July 23, 2021

Global Economy and Development

Cash will soon be obsolete. Will America be ready?

BY Op-Ed, Brookings Institute

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Originally published on by Brookings Institute. Link to original report

( 6 mins)
By Erik Carter

When was the last time you made a payment with dollar bills?

Some people still prefer to use cash, perhaps because they like the tactile nature of physical currency or because it provides confidentiality in transactions. But digital payments, made with the swipe of a card or a few taps on a cellphone, are fast becoming the norm.

To keep their money relevant, many central banks are experimenting with digital versions of their currencies. These currencies are virtual, like Bitcoin; but unlike Bitcoin, which is a private enterprise, they are issued by the state and function much like traditional currencies. The idea is for central banks to introduce these digital currencies in limited circulation — to exist alongside cash as just another monetary option — and then to broaden their circulation over time, as they gain in popularity and cash fades away.

China, Japan and Sweden have begun trials of central bank digital currency. The Bank of England and the European Central Bank are preparing their own trials. The Bahamas has already rolled out the world’s first official digital currency.

The U.S. Federal Reserve, by contrast, has largely stayed on the sidelines. This could be a lost opportunity. The United States should develop a digital dollar, not because of what other countries are doing, but because the benefits of a digital currency far outweigh the costs.

One benefit is security. Cash is vulnerable to loss and theft, a problem for both individuals and businesses, whereas digital currencies are relatively secure. Electronic hacking does pose a risk, but one that can be managed with new technologies. (As it happens, offshoots of Bitcoin’s technology could prove helpful in increasing security.)

Digital currencies also benefit the poor and the “unbanked.” It is hard to get a credit card if you don’t have much money, and banks charge fees for low-balance accounts that can make them prohibitively expensive. But a digital dollar would give everyone, including the poor, access to a digital payment system and a portal for basic banking services. Each individual or household could have a fee-free, noninterest-bearing account with the Federal Reserve, linked to a cellphone app for making payments. (About 97 percent of American adults have a cellphone or a smartphone.)

To see how this might help, consider the payments that the U.S. government made to households as part of the coronavirus stimulus packages. Millions of low-income households without bank accounts or direct deposit information on file with the Internal Revenue Service experienced complications or delays in getting those payments. Checks and debit cards mailed to many of them were delayed or lost, and scammers found ways to intercept payments. Central-bank accounts could have reduced fraud and made administering stimulus payments easier, faster and more secure.

A central-bank digital currency can also be a useful policy tool. Typically, if the Federal Reserve wants to stimulate consumption and investment, it can cut interest rates and make cheap credit available. But if the economy is cratering and the Fed has already cut the short-term interest rate it controls to near zero, its options are limited. If cash were replaced with a digital dollar, however, the Fed could impose a negative interest rate by gradually shrinking the electronic balances in everyone’s digital currency accounts, creating an incentive for consumers to spend and for companies to invest.

A digital dollar would also hinder illegal activities that rely on anonymous cash transactions, such as drug dealing, money laundering and terrorism financing. It would bring “off the books” economic activity out of the shadows and into the formal economy, increasing tax revenues. Small businesses would benefit from lower transaction costs, since people would use credit cards less often, and they would avoid the hassles of handling cash.

To be sure, there are potential risks to central-bank digital currencies, and any responsible plan should prepare for them. For example, a digital dollar would pose a danger to the banking system. What if households were to move their money out of regular bank accounts and into central-bank accounts, perceiving them as safer, even if they pay no interest? The central bank could find itself in the undesirable position of having to allocate credit, deciding which sectors and businesses deserve loans.

But this risk can be managed. Commercial banks could vet customers and maintain the central-bank digital currency accounts along with their own interest-bearing deposit accounts. The digital currency accounts might not directly help banks earn profits, but they would attract customers who could then be offered savings or loan products. (To help protect commercial banks, limits can also be placed on the amount of money stored in central-bank accounts, as the Bahamas has done.) A central-bank digital currency could be designed for use across different payment platforms, promoting private sector competition and encouraging innovations that make electronic payments cheaper, quicker and more secure.

Another concern is the loss of privacy that central-bank digital currencies entail. Even with protections in place to ensure confidentiality, no central bank would forgo the ability to audit and trace transactions. A digital dollar could threaten what remains of anonymity and privacy in commercial transactions — a reminder that adopting a digital dollar is not just an economic but also a social decision.

The end of cash is on the horizon, and it will have far-reaching effects on the economy, finance and society more broadly. With proper preparation and open discussion, we should embrace the advent of a digital dollar.

Eswar Prasad (@EswarSPrasad) is a professor of trade policy at Cornell University, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of the forthcoming book “The Future of Money: How the Digital Revolution Is Transforming Currencies and Finance.”

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Figure of the week: Internet freedom in sub-Saharan Africa declines

( 3 mins) On September 21, Freedom House released its 2021 Freedom on the Net report, its annual survey and analysis of internet freedom around the world. This report assesses 70 countries from various regions (13 from sub-Saharan Africa) on obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. The 2021 edition finds that, globally, internet freedom has been on a decline for the 11th straight year. Despite this however, Sudan, Gambia, and South Africa all saw increases in internet freedom since last year.

In assessing internet freedom, the report creates a total score based on its assessment of obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. Based on those scores of 0-100, Freedom House then assigns ratings of free (scores 70-100), partly free (scores 40-69), and not free (scores 0-39).
Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, and Ethiopia were the region’s highlights in this report. In fact, Uganda saw one of the greatest internet freedom deteriorations, with its score dropping from 56 out of 100 to 49 since last year. Freedom House attributes this decline to government forces implementing stricter internet restrictions during recent political events and crises, including a five-day shutdown during January’s elections. Another factor in the decline of Uganda’s score is the cost of internet access: Internet access, specifically on cellular phones, costs 5,000 shillings (about $45) per 1GB, making it unaffordable for many citizens. Despite these challenges, Uganda still ranks higher on the list than Rwanda, Sudan, and Ethiopia—the three sub-Saharan countries categorized as “not free” in the report.
Figure 1. Sub-Saharan Africa Freedom on the Net rankings 2021

Source: Freedom on the Net Report 2021, Freedom House.
Rwanda, which the report scored better than almost all African countries in terms of access, still received an overall score of 38 out of 100, largely due to limits on content. According to the report, the Rwandan government restricts content that strays from the government’s official narrative. Freedom House also found that the government has and continues to suppress political commentary through surveillance, arrest, and intimidation, especially against journalists, activists, and opposition leaders.

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Sudan received a total score of 33 out of 100, a three-point increase from last year. Sudan’s low score is largely due to limits on access. In fact, internet penetration in Sudan is very low: Only about 31 percent of the population was using the internet as of January 2021, likely due to unreliable electricity supply. Low access is not the only reason for the country’s low score: Internet users continue to face harassment and intimidation from the government for their online content.
The lowest-scoring country in the region was Ethiopia, with a total score of 27 out of 100. Like many other countries in the region, much of its low score is due to obstacles to access, for which it received only 4 out of 25 points. Indeed, the country struggles with unreliable electricity, a problem that has been exacerbated by conflict in the region. In fact, the conflict has impacted other aspects of the score: The report states that since the start of the recent conflict, Ethiopian citizens have experienced higher restrictions in human rights online.
For more on Africa and the internet see, “Nigeria’s twitter ban is a misplaced priority” and “Ethiopia, human rights and the internet.”

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What do we know about the effects of COVID-19 on girls’ return to school?

( 8 mins) At its peak in 2020, COVID-19-related school closures affected more than 1 billion learners around the world. Girls’ education advocates feared the worst: Prolonged school closures and lockdowns would harm girls’ health and well-being, not to mention the continuity of their learning. The 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa foreboded a cocktail of threats including sexual and gender-based violence, unintended pregnancies, forced marriage, and early transitions to work. Estimates projected that between 11 million and 20 million girls would not return to school after COVID due to these and other factors.

