The Washington Post has its annual lists of 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction and 50 Notable Works of Fiction. Lots of great writing, but not much by African writers. On the fiction list, we have Lagos-based Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer, which I’m excited to read and comes out in a few days. On the nonfiction list, we have The Girl who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After, by Rwandan-born Clementine Wamariya (and Elizabeth Weil).
Honorable mention to Tomi Adeyemi — American-born but of Nigerian parents — for Children of Blood and Bone, also on the fiction list.
What other fiction and nonfiction books by African writers — released in 2018 — should be on this list?
Over the course of last year, I worked closely with counterparts in the Government of Rwanda to map what human capital investments would be most likely to lead to high economic growth in the coming decades. It was a satisfying, collaborative process, and it felt like our findings on the quality of education reached high levels of government decisionmaking.
That work is now included in a volume — Future Drivers of Growth in Rwanda: Innovation, Integration, Agglomeration, and Competition. Our chapter — written by Francois Ngoboka, Ignace Gatare, Rose Baguma, Jee-Peng Tan, Deepika Ramachandran, Fei Yuan, and me — begins on page 51.
Rwanda will not achieve upper-middle income status without a dramatic increase in school completion. Even the bottom 25th percentile of upper-middle-income countries have primary completion rates of 94 percent, about 50 percent higher than Rwanda’s current rate. The median primary completion rate in upper-middle-income countries is nearly 100 percent. Likewise, the median lower-secondary completion rate for upper-middle-income countries is 87 percent, more than 2.5 times Rwanda’s current rate. The disparity is even greater for upper-secondary completion. Expanding basic education, together with ensuring quality, is essential for Rwanda’s sustained growth.
Much more on the quality of education, stunting, fertility, training, and more, in the report.
Early in Arundhati Roy’s novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, one practitioner of herbal remedies “believed that poetry could cure, or at least go a long way towards curing, almost every ailment. He would prescribe poems to his patients the way other hakims prescribed medicine.” Later, one woman — Tilo — tells her lover, “Let’s read a poem before we sleep.”
I’ve inconsistently adopted Tilo’s habit of reading a little bit of poetry before bed or sometimes at other times. So where does a decided non-expert find great poetry?
I identified ten lists of the best poetry collections published in 2017. Between them, they recommend a whopping — not a word I’ve read in many poems — 110 collections. But just 10 collections are recommended on at least 3 lists. So here they are, the “top 10” poetry collections from 2017. You can find the full list of 100 collections here. May your soul be either soothed or agitated as you read, depending on the collection!
1. Don’t Call Us Dead, by Danez Smith (recommended on 5 lists)
2. Whereas, by Layli Long Soldier (4 lists)
And the remaining 8 of the top 10 are all tied for third, recommended on 3 lists each.
3.1 Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016, by Frank Bidart
3.2 When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, by Chen Chen
3.3. My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter, by Aja Monet
3.4. Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, by Mary Oliver
3.5. Nature Poem, by Tommy Pico
3.6. Good Bones, by Maggie Smith
3.7. Afterland, by Mai Der Vang
3.8. Phrasis, by Wendy Xu
Have you read any of these? Or others? What do you think?
Ben Piper is an education researcher with at least three outstanding qualities. He’s incredibly productive, with at least 11 publications in the last 12 months. His work is deeply policy relevant, answering questions that policymakers are asking: How can we implement teacher coaching at scale? How much scripting in learning is helpful for teachers? And he’s a really nice person, per my several interactions with him.
Here’s a cursory review of those last 11 publications. You can read about more here.
