they can also concentrate better. Ideally, they should also be well fed before they reach school age. Malnourishment stunts brains as well as bodies. If severe in the first few years of life (or in the womb), the effects can be irreversible. By one estimate, better nutrition would raise average IQs in poor countries by 10-15 points.

Globally, girls are more likely than boys to miss school. Poor families often choose to educate their sons first, and it is usually girls who drop out to care for sick parents. Sometimes families are wary of letting their daughters walk long distances to be taught by male strangers. Such fears can be assuaged by opening lots of smaller schoolssometimes only a single classroomcloser to where people live, as Egypt has.

Educating girls is doubly important because it makes them more likely to ensure that their own children are educated. As countries grow richer, girls tend to catch up with boys academically. In parts of western Europe, they have overtaken them. That is still far off in poor countries, but it is never too early to start trying.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Kenan Sahin (Tech Review, via WSJ) writes about the “innovation backlog” in the US and makes suggestions which we in India could do well to learn and adopt:

It’s not only innovation that matters — it’s the rate at which innovations are improved and brought to market. And this has declined precipitously since the bust. The result is a surplus of innovations, with vast numbers of potentially important advances being warehoused or shelved.

This situation leaves us with a greatly underappreciated challenge: how to unlock the benefits stored in the increasing backlog of innovations, prevent further disruptions in the innovation-to-implementation flow, and avert the looming crisis. Efforts to meet that challenge should be undertaken at the same time that we begin documenting the extent of the innovation backlog, so that the burst of creativity that produced it isn’t lost forever. I have some suggestions for how to proceed:

  • Adopt alternative industry models: Think of universities, research hospitals and large corporate labs as innovation sources. They can be characterized as R&d (big research and small development) organizations. Most companies, with their marketing and production arms, would be d&D (small development, big delivery) enterprises. The lack of a strong connection between these groups is partly responsible for today’s innovation backlog. Therefore, we need more “linkage” companies to bridge the gap. These are rD&d organizations. They have some research capability in order to link to the sources of innovation, and a delivery component that helps get products to market, but their main activity is in developing innovations for market.

  • Loosen university intellectual-property rules: University-based research thrived in the 1980s and ’90s because of extensive company sponsorships that spawned new innovations, as well as start-ups. That coupling is much weaker now, partly for reasons already mentioned, but also because the intellectual-property policies of universities have become so complex and money-oriented that companies find it increasingly difficult to structure deals. These restrictive policies may also cause academics to lose their entrepreneurial spirit. I suggest that universities allow faculty members to keep a much bigger share of the intellectual property they create, and also change their rules to encourage the transfer of intellectual property, focusing more on their fundamental mission than on revenue generation.

  • Create federal incentives: The U.S. government could create a series of incentives to encourage innovation implementation. For instance, Small Business Implementation grants could provide tax credits or other incentives to companies that license or purchase innovations and bring them to market. This would encourage implementation in much the same way that R&D credits encourage idea generation.

  • India is at a threshold where, if it focusing on enabling innovations and entrepreneurship, it can become the role model and solutions provider for other emerging markets – the bottom of the pyramid with a potentila market of 4 billion people. As Sahin concludes: “we also need a culture change. In the technology-happy 1980s and ’90s, entrepreneurship centered on innovation. The founder/technologist was an entrepreneurial hero. But it has become abundantly clear that while innovation is important, it is perhaps only 5% to 10% of success. The other 90% to 95% is implementation. We need to find ‘implementation entrepreneurs’ and make them our new heroes.”