Have these fears been realized?
We look at the evidence so far—including from within a portfolio of research funded by Echidna Giving’s COVID-19 response fund—to answer this question. While the evidence draws primarily from sub-Saharan Africa, we offer generalizable advice to education systems around the world grappling not only with when they will reopen fully, but also how many more times they may need to shut down and reopen as new waves and new variants of the coronavirus spread. (Note: Dana Schmidt, senior program officer, and Erin Ganju, managing director, are employees of Echidna Giving, which provides financial support for the Center for Universal Education. Brookings is committed to quality, independence, and impact in all of its work. Activities supported by its donors reflect this commitment.)
Recent evidence from Senegal and Ghana suggests good news when it comes to girls’ reenrollment.
Both countries saw surprisingly low overall dropout rates (1.6 percent and 2 percent, respectively) when schools reopened in November 2020 and January 2021, respectively. In Senegal, there was no statistical difference between the dropout rate for girls and boys, and in Ghana, boys—especially from poor and rural households—were more likely to have dropped out than girls. Similar findings have also been observed in Ethiopia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Nonetheless, this good news (for girls) is coupled with bad news for everyone in terms of learning loss, as reflected by grade repetition.
In Senegal, grade repetition nearly doubled from pre-COVID levels (rising from 6.3 percent to 11.4 percent). This was especially pronounced for students in exam years, or the last grade level of primary and secondary school. Meanwhile, in Ghana grade repetition nearly tripled from pre-COVID levels (rising from 3.5 percent to 10.5 percent), again with boys more likely to be repeating than girls. And in terms of numeracy scores, learning gains for both girls and boys in Ethiopia have slowed, with the gender gap narrowing slightly.
Although the aggregate statistics suggest that decades of efforts to normalize girls’ education are paying off, when you zoom in on adolescent girls, a more somber story emerges.
For many girls, COVID-19’s associated economic crises exacerbated gender inequalities that are more acute among older adolescents—from increased limitations on their freedom of movement to the need to care for younger siblings and perform household chores to the likelihood of being married off to relieve pressure on sparse household resources. When schools reopened after six months of closure in Uganda, 10 percent of grade 10 girls failed to return compared to 8 percent of grade 10 boys. Worse, 18 percent of grade 12 girls did not come back compared to 2 percent of grade 12 boys. A survey of nearly 4,000 adolescents living in urban settlements and rural counties in Kenya found that 16 percent of vulnerable adolescent girls compared to 8 percent of adolescent boys did not return to school when schools reopened in the country in January 2021.
The primary driver of dropout for girls has been economic—compounded by pregnancy.
A study of nearly 400 of the hardest-to-reach rural adolescent girls in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda found that 34 percent had lost a parent or guardian to COVID-19, 70 percent had to pursue income-generating activities, and 86 percent could not afford to return to school. Such economic precarity can drive adolescent girls into transactional sex to meet their basic needs. One study of adolescents in Nairobi, Kenya found that COVID-19 has increased young women’s financial dependence on transactional sex by 49 percent. Beyond economic precarity, the study of the hardest-to-reach adolescent girls also found that 29 percent of girls had dropped out of school during COVID. More than half of these girls dropped out because they were or recently had been pregnant. And of the girls who were planning to return to school, 30 percent were pregnant.
The mental health and psychosocial well-being of adolescent girls has quickly become a concern.
School closures, barriers to distance learning, economic insecurity, food insecurity, gender-based violence, and the health risks of COVID-19 have all increased adolescent girls’ concerns and feelings of hopelessness about their own educational futures. An earlier study of COVID-19 in Kenya found that older adolescent girls (15-19 years) were less likely to be engaged in distance learning, less confident that they would return to school, and more likely to experience symptoms of depression than younger adolescent girls (10-14 years). The aforementioned study on the hardest-to-reach adolescent girls in eastern Africa indicates high levels of academic anxiety among girls concerning their learning loss, the degree of remedial learning they will need, and the likelihood of having to repeat a grade and thus be much older than their peers.
Social stigma against teenage pregnancy magnifies these anxieties for many girls.
Pregnant girls who feel ashamed and fear being mocked by peers self-isolate further. For those who experienced sexual violence, the added trauma of abuse—oftentimes by men in their own household—adds another source of psychological stress and distress. Social stigma around their pregnancy not only puts them at greater risk of depression, but also places them even further out of reach from social support. Although communities in eastern Africa largely support adolescent girls returning to school, the situation is different for pregnant girls. Adolescent girls report how social stigma around teenage pregnancy mixes with a toxic school culture to push pregnant girls and school-aged mothers out of school.
COVID-19 is far from over, but we know enough about its impact to suggest immediate actions governments can take in response.
It is unclear which of the trends (both the positive and negative) that have emerged thus far will be sustained through repeated school closures and successive waves of COVID-19 variants. What is clear is that governments should factor the following into their COVID-19 education response and recovery plans:

Disaggregate reenrollment data by gender, age, wealth, and other intersecting factors that may shape the consequences of COVID-related school closures. While aggregate studies point to a surprisingly low dropout rate among girls, those studies that looked specifically at adolescent girls point to a very different picture. Girls and boys of different ages, of different wealth strata, and from rural or urban households experience different risks and different expectations and pressures on their time. Decisionmakers must take seriously these intersecting constraints, vulnerabilities, and associated risks to education continuity and recovery.
Weigh the health benefits of school closures against the known education, economic, social, and health costs—including the cost to mental health. The impacts of school closures on vulnerable segments of the population are severe and costly. Governments should factor in these costs when making decisions about school closures and find other ways to serve these populations if/when schools must be closed.
Design and implement school reentry policies for pregnant girls. The Ministry of Education in Kenya has shown that school dropout need not be a pregnant girls’ destiny. During the first year of the pandemic, the country saw a 131 percent increase in the number of girls who completed their secondary school exams in the hospital after giving birth, rising from 282 girls in 2019 to 652 in 2020. Elsewhere, pregnant girls are de facto expelled from school.
Address the education, economic, social, and health needs (including physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health) of adolescents. Emerging evidence clearly indicates how these needs intersect in complex ways, creating vulnerabilities that are especially unique to adolescent girls. Addressing these needs holistically—including through government and nongovernmental support, like cash transfers, in response to COVID-related job loss and food insecurity—will mitigate against the pathways that lead to adolescent girls’ unintended pregnancies and school dropout.

We are no longer dealing with hypothetical impacts on girls’ education. The studies highlighted above point to the ways COVID-19 has already disrupted the educational trajectories of adolescent girls in long-lasting ways. As COVID-19 continues to evolve, we must marshal these insights to dampen its ongoing effects on girls’ education.

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Quantifying the impact on Nigeria of the African Continental Free Trade Area

( 10 mins) While there is a general optimism around the promise of the newly in-force African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), like any other free trade agreement (FTA), it will inevitably create winners and losers. This unequal distributional impact is a function of many possible factors, including manufacturing capacity, domestic costs of doing business, firm productivity, infrastructural capability, AfCFTA awareness levels, and access to loans and financing. Whether due to firm-level inefficiencies, information frictions, or the suboptimal business environments, some firms—or even sectors—within a country may be unable to expand market opportunities as competition from other continental economies rises. The AfCFTA drops 90 percent of tariffs and includes policies aimed at eliminating nontariff barriers, such as customs delays, so the aggregate long-term benefits of AfCFTA are likely to be substantial and larger than potential losses; however, some countries and sectors will likely be impacted negatively in the short term.

Nigeria—the largest economy in Africa—signed the AfCFTA on July 7, 2019, becoming the 34th member of the trading bloc. Under the AfCFTA, Nigeria stands to gain from increased access to cheaper goods and services from other African countries, as its intra-African trade is currently low: Indeed, as of 2018, Nigeria’s imports from the African region relative to total imports was at 3.2 percent while the share of Nigeria’s exports to the African region relative to total exports was 13.2 percent. Moreover, in 2020, Nigeria’s main trading partner was actually China.
Proponents of the FTA expect the AfCFTA to reduce poverty, increase firm competitiveness, and boost intra-African trade and investment. In fact, based on a recent survey of 1,804 Nigerian manufacturing enterprises, 6 out of 10 businesses expect the AfCFTA to lead to a reduction in material and labor costs, increase production capacity, expand market and consumer size, and reduce prices. Overall, Nigeria’s small and medium-sized businesses are optimistic about the opportunities created by AfCFTA, although with mixed feelings grounded in concerns about rising foreign competition and dumping of substandard goods.

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As the trade agreement kicked off in the middle of a global pandemic coupled with a global recession, it is still unclear how the reduction in tariffs on goods and services will impact Nigeria’s households and businesses. However, a 2020 piece by Nassim Oulmane, Mustapha Sadni Jallab, and Patrice Rélouendé Zidouemba argues that the AfCFTA’s boost to intra-African trade might actually mitigate the rapid decline in GDP caused by COVID-19 and subsequent social-distancing policies and border closures.
Estimating the impacts of the AfCFTA for Nigeria
A tariff reduction enacted by one country has implications for its partners, suppliers, and competitors as it spills over to the rest of the world through trade networks and to other industries through supply chains. (For instance, a reduction in tariffs on cotton products impacts the prices of textiles.) These cascading effects across sectors and countries can be captured using a tractable numerical framework that can simulate the effects of shocks to countries and sectors and its implication on global trade patterns. To identify these effects and the transmission mechanisms resulting from the change in relative prices from trade liberalization on producers and consumers of intermediate and final goods at home and abroad, we employ a multisector, multicountry, quantitative model with linkages across sectors.  A regional tariff reduction is modeled as a higher productivity, as it leads to a reduction in relative prices and has implications for the exchange of goods across countries and regions. In this framework, households and firms then purchase more imported articles at cheaper prices, raising trade volumes and increasing household welfare. For the same reason, changes in relative prices of exports and imports induce higher demand for non-Nigerian-made products, depending on the variation in prices across sectors and countries. Therefore, even though there is a presumption of a positive impact, that may not be the case.
Figure 1. Predicted aggregate real wage effects (%) of the AfCFTA on Nigeria and rest of the world

Source: Static computable, multisector, multicountry trade model version, authors’ simulations.
Notes: A country’s real wage effect is the percentage change in real GDP from 2014 level associated with free trade across the African region only. Tariffs for other non-AfCFTA countries/region are set at 2014 effective rates. Declines in GDP are shown in red, whereas increases in GDP are in orange and blue. The model provides results for 27 African countries, 13 OECD countries, 14 other emerging economies, and the “rest” of Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, North America, and Australia (60 countries in total including the rest of the world). Simulation results assume a full employment, perfect foresight, and absence of trade imbalances and household’s dynamic intertemporal choices.
Quantifying real wage, price, trade, and welfare effects
In our analysis, we calibrate a model of trade to countries’ macroeconomic performance as at 2014 and then simulate the potential impacts on macroeconomic indicators associated with trade liberalization across the African region. We estimate the impacts on all countries under a scenario where there is free trade only with continental countries. Figure 1 presents the estimated percentage change in real wage associated with moving from tariff rates in 2014 to those under the AfCFTA for African countries, while tariff rates on other regions/countries remain at 2014 effective tariff rates. Our results have implications on real wage and welfare effects for Nigeria, 52 countries, six other regions of the world, and the rest of the world. Overall, we find that Nigeria will experience a 1.43 percent gain in value added compared to 2014 levels. Notably, the effects for Nigeria, although positive, are modest relative to the gains in real wage for other African countries. Our findings show that the AfCFTA will deliver larger gains to African countries with prior larger shares of imports from the region. Moreover, impacts of trade liberalization on real wage across African countries will be uneven: For example, Botswana, Angola, and Ghana will experience percentage changes in real wage of 16.6 percent, 12.5 percent, and 6.5 percent (dark blue in map), respectively, due to the AfCFTA.
Nigeria gains 1.55 percent in welfare. Decomposing welfare effects into effects due to change in volume of trade (1.14 percent) and effects due to change in terms of trade (0.41 percent) highlights the sources of Nigeria’s positive gain by sector. As shown in Figure 2, agriculture and fishing and other manufacturing industries account for 73 percent of the gains from volume of trade. A decline in terms of trade translates to a larger decline in export prices relative to import prices. “Other manufacturing goods” accounts for most gains in terms of trade while the agriculture and mining industries combined dilute gains by 32.6 percent.
Figure 2. Effect of AfCFTA on Nigeria’s volume of trade and terms of trade by sector