- How much does learning one language help you learn another? In Kenya, comparing kids instructed in Kiswahili to those instructed in English reveals that it goes both ways. “Cross-language transfer of reading skills: an empirical investigation of bidirectionality and the influence of instructional environments” (with Kim)
- Is it possible to scale up an effective education pilot? In Kenya, a scaled program showed impacts on learning. This paper documents how. “Scaling up successfully? Lessons from Kenya’s Tusome national literacy program” (with Destefano, Kinyanjui, & Ong’ele)
- In a decentralized system, how do countries provide resources for early child education programs? Qualitative evidence from Kenya “Scaling Up Early Childhood Development and Education in a Devolved Setting: Policy Making, Resource Allocations, and Impacts of the Tayari School Readiness Program in Kenya” (with Merseth & Ngaruiya)
- After comparing three models for improving literacy in Kenya, a combination of “PD, teacher instructional support and coaching, 1:1 student books, and structured teacher lesson plans” was most effective AND most cost-effective. “Identifying the essential ingredients to literacy and numeracy improvement: Teacher professional development and coaching, student textbooks, and structured teachers’ guides” (with Zuilkowski, Dubeck, Jepkemei, & King)
- Across 13 countries & 19 projects, “structured teachers’ guides improve learning outcomes, but that overly scripted teachers’ guides are somewhat less effective than simplified teachers’ guides that give specific guidance to the teacher but are not written word for word for each lesson in the guide.” “Effectiveness of teachers’ guides in the Global South: Scripting, learning outcomes, and classroom utilization” (with Sitabkhan, Mejia, & Betts)
- In the era of free education, why do parents choose private schools? “Drawing on parent survey and interview data, as well as interviews with national policy makers, we found that parents who chose LCPS for their children were more driven by quality concerns than were public school parents.” “Parents, quality, and school choice: why parents in Nairobi choose low-cost private schools over public schools in Kenya’s free primary education era” (with Zuilkowski, Ong’ele, & Kiminza)
- Are you a big fan of mother-tongue instruction? In Kenya, “assignment to the mother-tongue group had no additional benefits for English or Kiswahili learning outcomes beyond the non-mother-tongue group, and that the mother-tongue group had somewhat lower mathematics outcomes.” “Examining the secondary effects of mother-tongue literacy instruction in Kenya: Impacts on student learning in English, Kiswahili, and mathematics” (with Zuilkowski, Kwayumba, Oyanga)
- Summer reading loss: Not just for rich countries anymore. Big losses during school breaks in Malawi. “Is summer loss universal? Using ongoing literacy assessment in Malawi to estimate the loss from summer breaks” (with Slade, Kaunda, King, & Ibrahim)
- Is it possible for a large-scale education technology program to work? In Kenya, tablets went to 1,200 instructional coaches. This study documents usage and effectiveness. “Implementing large scale instructional technology in Kenya: Changing instructional practice and developing accountability in a national education system” (with Oyanga, Mejia, & Pouezevara)
- Here’s how we’re working to use research to affect large-scale education policy “Improving learning in Sub-Saharan Africa using rigorous research designs”
- How does teacher coaching affect teachers’ attitudes and practices in Kenya? (I’m not sure, since this one ) “Instructional coaching in Kenya: Supporting teachers to improve literacy outcomes” (with Zuilkowski)
Ben and his co-authors are working in real time, in the real world, which means that not every study has a massive sample or a perfectly clean identification strategy. (Many do, but not all.) But policymakers are making decisions in real time, in the real world, and Ben’s work contributes to better policymaking. Don’t get me wrong: I love big samples and perfectly clean identification strategies. But I also posit that we can learn a lot from different kinds of studies.
You might have noticed Stephanie Zuilkowski as an author on several of these papers. She’s another extremely active education researcher, with lots of other interesting work. Maybe I’ll be do a full rundown another day, but in the meantime, check out her work here.
July included a lot of family vacation, which — for me — translates to wonderful memories but less reading time. So it’s a short list for July!
The Goldilocks Challenge: Right-Fit Evidence for the Social Sector, by Mary Kay Gugerty and Dean Karlan — With an increasing emphasis on measuring the impact of non-profits and other pro-social organizations, simple monitoring can get neglected. Yet monitoring systems are fundamental to every organization, for understanding whether they’re delivering the services they intend to deliver. Gugerty and Karlan offer a set of clear principles for monitoring systems that aren’t too burdensome nor too slight, but just right. I wrote a fuller review at the Development Impact blog.
The Regional Office Is Under Attack, by Manuel Gonzales — There’s a team of women assassins. And they’re going up against another team of women assassins (the titular “regional office”), one of whom has a robot arm. There are references to the actual mission of the regional office — say, suppressing “a den of werewolves, or a nest of vampires” or battling someone’s “dead wife from the bowels of hell” or a “demon horde” — but the whole novel revolves around one assassin on each side and their stories. It’s lots of fun, full of pop-culture references (She had “one real option — to ‘Die Hard’ it John McClane style”) and life wisdom (“She’d rather they’d just given her her job to do and not this management position because what a pain in the ass managing people was turning out to be”). I found the pacing imperfect, but I had a great time. NY Times review by Kelly Braffet: “it’s rollicking good fun on the surface, action-packed and shiny in all the right places; underneath that surface, though, it’s thoughtful and well considered.”
When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead — This is one of those books that is technically science fiction, but you wouldn’t know it until you’re well into the book. It opens like a 1970s family drama revolving around Miranda, a sixth-grader, and her single mom. Then anonymous notes start appearing with strange requests. It’s all mysterious, maybe even a little bit eerie, but it all comes together in grand fashion. I listened to the audiobook in the car with my whole family, and once we got going, we couldn’t stop. NY Times review by Monica Edinger: “Smart and mesmerizing.”
Incidentally, the children’s classic A Wrinkle in Time plays a role in both The Regional Office and When You Reach Me, although unfortunately not in The Goldilocks Challenge. (Come on, Gugerty and Karlan!)