Source: Static computable, multisector, multicountry trade model version, authors’ simulations.
Notes: Volume of trade is sectoral trade relative to Nigeria’s total trade. Terms of trade is calculated as difference in sectoral price of export and import as a share of total price differences in all sectors. Welfare effects is the sum of the volume of trade (VoT) and terms of trade (ToT) effects. A negative ToT means the sector dilutes the positive gains. Sectoral contribution for ToT and VoT adds up to 100 percent.
Prices for agricultural and manufacturing commodities will go down, but some others will go up
Based on our simulations, the AfCFTA will lead to reductions in prices of agricultural and manufacturing commodities. In fact, the decline in sectoral prices ranges from 0.8 percent in electrical and machinery to 8 percent in metal (Figure 3). Moreover, through sectoral linkages and changes in relative prices of imported goods, we find the AfCFTA will lead to an increase in prices of non-tradable services such as information services; transportation and warehousing; and finance and insurance services.
Figure 3. Price effects of AfCFTA on Nigeria’s economic sectors

Source: Static computable, multisector, multicountry trade model version, authors’ simulations.
Even with better infrastructure under the AfCFTA and the under-construction train networks between Kaduna and Lagos (the commercial center of Nigeria, which hosts the maritime ports for articles traded to/from the southern and western parts of Africa), intra- and international transportation costs remain high in the short run. A recent article in Nigerian newspaper The Punch finds that the price of shipping a container from the Apapa port in Lagos to the mainland (distance of just 20 kilometers) is almost the same as shipping one container from Nigeria to China. These types of costs will rise as the AfCFTA is implemented because of increases in the demand for inter-country haulage and shipping. In other words, intra-regional transportation cost variation impacts production costs and prices of traded articles as well as trade flows across countries. Changes in trade patterns then drive the uneven distributional impacts on consumption, real wage, and welfare across regions and countries, depending on changes in tariff rates on traded products.
Before the AfCFTA, 38 percent of Nigeria’s exports were in the mining and petro-chemical industries. Now, our simulations suggest a slight decline in exports for the following sectors: mining; wood and paper; petro-chemicals; metal products; and other manufacturing articles. Successful implementation of the AfCFTA will also induce a 6.3 percent increase in exports of agricultural products and 1.3 percent increase in food and beverage exports as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4. Export effects of AfCFTA on the Nigerian economy

Source: Static computable, multisector, multicountry,  trade model version, authors’ simulations. U.N. Commodity trade database.
Notes: Before AfCFTA’s export share is based on UNCOMTRADE data, and After AfCFTA is based on simulation results.
As touted by policy experts, the AfCFTA has the potential to lift Nigerians out of poverty and raise manufacturing output. However, to realize this potential, Nigeria must follow targeted industrial policy and structural reforms; upgrade customs infrastructure; address the domestic cost of doing business; reduce bottlenecks, port processes, and transportation costs; promote digital marketing and e-commerce; and create targeted awareness about the AfCFTA policy. A survey of Nigerian businesses conducted by the Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA) shows that over 60 percent of Nigeria’s businesses are still unaware of the recently signed AfCFTA agreement. Even with potential benefits for firms, there are information costs reflected in different levels of awareness. Firms who don’t know AfCFTA exists are unable to take advantage of the tariff arrangements or even benefit from the policy. Until businesses are aware, the costs of trading under AFCFTA will remain high.
Note: The views expressed herein are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the Federal Reserve System, nor the Brookings Institution.

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How Arkansas implemented its computer science education program

( 4 mins) Computer science (CS) education helps students acquire skills such as computational thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration, among others. It has been linked with higher rates of college enrollment (Brown & Brown, 2020; Salehi et al., 2020), and a recent randomized control trial study also showed that lessons in computational thinking improved student response inhibition, planning, and coding skills (Arfé et., 2020). As these skills take preeminence in the rapidly changing 21st century, CS education promises to significantly enhance student preparedness for the future of work and active citizenship. CS education can also reduce skills inequality if education systems make a concerted effort to ensure that all students have equitable access to curricula that provide them with the needed breadth of skills, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

Based on prior analysis and expert consultation, we selected 11 country, state, and provincial CS-education case studies with lessons that can apply broadly to other education systems. These cases come from diverse global regions and circumstances and have implemented CS education programs for various periods and to different levels of success. As such, we have examined information to extract lessons that can lead to successful implementation. This study will focus on the development of CS education in Arkansas.
While this U.S. state is not typically known for technological advancement, the governor’s strong leadership has led to a rapid and inclusive expansion of CS education, drawing praise from media and advocacy groups alike (Nix, 2017). Code.org, the Computer Science Teachers’ Association (CSTA), and Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance even noted in their 2019 “State of Computer Science Education” report that Arkansas has the largest share of high schools that teach CS (89 percent) of any U.S. state (State of Computer Science Education, 2020). The state also received the Frank Newman Award for State Innovation from the Education Commission in 2020 for its CS education initiative (CS for All, 2020). Given this recognition, the state’s CS education programs deserve close examination as other education systems work toward similar outcomes.
An overview of CS education in Arkansas
With regular funding, bipartisan political support, and strong executive leadership, Arkansas has made considerable progress at improving CS education since the beginning of the Hutchinson gubernatorial administration in 2015. To help guide key policy decisions, Governor Hutchinson appointed task force groups that included representatives from teacher associations, businesses, and government agencies. These stakeholders gave policymakers influential advice on teacher recruitment and training, student engagement activities, and curriculum standards.
The state set up incentives for participation in CS education programs. Since the 2015-16 school year, students have been able to use CS courses to fulfill high school science and mathematics requirements, which has contributed to Arkansas’s growing enrollment and improving diversity of CS classes (State of Computer Science Education, 2019; Associated Press, 2021). Arkansas has also developed CS certification for in-service and preservice teachers that encourage educators to participate in training programs (Code.org, 2017; Lang, Galanos, Goode, Seehorn, Trees, Phillips, & Stephenson, 2013). This is one of the more important aspects of this case study, as research has shown teachers to be one of the most important school-side factors in student learning in core academic subjects (Chetty Friedman, & Rockoff, 2014; Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005). We posit that this applies to CS as well.
Lessons learned

Political leadership and stakeholder support are key to securing legislative approval and funding for activities that expand quality CS education.
Clear certification pathways, financial incentives, and professional advancement opportunities give teachers incentives to attend teacher training.
A full-time staff of administrators collaborating with a task force of industry representatives, teachers, and parents can enable decisionmakers to account for stakeholder needs and accelerate CS program improvement.
Offering CS in every school and allowing elective CS courses to satisfy high school graduation and university admission requirements can encourage students to explore their interest in CS.
By offering CS education to children at an early age, education systems can enable students to develop a strong interest in the subject and prepare them for advanced courses in high school. This progression throughout grades K-12 can inspire the most interested students to specialize in CS.

Read the full case study»

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Africa in the news: Vaccine, energy, and climate change updates

( 5 mins) New South African tech transfer hub to replicate Moderna vaccine
A tech transfer hub in South Africa established in June aims to replicate, with the aid of Moderna, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, according to a senior official with the World Health Organization. Moderna said in October 2020 that it would not enforce patents on its vaccine during the pandemic, but talks between the tech transfer hub and Moderna about disclosing the formula and the manufacturing process have yet to make significant progress. Regardless of whether the hub can rely on Moderna for assistance, the hub must still undertake requisite clinical trials, meaning it would not be able to distribute vaccines until the second half of 2022.

This new effort will supplement South Africa’s current production of mRNA vaccines. In July, Pfizer-BioNTech reached an agreement with South African pharmaceutical company Biovac to produce 100 million doses a year. However, the deal does not impart knowledge of the formula behind the vaccine, as the agreement is only to “fill and finish,” meaning Biovac will put the solution into vials and package them for shipping.
Expanded vaccine production is an urgent issue around the world, and Africa is no exception: According to the Africa CDC, only 3.3 percent of the continent is currently vaccinated against COVID-19 due to challenges in access, cost, and logistics, among other difficulties.
For more on Africa’s efforts to spur vaccine production and access, read, “Africa must produce its own vaccines.” Also consider listening to the Honorable Dr. Michel Sidibé, African special envoy for the African Medicines Agency of the African Union  and Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, vice-chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity,  share their thoughts on addressing vaccine inequity at the recent AGI event, “Accelerating COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa.”

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South Africa seeks international investment to shift away from coal; DRC attempts to renegotiate a 2008 minerals-for-infrastructure contract with China
On Thursday, September 16, South Africa’s Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries announced it will seek international cooperation around facilitating and financing the country’s energy transition away from coal, which generates over 80 percent of its electricity. As a first step, the British envoy to COP26, John Murton, announced an upcoming visit South Africa prior to the COP26 conference in Glasgow. The planned meeting follows a proposal from the state power company, and Africa’s largest source of emissions, Eskom, to raise $10 billion to replace most of their coal-fired power plants with renewable energy infrastructure by 2050. However, some South African government officials fear the transition away from coal, which supports more than 90,000 jobs in the country, will cause substantial economic disruption. Proponents of the plan suggest investing in decarbonizing South Africa’s electricity infrastructure offers magnitudes more impact than similar efforts in Europe: According to energy expert Clyde Mallinson, director of Virtual Energy and Power (VEP), “For every kilowatt hour of electricity you offset in South Africa, you get four or five times as much carbon reduction as you do in Europe.”
In related news, on September 11, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) President Felix Tshisekedi proposed that the country review its $9 billion minerals-for-infrastructure mining contract, which it signed with China in 2008. In the announcement, Tshisekedi panned the contract, which was signed by former President Joseph Kabila, calling such agreements “exploitation contracts… [that keep the rich] getting richer while our people remain poor.”
Sudan and Kenya suffer from floods and droughts
According to a statement made Wednesday by the Kenyan National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), 2.1 million people in 23 counties across Kenya’s north and coast will be in urgent need of food aid in over the next six months as droughts continue to threaten livelihoods. Furthermore, on September 8, President Kenyatta officially declared the droughts a national disaster. In July, the Kenyan government, along with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO), established a drought response plan, which states that a total of 9.4 billion Kenyan shillings will be needed to support food and safety nets as well as non-food interventions to the drought.
As Kenya struggles to deal with droughts, Sudan is currently experiencing flash floods that have reportedly affected over 88,000 people in 13 of its 18 states since July. According to a report by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 12,700 homes have been damaged and 4,800 homes destroyed. The latest flooding comes a year after the flooding in East Africa affected nearly six million people, including 1.5 million displaced. Sudan, according to the BBC, was one of the worst affected countries with 860,000 people having their homes damaged or destroyed.
As the region grapples with natural disasters, the World Bank released the 2021 Groundswell report The report projects that by 2050 sub-Saharan Africa could see as many as 86 million internal climate migrants due to climate-related losses in livelihoods and livability.

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Greening the AfCFTA: It is not too late

( 2 mins) Abstract
Environmental sustainability is a key component of Africa’s Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. Yet, the recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) contains only minimal references to the environment.

This policy brief highlights various ways in which State Parties can strengthen the linkages between the AfCFTA and the environment, with a focus on concrete approaches and strategies. With respect to the AfCFTA protocols that have already been negotiated—including the Annexes on Technical Barriers to Trade, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, and various Annexes on trade facilitation—strategic implementation can enhance the link between the AfCFTA and the environment. With respect to ongoing negotiations, including on tariff schedules and services concessions, as well as future negotiations on the Protocols of Intellectual Property, Investment, Competition and E-commerce, State Parties have the option of more clearly emphasizing the link between the AfCFTA and the environment.
The policy brief also encourages the AfCFTA Secretariat to explore the possibility of adding a Protocol on the Environment and Sustainable Development.
Download the full policy brief

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Upcoming Event

Green trade under the AfCFTA: The role of AU-EU partnership

9:30 AM –

11:00 AM EDT

Online only

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COVID-19: How can the G-20 address debt distress in sub-Saharan Africa?

( < 1 min) Kathrin BerensmannGerman Development Institute (DIE)Hopestone Kayiska ChavulaUN – Economic Commission for Africa
Austin ChiumiaAfrican Economic Research Consortium (AERC)
Mma Amara EkerucheCenter for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA)
Njuguna Ndung’uAfrican Economic Research Consortium (AERC)
Aloysius Uche OrduAfrica Growth Initiative (AGI); (The Brookings Institution)
Lemma W. SenbetUniversity of Maryland and Brookings AGI Distinguished Advisory Group
Abebe ShimelesAfrican Economic Research Consortium (AERC)

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Liberia improves in economic opportunity but still tax mobilization, infrastructure, and business environment struggle to see gains

( 6 mins) Good governance—according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, the provision of political, social and economic public goods and services that every citizen has the right to expect from their government—has been more crucial than ever before due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, good governance has been vital in ensuring that citizens are protected from any devastating impacts. It includes aspects of citizens’ participation, rights and inclusion, security and rule of law, human development, and economic opportunity.

To more deeply delve into these issues, on August 26, Brookings Africa Growth Initiative Senior Fellow and Director Aloysius Uche Ordu joined Jeanine Cooper, Liberia’s minister of agriculture; Bioma S. Kamara,  former minister of finance; Mawine G. Diggs, Liberia’s minister of commerce and industry, and Monie R. Captan, chairman of the board of directors at the Liberia Electricity Corporation for a conversation on trends in Liberia’s governance record utilizing the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG). The discussion, one of many panels, was co-hosted by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development.
While the event featured many panels, including on human development and security and rule of law, Ordu moderated the panel on “Foundations for Economic Opportunity”—Liberia’s most-improved category in this year’s IIAG. Despite this progress, as the panelists discussed, Liberia ranks second-lowest in the IIAG “trade environment” and has room for improvement in several other related indicators. As such, Ordu led the expert panel in a discussion of Liberia’s improvements in its rankings as well as barriers to success for the country in enhancing economic opportunity. The main points of the discussion included:
Public administration. According to the United Nations, good governance, supported by strong public administration, is the heart of sustainable development. This year, Liberia made substantial strides in the “public administration” category of the IIAG, most notably in civil registration, Liberia was able to improve its civil registration score by 37.5 points from 2010 to 2019, owing largely to an increase in birth registrations. Birth registration is important because it gives children a legal identity, which enables their access to their fundamental rights as citizens.
Liberia still has a long way to go in other areas of public administration, though, as the panelists noted. In fact, tax and domestic revenue mobilization was a central theme of the panel discussion, as the  country’s score in this area declined precipitously between 2010 and 2019. Importantly, the World Bank recommends that, to effectively deliver sustainable and equitable growth, all countries should raise tax revenue equivalent or higher than 30 percent their GDP. In 2013, Liberia was reported at about 13 percent—showing urgent need for improvement. Panelists recommended a number of interventions including, making commitments to infrastructure, increasing public sector projects, and finding ways to collect taxes more efficiently.

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Business environment. Overall, Liberia’s performance also dropped in the category of “business environment.” More specifically, according to the IIAG, the country received high marks in regional integration but still suffers from onerous business regulations. For example, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, bureaucratic compliance for trading across borders in Liberia takes an average of 193 hours to complete. Improving efficiency in compliance at its border is an important step in improving the ease of doing business in the country. Panelists agreed that border compliance is an issue and stated that Liberia needs to move into a digital space to fix this issue. With the processes at the border still being done manually, delays are inevitable, and compliance will continue to be a barrier for the country.
Infrastructure. Like in many sub-Saharan African countries, poor infrastructure in Liberia inhibits economic growth. Given the importance of technology for modern economic growth, the panel extensively discussed electricity access, reliability, and cost. Notably, Liberia has one of the lowest rates of electricity access in the world as well as some of the highest electricity tariffs, at $0.54 per kWh. Liberia also struggles with power theft rates of 55 percent, which are also the highest in the region. Power theft, defined by the Power Theft Act, is the tampering with meters, transmission and distribution lines, and general theft of meters, light poles, wires, and transformers. Indeed, a press conference in August of this year revealed that the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) had lost $220 million to technical losses, commercial losses, and unpaid bills from this issue. Panelists were optimistic regarding the country’s ability to improve access and cost, though, arguing that the new Electricity Law of Liberia can better enable the country to build and regulate the electricity sector more efficiently.

Rural sector. Importantly, while Liberia’s performance in the rural sector (e.g., rural market access and rural sector support) improved since the last report, the panelists were keen to note how closely infrastructure and the rural sector are intertwined. With customary land ownership denied in some rural areas until the implementation of the 2018 Land Rights Act—which empowered rural communities by strengthening of rights of local, customary landowners—these communities suffered tremendously. According to one panelist, because 80 percent of the country’s citizens participate in agriculture in some way, this act has been a “game changer” for the rural sector. Panelists also noted that there have been uptakes in rural sector support as part of wider efforts to boost the rural economy through commercialization.
Gender equality. Another important aspect of the conversation was the role and rights of women, especially in rural areas. Indeed, one panelist noted that women do not have the same access to land as men in the country, despite about 70 percent of rural work being done by women. To truly strengthen the rural sector, the panel agreed, gender equality must be at the forefront of conversation, and women must be able to have autonomy over their own land.
Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia and founder of the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development, closed the full event by emphasizing the importance of good governance in bolstering economic development and inclusive growth as well as improving the livelihoods of all.

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How to kick-start the decoupling of emissions from economic growth in MENA

( 6 mins) The burning of organic materials (such as fossil fuels, wood, and waste) for heating/cooling, electricity, mobility, cooking, disposal, and the production of materials and goods (such as cement, metals, plastics, and food) leads to emissions. This affects local air quality and the climate. In a recent blog, we showed that the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) lags behind all other regions in decoupling air pollutant emissions from economic growth.

Particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) is the air pollutant associated with the largest health effects. MENA’s cities are the second-most air-polluted following South Asia; virtually all of its population is exposed to levels deemed unsafe. In 2019, exposure to excessive PM2.5 levels was associated with almost 300,000 deaths in MENA and it caused the average resident to be sick for more than 70 days in his or her lifetime. It also carries large economic costs for the region, totaling more than $140 billion in 2013, around 2 percent of the region’s GDP.
A good understanding of the emission sources leading to air pollution is necessary to planning for how to best reduce them. Figure 1 shows that waste burning, road vehicles, and industrial processes accounted for around two-thirds of PM2.5 concentrations. Electricity production is also a significant contributor, most of which is used by manufacturing and households.

5 priority barriers and opportunities for policy reforms to kick-start decoupling
A forthcoming report titled “Blue Skies, Blue Seas” discusses these measures, alongside many others, in more detail.
1. Knowledge about air pollution and its sources is limited, with sparse ground monitoring stations. Detailed source apportionment studies have only been carried out for a few cities within the region, with results often not easily accessible for the public.
Extensive monitoring networks and regular studies on local sources of air and climate pollutants are foundational, as is making results easily accessible to the public (e.g., in form of a traffic light system as is done in Abu Dhabi). This will empower sensitive groups to take avoidance decisions, but also nurture the demand for abatement policies.
2. MENA’s prices for fossil fuels and energy (predominantly from burning fossil fuels), are the lowest in a global comparison. For example, pump prices in MENA for diesel ($0.69 per liter) and gasoline ($0.74 per liter) were about half the EU prices and less than two-thirds of the global average in 2018.
MENA’s heavy subsidization of fossil fuels, whether that is at the point of consumption or at the point of intermediary inputs in power generation and manufacturing, makes price reforms essential. Aside from incorporating negative externalities better, lifting subsidies also reduces pressure on fiscal budgets, with freed-up fiscal space being available to cushion the impact for low-income households. There have been encouraging steps by some countries such as Egypt, which reduced the fossil fuel subsidies gradually over the last couple of years, leading to significant increases in fuel prices, which in turn had positive effects on air quality.

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3. Underdevelopment of public transport, low fuel quality, and low emissions standards drive high levels of emissions from the transport sector. In MENA, the modal share is often heavily skewed toward the use of private cars; when public transportation is available, it has a low utilization rate in international comparison.
To support a shift in the modal share toward cleaner mobility, it is imperative to invest in public transport systems, while making them cleaner and supporting nonmotorized options such as walking and biking. Cairo’s continued expansion of its metro system has been effective in reducing PM pollution and other MENA cities have also invested heavily in their public transport infrastructure, moving the needle on improving air quality. Furthermore, it is also important to raise environmental standards, both for fuel quality and car technology, together with regular mandatory inspections.
4. Lenient industrial emissions rules and their weak enforcement. The industrial sector is characterized by low energy efficiency standards, also due to the low, subsidized prices for energy mentioned above. MENA is currently the only region, where not a single country has introduced or is actively planning to introduce either a carbon tax or an emission trading scheme.
Mandating stricter emissions caps, or technology requirements, together with proper enforcement and monitoring is crucial. Incentivizing firms to adopt more resource-efficient, end-of-pipe cleaning, and fuel-switching technologies are additional crucial means to reduce air pollution stemming from the industrial sector. A trading system for emissions could either target CO2 emissions, or air pollutants, such as the PM cap-and-trade system recently introduced in Gujarat, India. Such a system should target both the manufacturing industry as well as the power sector.
5. Weak solid waste management (SWM) is a major issue in MENA. Although the collection of municipal waste has room for improvement in many countries, it is mainly the disposal stage of SWM where the leakage occurs. Too often waste ends up in open dumps or informal landfills, where it ignites. Furthermore, processing capabilities are often limited, and equipment outdated, at least for the lower- and middle-income countries of the region.
Hence, enhancing the efficiency of disposal sites is critical to reducing leakage and the risk of self-ignition. To start, replacing or upgrading open dumps and uncontrolled landfills with engineered or sanitary landfills is a viable option. Going forward, recycling capabilities should be improved and the circularity of resources enhanced. For agricultural waste, the establishment of markets for crop residues and comprehensive information campaigns in Egypt showed that such measures can supplement the introduction of stricter waste-burning bans.
Kick-starting decoupling and banking on green investments hold the promise for MENA not only to improve environmental quality and health locally, and to mitigate climate change globally, but also to reap higher economic returns (including jobs). Moreover, decoupling now will prepare MENA economies better for a future in which much of the world will have decarbonized its economies, including its trade networks.

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What can social media listening tell us about the desire for education change?

( 38 mins) The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted virtually every facet of life, including schooling for young people around the world. As students, teachers, and parents coped over the last year and a half with remote learning and the closing and reopening of schools, many took to social media to share their thoughts and perspectives. These discussions were often a window into the sentiments of arguably the three most important actors in any education system: the child, his or her educator, and the child’s primary caregiver. We have used innovative research methods to analyze these social media conversations both before COVID and once the pandemic hit the shores of England.

We were interested in what students, teachers, and parents were discussing but also if the conversations were aligned—in other words were these three groups talking about the same thing? We know from research on systems change that alignment among a range of actors in a system is a particularly important factor facilitating change. Recent research on education systems that have successfully reformed highlights how a lack of alignment among stakeholders, particularly as it relates to the values and beliefs around education, were barriers to change
As schools in England increasingly grapple with adjustments and improvisations due to the pandemic, a question remains if this disruption will lead to any lasting changes. We at the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at Brookings have argued that this disruption, while painful and overwhelming, could offer a “leapfrog” moment to transform so education systems can become more equitable and relevant than before COVID-19. A high degree of alignment among students, parents, and teachers would indicate readiness to change in the direction around shared sentiments, whereas a siloed or disparate set of conversations with little alignment would indicate a need to invest in deeper dialogue to make big education changes. In the absence of a coherent narrative on key elements, it can be difficult for education leaders to make changes without feeling like they have the public’s support.
As four key insights in this analysis will later show, teacher, parent, and student conversations on social media have been largely siloed within their individual groups and focused on different aspects of the education system. However, the pandemic—and the far-reaching issues generated by it, such as an exam-grading controversy and students’ mental health—represent important moments when the three groups united in joint conversations around education, ripening the possibility for change.
Why focus on England?
This particular analysis is limited to England, which we chose because of its representation in CUE’s Family Engagement in Education Network. Two England-based project collaborators are the Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council in Northern England that provides schooling to 47,000 students from reception to year 13, and Parent Kind, the leading membership organization for parent-teacher associations across the U.K. We will do a “social listening” deep dive for a range of other jurisdictions represented in our network in the months to follow.
Why social listening? 
Social listening is an innovative and relatively new research method for gathering and making sense of large amounts of social media data. We were particularly intrigued by the promise of social media data scraping for targeting the thoughts and sentiments of the millions of citizens whose voices simply cannot make it into even the most ambitious of surveys. Tracking large amounts of social media posts related to education can help illuminate public sentiment, as well as appetite for reform. We were specifically interested in alignment among different stakeholders: Are students, teachers, and parents saying the same things about education? Understanding types of conversations and sentiments around education conversations can help chart a new path for education as we emerge out of the pandemic.
How was the research done?
This project relied on Talkwalker, a social media data analytics platform. Talkwalker acts as a living archive of internet artifacts, pulling in every publicly available item from sources ranging from local news sites to social media platforms. For each item published, Talkwalker includes data on the text’s content, author, source, and engagement—including, for example, how many times a tweet was shared or an article’s view count. Talkwalker provides powerful analytical functions to complement its archival capabilities, and using its proprietary artificial intelligence software, we trained an algorithm to capture items related to our topic of interest. The resulting model pulled in online artifacts originating in England that in some way discussed education or schooling.
Our analysis was based on a random sample of 25 percent of all public, online conversations among average users related to education in England. Since we were interested in better understanding the insights of everyday people—rather than celebrities or politicians—we focused on “average users” and excluded “influencers” from our dataset. We segmented the data by actor to determine trends by user group, concentrating on students, teachers, and parents—though schools, businesses and expert professionals were also present in our dataset. We also filtered by distinct time periods between April 29, 2019 (before the COVID-19 pandemic) and June 1, 2021.
While social listening provides unique insight into people’s conversations and sentiments, it has various limitations. It can only capture conversations and glean insights from people who are online and participating in the conversation. Therefore, there are likely some groups whose voices are not heard using this method, including people who do not have access to the internet or smart phones or computers, who are illiterate, or who may have access to the internet and devices but are unable or unwilling to participate. Additionally, we only conducted our analysis in English, so our study excluded any conversations taking place in other languages. Our findings also reveal that younger and male voices are overly represented in the conversation. Many social media platforms restrict access to users below a certain age and parents are more likely to control young children’s access, leading to better representation among older teenagers in social media participation than young children. It should be noted that there are many online conversations that are not public, and therefore due to privacy laws, were not included in our analysis; these include online conversations in various platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.
Who is talking?
Many people in England have talked about education during the last two years. Our analysis found robust education conversations among everyday people, with approximately 16 million results during the more than two-year period of analysis. We analyzed a subset of this conversation—4 million results—representing 25 percent of the full volume of conversations on education among average users (Figure 1). The volume of conversation on education increased markedly in March 2020 during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and remained higher than pre-pandemic levels throughout the year. However, this did not last into 2021, with a drop-off in conversations in January 2021. The volume of education conversation in May 2021 was similar to that in May 2019.
Figure 1. Changes in volume of education conversations between May 2019 and May 2021

Source: Talkwalker and authors’ analysis.
Young adults between the ages of 18-35 were the most active voices, making up over 76 percent of all conversations with 25-35-year-olds making up almost half the users in our study. There was very limited participation from anyone 45 years or older (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Age of participants in education conversation

Source: Talkwalker and authors’ analysis.
There were more male than female voices in the education conversation over the past two years (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Gender of participants in education conversations

Source: Talkwalker and authors’ calculations.
The education conversation among average users took place across a range of media types—from social media platforms like Twitter to online forums for particular actors (such as parents or students) to blogs and news stories. The greatest share of education conversations took place on Twitter (85 percent), followed by forums, and then blogs (Figure 4). This breakdown does not necessarily correspond to the depth of content or discussion, however, as one tweet that is limited to 280 characters is counted the same as one blog post, which could be 2,000 words. Both are counted as one result in their respective category when calculating the share of media types.
Figure 4. The types of media where the education conversation took place

Source: Talkwalker.
What is the nature of the conversation?
There are a wide range of motivations and objectives driving the different conversations around education. At any one time, some people want to solicit information from their networks, others want to vent their frustrations, some seek to share accomplishments, and others seek to convert people to their causes. We found that the conversations on education fell largely into four main types of discussions:

Resourcing. Conversations motivated by sharing information, resources, tools, advice, and tips.  
Community building and connecting. Conversations motivated by connecting to others and building networks and a shared sense of community largely through seeking and offering news, sharing frustrations, and voicing appreciation.
Movements and advocacy. Conversations motivated by causes on particular topics, including on cultural moments such as Black Lives Matter or on specific interests such as outdoor education or educational practices for children with autism.
Sales and persuasion. Conversations motivated by convincing people to take a specific action, such as buying a product or using a certain practice.

In terms of what people were discussing across these types of conversations, we analyzed the most popular hashtags before and during the COVID-19 pandemic to get a picture of the nature of the national education conversation. We conducted a sentiment analysis on the top topics—thus, those topics in dark green are very positive, light green is trending toward positive, yellow is neutral, and red is negative (Figure 5). The more frequently a hashtag is used, the bigger it appears in the word cloud below.
Unsurprisingly, the national education conversation was more positive before COVID-19. Looking at the top hashtags from our education query as generated by Talkwalker’s algorithm, there were 25 hashtags with very positive sentiments in 2019 but only 13 such hashtags in 2021, with a much larger number of conversations reflecting a neutral sentiment during the pandemic. There were very few explicitly negative conversations, with only one—#Brexit—standing out in 2019 and only three—#BorisJohnson, #ClosetheSchools, and #WhatsHappeninginMyanmar—strongly negative conversations in 2021.
The topics of conversation also changed over time. Perhaps the most obvious and expected changes were the rise in new topics in 2020 that did not exist in 2019, such as #COVID-19, #BlackLivesMatter, #Lockdown, #homelearning, and #SchoolsReopening. As these topics entered the conversation, other topics such as #fun, #business, and #community became less popular. As we will discuss below, one topic that gained significant participants was #edutwitter—driven largely by teachers reaching out to share information and resources and to support each other.
Figure 5. Topics of conversation related to education pre-COVID-19 and during it

Source: Talkwalker.

Source: Talkwalker.
What are people talking about?
There is a large appetite to connect about education issues, but conversations are siloed and unaligned across students, teachers, and parents. The exception is key moments related to COVID-19 that united conversations across these three groups.
When we analyzed the conversations of students, teachers, and parents, we found a large appetite for connecting about education issues among these average social media users. However, there is not a common narrative across these conversations. Ultimately, we learned that stakeholders are not saying the same thing about education, but the exception to this is COVID-19. The pandemic became a unifying moment for students, teachers, and parents who all expressed frustrations with the difficult situation and sought and gave advice to and from others about how to cope. In other words, except for particular COVID-related moments such as the approach to exams, we did not find strong alignment across students, teachers, and parents in relation to what they expressed via social media.
While all stakeholders turned to social media to ask for help and share resources, students were especially preoccupied by exams, teachers were particularly vocal about student well-being and mental health, and parents were most concerned about numerous discrete interests, especially special needs education (“SEND”). Students were the most critical of the existing education system, sharing their in-the-moment frustrations around exams but also questioning the wisdom, utility, and relevance of how exams are currently structured and used. Teachers also expressed frustration at different elements of the education system, but they were most focused on finding ways to help solve the problems they or their peers faced day to day. Likewise, some parents posted their critiques of how the school system operates, but most were focused on how to support the particular needs of their children and their corresponding views about particular education approaches, programs, or practices that were important to them.
Across these conversations, there were particular moments where students, teachers, and parents were aligned in their discussion. England’s approach to grading exams in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic was an example of this, specifically as it relates to equity and fairness. Students were very vocal on this topic, and many teachers and parents chimed into the conversation. Another example is the concern about student mental health and well-being, a major concern for teachers, and, with the difficulties of COVID-19, parents also joined in the discussion expressing concern for their children’s emotional welfare.
There are likely a number of factors for these findings. First, several considerations could make students more critical of the system writ large versus teachers and parents. Certainly students, as the central subjects of the school system and the actors whose lives are most impacted by their experience, are one factor. Students’ position in society vis-à-vis teachers and parents is also likely another factor. The professional responsibility of teachers and familial responsibility of parents are likely to play a role in their focus on trying to navigate the current system in which they operate versus looking to change the system altogether. Additionally, another factor could be the social media platform itself. We analyzed public data where students, teachers, and parents had to self-identify, such as in their post or in their social media bio, as one of these three categories to be captured in our analysis. Speaking out candidly could be harder for teachers and parents given the relationships they may wish to retain at their schools or community. Second, the severity of the pandemic and its impacts on the daily lives of students, teachers, and parents was the likely reason it broke through as a topic everyone was talking about. The usefulness of social media to connect and help each other solve specific problems may also be why, except for particular COVID-related topics, the conversations are siloed. The problems that are front of mind for teachers, such as their classroom practice, are not the same topics that are front of mind for parents or students on a daily basis.
Below we review the four main insights on what students, teachers, and parents have talked about over the last two years and where there were differences and similarities.
Insight 1
Students, teachers, and parents are actively connecting with each other about education but largely in siloed conversations
Across many different topics and both prior to and during the pandemic, students, teachers, and parents are using social media to connect with each other, share information, and seek support. The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to an increase in the volume of some of these conversations, especially among teachers. For example, the rise in #edutwitter, which saw a 104 percent increase in the first nine months after the pandemic began, is one indication of the growing appetite to connect with each other about education. One unintended but positive byproduct of coping with COVID-19 is that it has expanded the space for different stakeholders to participate in these resourcing and community-building conversations and practices. These types of conversations reflect a diversity of posts from students sharing jokes about exams, teachers offering useful resources, and parents asking for advice. Overall, conversations were largely within groups (students reaching out to students, teachers connecting with other teachers, and parents primarily interacting with other parents).
For example, many students took to social media to share exam tips or ask for help from other students on particular subjects or share study resources. A student on the popular U.K. forum, thestudentroom.co.uk, who asked for help solving a chemistry A-level problem is a typical example of this type of exchange:
“Hey guys! I attempted this question and got it wrong. I checked the mark scheme and can’t make any sense of it for the life of me!! Could anyone please help me and try to explain what’s going on? I’ve also attached the mark scheme. Thanks” (May 1, 2021)
Teachers are frequently reaching out to each other to share stories, resources, and advice. They are by far the most active participants—compared to students and parents—in the resourcing and community-building conversations online. Most are participating in #edutwitter, but there are also a number of other smaller communities where teachers share resources such as #teacher5oclockclub, #teacher5aday, #SLTchat, #ukedchat, #NQT, and #CPD. One online teacher community is built around helping teachers expand their networks: #FFBWednesday stands for “follow, follow back” where teachers follow back any new followers to their Twitter account every Wednesday. Like #edutwitter, the #FFBWednesday community also saw a surge in participation after the onset of the pandemic.
Typical posts before and during the pandemic include anecdotes reinforcing positive teacher identity and accomplishments like the one this primary-grade teacher shared:

I love meeting other teachers ‘in the wild’. Saw a man with a large family. Him to his children – ‘Line up so I can check you’re all here.’ I walked past & said, ‘Teacher?’Him – ‘Reception’.Me – ‘Year 6’. We then fist bumped. 😂 #Edutwitter #primaryrocks #teachers #halfterm
— Emma Stanley 🙋🏻‍♀️ (@MissStanleyYr6) May 28, 2019

Teachers also frequently before and during the pandemic reached out to share useful resources. For example, this math teacher sharing a resource for helping students with multiplication tables:

Times table cards- a way for your children to practise times tables without just writing them out! Useful for warm ups, targeted individual work, interventions, etc. All come with answers! #edutwitter #maths https://t.co/WJXzrMYfeo pic.twitter.com/KeQqT4Wosd
— Sarah Farrell (@SarahFarrellKS2) September 22, 2019

In addition, teachers took to social media to help each other with a wide range of things, from new teachers asking for and receiving guidance, to finding connections on subjects or years, to supporting each other through the many difficulties they were encountering. This continued after the onset of COVID-19. For example, this teacher shared about helping a student with autism who has struggled amid COVID-19:

Today was my first day meeting my class (employed jan). A pupil with autism/anxiety has not managed a full day at school since lockdown 1. Today he came to class, I really tried my best to put him at ease and at lunch he asked me if I could go ring his mum to stay all day 🥰🥰
— Miss Smith (@Hannahmarie1402) March 8, 2021

This teacher is looking to expand her network of Year 5 teachers as she has recently been placed in that year:

I’ve just found out I’m in Year 5 next year! Looking for those KS2 (or any really) connections #FFBWednesday #educhat #TeacherFriends
— Georgia (@MissGSurtees) June 10, 2020

Or this new teacher who is looking for advice on how to get the attention of the class:

As a trainee teacher I’m interested to know what method you find most effective in getting the attention of the class: countdown, clap, hand in the air? Any contributions greatly appreciated #teamenglish #edutwitter #pgce
— Miss Fletcher (@missrfletcher) July 31, 2020

Parents also took to social media to connect, share, and seek advice. Many had warm words of gratitude for the teachers and schools who helped them through a difficult time, such as this parent:

I’ve taken my daughter out of school because I’m in an at-risk category. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but her school was great. They understand the gravity of this. They’re worried too #schoolclosure
— Maria (@itsasheactually) March 16, 2020

Others posted their frustrations, fears, and anger, such as this parent:

“Your child will experience a mild illness”. This is what I was told when school sent my child home following a case of covid in her class.
My child didn’t experience a thing, but I, her mother, ended up fighting for my life. Just admit schools aren’t safe @educationgovuk .
— Nutellandchill (@nutellandchill) November 24, 2020

While others reached out simply to get information, ask for advice, or share resources, including this parent:
“I am new to mumsnet and I need some advice. I was hoping you experienced parents with pre-teens/ teens could help. Our DS is currently in year 6 and has been offered secondary school places at Highgate Wood and Maria Fidelis FCJ…. We would like to know from your experience which school would best meet her needs. A good SEN department is imperative.” (March 5, 2020)
Insight 2
With students leading the way, collective outrage over England’s 2020 grading controversy created alignment across all stakeholders and potentially impacted the government’s response
The national exams at the end of secondary school and the exams to gain entrance into higher education are the focus of much of the conversation among students. We examined in depth students’ conversations about both of these exams, namely the GCSEs and the A-levels. While exams were a popular student topic of conversation on social media before COVID-19—especially using the #Alevels with the corresponding year (e.g. #Alevels2019)—it was a very hot topic during the exam grading controversy of 2020 (see Box 1). We found teachers and parents alike—alongside students—reacted strongly to the exam controversy.
We found an initial spike in reaction posts from average users, including students, during the May-June 2019 timeframe, which is when exams were being taken; this was followed by a large spike in August 2019, which reflects when results were received. A spike in March 2020 corresponds with the discussion around school closures and concerns or inquiries about exam results. The largest spike—from the usual several hundred posts a day to almost 8,000 posts—was in August 2020, which coincided with exam results and the controversy around exam grading amid COVID-19 (Figure 6).

Box 1. Exams in England: A brief overview of the system and the COVID-19 response

General Certificate of Secondary Education or GCSE qualifications evaluate students across a range of academic subject areas. Examinations typically take place at Year 11 (students ages 15 to 16), which is the last year of compulsory education in the U.K. Advanced Level (A-Level) qualifications are subject-based qualifications for students ages 16 and older and are recognized for entry into higher education.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the United Kingdom cancelled all 2020 GCSE and A-level examinations. In place of these assessments, Ofqual, the exams regulator in England, implemented an algorithm based on schools’ previous exam results to determine students’ individual results. There was outrage in response to this change, as approximately 40 percent of results for the A-level exams were downgraded from predicted teacher-assessed grades, and students, parents, and academic professionals alike demanded governmental action. This downgrade caused many students—especially those in less affluent schools—to be marked two or three grades lower than what teachers had originally predicted, resulting in many students losing their places at universities.

Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, and Ofqual apologized for the grading issues and announced that all A-level and GCSE exam results would be changed to teacher-assessed grades. While this solution was largely preferred over the algorithm, it was a difficult request of teachers, as they only had the data that was available to them and unconscious biases may have impacted how they assessed some students.

Figure 6. Number of posts related to exams between April 2019 and May 2021

Source: Talkwalker and authors’ analysis.
Many students expressed outrage and frustration at what they saw as an unfair approach to delivering the GCSEs and A-levels amid the pandemic:

the year above and below me got their predicted grades with only missing 2 months and only 1000 cases. we are at 50,000 cases a day. they really expect us to sit a-level exams??? #schoolsreopeninguk pic.twitter.com/sYQKt7C3ao
— Katie 🌱 (@katie0773) December 30, 2020

Students also directed criticism at the government’s handling of the situation, while at the same time defending their teachers. For example, this student criticized the short time period for pushing back exams and responded to an announcement from  Education Secretary Gavin Williamson that exams would be delayed three weeks:
@samhackney9: “If you’d have consulted with students and teachers you’d know that 3 weeks is nothing. Content needs to be cut, coursework needs to be used and teachers need to have a role in this. It should not be solely exam based #alevels2021” (October 12, 2020)
Similarly, another student in a sarcastic post defended teachers while lashing out at the government:

Ah yes, let’s blame the teachers who spend their lives creating lesson plans, marking essays, supporting students and teaching the future generations. Let’s not blame the exam boards or the government.
— Macy…❤︎ (@MacySheil) August 13, 2020

Even recent graduates got involved in the discussion, such as this Ph.D. student:

The more I think the A Level results fiasco the angrier I get. This government has consistently let down and actively hurt the most vulnerable in our society.
— Holly Nielsen (@nielsen_holly) August 14, 2020

Students also decried the inequality inherent in the predicted grading approach. For example, these students commented on the income inequalities and racial bias within exam grading:
@madamammad: “Also absolute disgrace the way GCSE and A-Level grades will be downgraded if you go to a school in a bad area, yet private schools will be more likely to achieve their predicted grades. Pay your way through” (August 11, 2020)

Using predicted grades for exams can be slightly problematic . Especially for black students with biased and/or unsupportive teachers who tend to unpredictable students. Just personally teachers in my SHIT school would predict me C’s where I got A’s and A*s🥴
— Bobby🇰🇪 (@FreeBxbby) March 18, 2020

Many students who had completed secondary exams within the last few years went online to share their experience and reflect on the shortcomings of the A-level exams in general—even outside of the pandemic grading controversy. We commonly saw university and postgraduate students noting their success despite poor exam grades. For example, these Ph.D. students recounted their experiences and how exam grades did not define them:

I have a D in A-level biology and an E in chemistry. I picked myself up, did a foundation science degree and graduated top of the class in my medical biochemistry degree. I’ll be starting my PhD in cancer immunology in October. Grades don’t define you if you work hard! https://t.co/IhwxWTsIsX
— Emma Jennings (@EmmaKJennings) August 20, 2019

I was predicted BCB at A-level. I got AAB. I technically needed AAA to meet my Oxford conditions. St. Anne’s let me come anyway. They understood I was more than a letter on a piece of paper. Do you know what doesn’t have that kind of understanding: an algorithm.
— Jess Morley (@jessRmorley) August 11, 2020

While exams were not the major focus of discussion among teachers or parents like they were for students, the COVID-19 grading controversy brought them into the discussion. Some teachers expressed sympathy for students and deep frustration at the role they were asked to play in the process, for example:

I can’t wait until we can look back and laugh at the year the government got teachers to award all the GCSE and A Level grades, and the only guidance we got was stuff like “An A* is kind of like an A, but just…*better*” pic.twitter.com/cl534qU3XV
— Rosie (@brumrosie) May 12, 2021

I think a compromise would have been test 1 paper e.g. for GCSE and one or 2 papers- if 3 paoers do 2- for A Level but variables currently in place are bonkers…and the stress on teens let alone teachers for past weeks has been appalling
— Kathy M (@kvjm1) June 1, 2021

Parents weighed in on the controversy largely as it related to their own children’s experience. For example, this parent shares her anguish at the impact the A-level grading controversy has had on her daughter:

So my brilliant kid, who spent 5 years in and out of hospital and is disabled, had her teachers’ grades marked down and has lost her place at university. She got straight As at GCSE, mostly teaching herself in hospital. She called the uni. They said they’re full. I give up.
— Amanda Lees (@amandalees) August 13, 2020

This parent took to social media to express outrage at how the GCSE grading controversy affected one of his daughters’ classmates, Miles:

My kids go to Notre Dame High School. Miles is in my daughter’s year. Talented athlete. Bright. Black. Predicted A, A or B and a C. Got C, D, U. Absolute scandal. pic.twitter.com/nggOBO86bO
— Andrew Stronach (@aistronach) August 14, 2020

In summary, the role of exams in the English education system is one of—if not the—major preoccupations of students on social media, particularly those in secondary school. Exams intimately affect students’ lives and they, along with recent graduates, are frequently critical of the role exams play in their education. Given the major impact exams have on students combined with their vocal dissatisfaction of unjust grading policies, students appear to be the most ready for change of the three groups examined in the study. While exams were not the major topic for teachers and parents participating in online conversations, the grading controversy brought them into the conversation with messages that reinforced and often supported each other. This aligned response may have played a role in the government’s reversal of its predictive grading policy.
Insight 3
Students’ mental health and well-being have been top of mind both prior to and during COVID-19
Mental health and well-being are major topics of discussion related to education on social media. This issue has been prominent in the top 10 education-related hashtags both prior to and during COVID-19. Teachers and mental health experts are the main participants in this conversation. Most posts are focused on children—either raising awareness of the need to focus on children’s well-being or offering resources for parents or teachers to improve children’s well-being. However, much less focus has been on teachers’ own well-being.
Over the last two years, mental health and well-being has become an ongoing topic of conversation with several hundred posts a day (Figure 7). Surprisingly, given the concern around student’s mental health amid COVID-19, there was only a mild uptick in the conversation after the pandemic’s outbreak. We also see a drop-off in discussion around mental health at the end of 2020, following the overall decrease in the discussion of education generally.
Figure 7. Number of posts related to mental health and well-being

Source: Talkwalker and authors’ analysis.
Teachers in particular are concerned about their students’ stress and anxiety. Students’ ability to cope with the pressure of exams is one clear focus, particularly before the pandemic. After the onset of COVID-19, teachers are seeking guidance to help their students face the uncertainty of the pandemic. For example, before the pandemic, teachers offered students workshops to help prepare them to take their exams:

Year 10 GCSE PE students – don’t forget I’m running an exam technique workshop for you and your parents to attend this Thursday, 5-6pm. If you have lost your letter and want to attend, see me to let me know. @LuttHighPE @LuttHigh
— Mr Mather (@MrMatherPE) June 3, 2019

After almost two decades teaching GCSE students with SpLD I think that it’s more about reducing any other stressors at that time, the exam stress is almost unavoidable, properly training staff to fulfil their roles in providing AA & having the pupils practice with this too.
— Abigail Gray FCCT 💙 (@AbigailSENworks) May 13, 2019

Another post authored before COVID-19 by an exam results helpline offers mental health tips for students receiving their exam results:

Picking up your A level results this week?
We know it can be a hard time, so here’s our top tips for staying well!#ExamResults #alevelresultsday #Alevels #mentalhealth pic.twitter.com/DlWpMYLT89
— Exam Results Helpline (@exam_helpline) August 12, 2019

During the early days of the pandemic, a teacher offered mental health tips for students during COVID-19 and encouraged sharing among fellow teachers:

To help students stay mentally healthy during this period of uncertainty, I have put together this list of 10 proven tips. Please feel free to share. #COVID2019uk #SelfIsolation #StaySafeStayHome #education #Wellbeing #mentalhealth #SLTchat #edchat #ukedchat pic.twitter.com/RQdhNbyTAP
— Will Haines (@MrWillHaines) March 19, 2020

Throughout the pandemic, teachers have been working on addressing the mental health needs of their students:

Introduced well-being Wednesday to my morning form time and can honesty say I am buzzing for it tomorrow! The students really enjoyed it last week and had some fantastic comments! Utilising the @Headspace content on YouTube! #Wellbeing #MentalHealth #Education
— RJ Mewes (@RJ_Mewes) January 19, 2021

The mental well-being of all students, including our most vulnerable, is absolutely paramount now we are back in schools. The rise in mental illness within our UK young people is staggering over lockdown. Again really good to see this acknowledged but more can be done 🙏
— Emily Barber (@MsEmilyBarber) May 13, 2021

Interestingly, teacher well-being and mental health, although a much smaller focus of discussion, featured more prominently before the pandemic than during it. For example, in August 2019 a psychologist and community activist noted:

Unless we start valuing our teachers in a real way they will continue to leave the profession in droves. #School #leaders need to wake up to #teacher #wellbeing, what it means, why it is important & how to do it. @surreyeps @MartynReah @CharteredColl @edpsydan @growinggtschool https://t.co/SGa6E5xmEX
— Dr Sue Roffey (@SueRoffey) August 9, 2019

Teachers and education personnel also continued to focus on a wide range of well-being needs they felt were important beyond just coping with the pandemic. For example, this school nurse sharing insight about a new resource designed to support students in the transition from primary to secondary school:

STOP PRESS 1 of 2 📣📣#Northamptonshire #PrimaryschoolsWe have created a resource for year 6 children which can be accessed by schools or parent/carersDesigned to support #emotional #Wellbeing and build resilience at transition to secondary schoolhttps://t.co/JYYNErR1dr
— SchoolNurses NHFT 💙 (@NHFTSchoolNurse) July 9, 2020

Parents did join the conversation around student mental health and well-being, especially as they related to learning amid COVID-19, although not nearly as frequently as teachers and mental health experts. Parents largely focused on the experiences of their own children.
For example, a parent writing on Mumsnet.com, a popular online forum for parents, reached out to her community for support when her son’s increasing levels of anxiety prevented him from passing his school-leaving qualifications:
Lu9months:“my son is 16 and very bright but anxious. he was predicted excellent gcses. however his anxiety has become so severe that hes no longer able to get into school for the gcse assessments. he doesnt think he can do A levels now. im panicking about his future but all that really matters is his wellbeing. id love to hear stories of school/education problems all working out fine in the end, to help me focus on the here and now and stop worrying so much about what the future holds . Thanks.” (April 23, 2021)
Another parent on Twitter is concerned about how stressed her daughter is with the difficulties of wearing face masks in the heat:

I have just picked my daughter up from school,she is very stressed ,the school are making them wear masks in communal areas and she is barely able to breathe in this heat.She has also not been allowed to get a drink.We need to stand up to this Government as this is child abuse.
— 🌸 Lorraine 🌸 ❤ 🐎🐐☀️🌴🐬🐿️🐇🌹🦋🐓🐈🌳🌺🦆 (@lorrain00414525) September 15, 2020

In summary, children’s mental health and well-being has been an ongoing topic of conversation on social media for teachers before and during the pandemic—but much less so than for teachers’ own well-being. Many teachers are concerned with how to help students handle the stress in their lives, especially as it relates to schooling. Parents care about this too and amid COVID-19 have joined the online conversation alongside teachers, but it has been a less dramatic uniting of conversations than the exam controversy.
Insight 4
Parents have disparate interests and lack a unifying motivation to push for broader education change
Parents participating in the education conversation on social media are heavily focused on their personal experience and the particular needs of their children. We saw across the two years that parents have wide-ranging and disparate interests, including different interest groups for the specific learning needs—from autism to dyslexia—of their children. Many parents also voiced concern or pride about their child’s progress in school.
For example, parents of children with autism shared their experiences with the school system:

When a child cries every morning and every night because they have anxieties or fears around school & the parent(s) communicate this with school – listen and support – but never respond with ‘well the child is fine when they are here’ #SencoChat #Autism #MentalHealth #EduTwitter
— SEN Lisa 💙 (@Lisa_SEND) September 29, 2020

I just want to add something about free school meals, because my carers allowance is added as earnings, we do not get free school meals for our 2 young boys , think about that , penilised because I’m caring for my disabled son.
— Autism care and share (@autcareandshare) June 16, 2020

We saw many posts of parents celebrating their children’s accomplishments, such as this one:

Huge congratulations to my daughter Rebekah on passing the 12+ entrance exam and interview for Oundle School. It’s her ambition to be an engineer & I’m so grateful to Oundle for giving her this opportunity 🙏 pic.twitter.com/ByjuZDCiBG
— Dr Liz Sennitt Clough (@LizSennitt) February 24, 2021

Not surprisingly, with the onset of the pandemic, many parents took to social media to share their experiences and perspectives on coping with school closure and lockdown. Over and above their concerns with exam grading and students’ mental health, parents expressed frustration at coping with home learning and school closures and shared advice for how to handle the situation. For example below several Mumsnet parents were cited anonymously in a news story at the end of 2020:
“Blended/online learning does NOT work if you have multiple kids of different ages. It does not work if parents are working full time.”
“The guilt I felt over having my child in front of a screen for 10 hours a day was just unendurable.”
Parents, like teachers, also offered up tips and suggestions for coping with education amid the pandemic, as in this parent’s post cited in the BBC on March 21, 2020:
“The key is finding out what works for you as a family, but have a delineation between home life and school. Don’t spend all day in pyjamas. Come together for a mindfulness session rather than an assembly and do topic-based work, too. My daughter and I will do the Egyptians next week.” (March 21, 2020)
Parents also shared their support of their children’s schools thanking them for their flexibility and communication:

Just read the letter from the head teacher of my son’s primary school explaining why they have taken the decision to move to online learning. Magnificently written and she and the teachers have my full support #MakeSchoolsSafe
— Dr Yinka Olusoga (@YinkaOlusoga) January 3, 2021

Not all parents were forgiving, however, as many vented their frustrations upon what they viewed as incompetent political leadership. Parents had varying and diverse critiques, such as these two parents who criticize politicians from both the Conservative and Labour Parties:

If I’d voted in the way @Matt_VickersMP had this evening, I’m not sure I’d be able to sleep tonight. And I’m not exaggerating here. If a government chooses not to provide free school meals during half term for our most vulnerable children, what kind of government do we have?
— Matt Smith (@utb_smith) October 21, 2020

Liz Kendall pushing for teachers getting vaccinated over half term in that relentless Labour mantra. I’ve never once heard them mention teaching assistants, or childminders or police officers, or bus drivers or shop assistants. What’s special about teachers?
— Justine Carroll 🇬🇧 (@JustineClaire65) February 1, 2021

In summary, parents’ focus is—not surprisingly—on the particular needs of their children and how to help them in their educational journey. The daily tasks ahead of parents are what preoccupy them, and they reach out for connection, advice, support, and information around a variety of topics. The pandemic was understandably a topic of concern for many parents over and above the issues with exams and mental health, many highlighting how hard it was to cope but equally many thanking their child’s teachers and schools for coping well. However, overall parents’ sentiment on their child’s education is quite mixed with many pockets of narrowly focused conversations, demonstrating that there was no one common parent voice or perspective on social media. Without common interests and motivations among parents, it may be difficult to engage them in conversations about broader education system change.
There is strong appetite for connection and talking about education across everyday people from students to teachers to parents. However, except for connecting and commiserating about education amid COVID-19, these key actors in England’s education system are largely talking about different things in their online discussions. While students, teachers, and parents use social media to connect and share resources, each group tends to talk to each other versus across groups. Students frequently share resources and tips on exams, teachers share classroom resources and build their networks using hashtags like #edutwitter, and parents seek advice from other parents about their child’s schooling. The pandemic provided a unique moment where students, teachers, and parents shared a similar narrative as illustrated by the 2020 exam controversy. It is likely that this alignment and overwhelming criticisms were factors driving leaders to reverse course on the exam grading policy.
When key actors in a system are aligned in their desires—as evidenced by the sentiments expressed in their conversations—it is much more likely for systems to change in the direction stakeholders are collectively pushing. For education advocates and policymakers wishing to “build back better” and use the disruption of the pandemic to improve England’s education system, it will be important to engage students, teachers, and parents in the process. Because these actors have such disparate areas of attention, bringing them into a shared conversation is necessary—as it is unlikely to happen on its own—and social media and other online platforms are just a few of many venues to facilitate this. Perhaps the cohesive force of shared moments amid COVID-19 could be an entry point to exploring the possibility of developing a more aligned education narrative among students, teachers, and parents. The possibility of harnessing this moment to help leapfrog the English education system forward is one that would be well served by forging a shared vision and narrative of education.

The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and policy solutions. Its mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research and, based on that research, to provide innovative, practical recommendations for policymakers and the public. The conclusions and recommendations of any Brookings publication are solely those of its author(s), and do not reflect the views of the Institution, its management and other scholars, nor the views of its donors, their officers, employees, or Boards of Governors .
Brookings gratefully acknowledges the support provided by BHP Foundation, Big Change Charitable Trust, and Joann McPike.
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Cryptocurrency flows in Africa

( 4 mins) The use of cryptocurrencies in Africa is on the rise, as digital currencies offer a swift, convenient, and direct peer-to-peer channel for remittance payments, international commerce, and savings. To better understand the global landscape around cryptocurrency use, Chainalysis, a leading cryptocurrency market research firm, recently released a report examining key geographic trends around the financial tool, including in the nascent African crypto market.

Although Africa captures only 2 percent of the global value of all cryptocurrencies received and sent (Figure 1), making it the world’s smallest cryptocurrency economy, the rising prominence of this innovative form of money is altering traditional financial flows to and from the continent.
Figure 1. Summary of Africa’s cryptocurrency usage (July 2019-June 2020)

Source: “The 2020 Geography of Cryptocurrency Report,” Chainalysis, 2020.
Chainalysis finds that the largest crypto channel connects Africa to East Asia, although channels to Northern and Western Europe and then North America trail closely behind (Figure 2). According to the report, the particularly high volume of funds sent from Africa to East Asia stems from the magnitude of Chinese nationals working in Africa.
Figure 2. Africa’s cryptocurrency inflows and outflows by region (July 2019-June 2020)

Source: “The 2020 Geography of Cryptocurrency Report,” Chainalysis, 2020.
Importantly, access to these digital currencies is providing an alternative to both traditional intra-regional transfer payments and international remittance systems, as transferring funds via cryptocurrencies circumvents paying transfer fees that remain higher in Africa than in the rest of the world. While transferring money through cryptocurrencies does incur a fee, the authors suggest its lower fee structure and the easy, universal access to cryptocurrency networks via mobile phones make these digital assets more convenient than rigid traditional-banking and money-wiring services.

Given the data challenges stemming from the decentralized exchanges that mediate crypto transactions, the authors warn that, beyond identifying the market share of retail-sized transfers (transactions under $10,000) it is very difficult to estimate the share of African cryptocurrency transfers dedicated to remittance networks (Figure 3). Notably, compared to other regions, Africa engages in the highest rate of retail-sized crypto transfers in the world, which the report attributes to the digital currency’s rising popularity for remittance payments.
Figure 3. Market share of retail-sized (less than $10,000) transfers (July 2019-June 2020)

Source: “The 2020 Geography of Cryptocurrency Report,” Chainalysis, 2020.
Chainalysis speculates the simplification and cost-competitiveness of sending and receiving money with cryptocurrency will fuel continued growth of digital currency utilization in the region. Alongside the use of cryptocurrencies as a medium of exchange, stablecoins, a cryptocurrency variant whose value remains stable by pegging its price 1:1 with the U.S. dollar, offers Africans facing unstable currencies an alternative outlet in which to save money without the anxiety of devaluation. Based on the multitude of advantages over traditional financial systems, the authors suggest that the relatively small cryptocurrency market in Africa is generating significant value for the early adopters who utilize the novel tool.
For more on cryptocurrency and financial flows in Africa, read “Keep remittances flowing to Africa,” “How finance flows to Africa” and Brookings Senior Fellow Eswar Prasad’s new book “The Future of Money.“

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