July 28, 2021

Global Economy and Development

Slums, sprawl, and skyscrapers

BY Post, Brookings Institute

Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on reddit

Listen to our reports with a personalized podcasts through your Amazon Alexa or Apple devices audio translated into several languages

Originally published on by Brookings Institute. Link to original report

( 8 mins)

These three words are probably the most used in popular and policy discussions of city development. The squalor of slums, unsustainability of sprawl and sterility of skyscrapers are the proverbial Achilles heel of community leaders and urban planners. They call for livable neighborhoods with a vibrant mix of homes, shops, offices, and local amenities.

In a recent report, “Pancakes to Pyramids: City Form to Promote Sustainable Growth,” we examine how cities across the world have grown over the past quarter century and explain why some are stuck with slums, while others have expanded and some have built impressive skylines. Our priors have been shaped by our experiences living in cities, and we set out to examine if empirical regularities were consistent with these priors.

3 priors, 1 question

One of us recalls riding Mumbai’s crowded suburban rails during the early 1990s, passing the large slums of Dharavi where people lived cheek by jowl with little access to taps and toilets at home. While India’s economy was opening up to new investment, authorities responsible for Mumbai were slow to lay in the infrastructure and streamline the regulations that made it easier for newcomers to live and set up businesses. To be sure, Mumbai’s skyline has peaked over the past three decades, with redevelopment comprising a quarter of all real estate development over the last 10 years. Redevelopment of the city responded to economic demand. However, there is a long path ahead, to ensure that the slums of Dharavi transform into livable neighborhoods.

Around the same time, another one of us was growing up in Anyang, 15 kilometers from Seoul, and recalls catching frogs in rice fields with his friends. He recalls that “going to Seoul was a big deal—an annual event.” However, very soon, Seoul expanded into Anyang to accommodate its growing economy and population, building outward and upward. Rice fields gave way to skyscrapers, keeping in step in Korea’s rapid economic growth (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Building outward and upward in Anyang, South Korea

The third among us grew up in a single-family home in a dormitory village of about 1,000 people around the city of Caen, one of the rainiest parts of France. She moved to Paris as a young adult, a city that she had always dreamt of living in. Her dreams were shattered as she realized that, as a student, she could not afford the cozy apartment under the roofs of the left bank district. She ended up living in the “Red Belt” suburbs of Paris with its Lenin stadiums and high towers and concentrated poverty that share some of the most expensive land in Europe with expensive single family homes. However, the metro system allowed her to enjoy the human density and amenities of Paris.

Our experiences living in cities highlighted that the way a city grew reflected broader processes of economic development. If a country was poor and its economy stagnant, cities were crowded and squalid. As a country’s economy expanded, cities became home to more people and businesses who demanded better homes, offices, infrastructure, and open spaces. Cities accommodated changes in demand by redeveloping their existing structures, by expanding into the periphery, and by building taller. However, regulations could stymie the supply of structures and push poorer people into farther locations. But decent transport systems could keep them connected to opportunities. A growing economy interacting with urban regulations and transport systems shaped how a city grew. The question is: Was our experience shared across cities?

Floor space—the final product of urbanization

To answer this question, we carried out an empirical exercise to examine how floor space has evolved across cities and what factors contribute to floor area growth. We focused on floor space available in the city rather than its land area as floor space makes the difference between a city being livable or being crowded. As noted urbanist Alain Bertaud puts it, the final product of urbanization is floor space.

We answered this question in two parts. First, we estimated how the built-up area of a city has changed over the past 25 years, from 1990-2015. Second, we identified how city building heights look across the world. To get a handle on built-up area growth, we examine data from 9,500 cities from the Global Human Settlement Urban Center Database. Details on measurement are provided in the report and our working paper.

We find that livable floor space hinges on city growth along three margins:

  • Horizontal spread—extending beyond the city’s previously built-up area.
  • Infill development—closing gaps between existing structures.
  • Vertical layering—raising the skyline of the existing built-up area.

As cities grow in productivity and in population, they add floor space by expanding outward, inward, upward, or—more usually—along all three margins to varying degrees. We use the terms pancakes and pyramids as shorthand for two broadly different tendencies in the physical manifestation of city growth:

  • Cities with low productivity and income levels and dysfunctional policy environments generally grow as pancakes—flat and spreading slowly. Low economic demand for land and floor space keeps land prices low and structures close to the ground, especially at the urban edge. Given slow expansion, growth in population density is often accommodated by crowding, starkly visible in the slums of developing country cities.
  • Cities with higher productivity and responsive policies may evolve from pancakes into pyramids—their horizontal expansion persists, yet it is accompanied by infill development and vertical layering. A rising demand for floor space in economically productive cities and a rise in housing investment and consumption, leads developers to fill vacant or underused land at and within the city edge with new structures. The same demand for floor space drives expansion not just horizontally in two dimensions, but also in the third—the vertical. Structures are built taller, on average, and at the urban core, they are built much taller, forming sharply peaked skylines.

The inevitability of sprawl, but with a silver lining

We find that horizontal growth is inevitable for most developing country cities. In low-income and lower-middle-income countries, 90 percent of urban built-up area expansion occurs as horizontal growth (Figure 2). But there is a silver lining: in high-income and upper-middle-income country cities, a larger share of new built-up area is provided through infill development. A city in a high-income country that increases its built-up area by 100 m2 will add about 35 m2 through infill development and 65 m2 through horizontal spread. But a similar city in a low-income country will add 90 m2 through horizontal spread and only 10 m2 from infill.

Figure 2. Horizontal growth is inevitable for most developing country cities

Figure 2. Horizontal growth is inevitable for most developing country cities

Source: Pancakes to Pyramids: City Form to Promote Sustainable Growth

We also find that economic productivity and rising incomes are indispensable for vertical layering because building high is capital-intensive. A city that grows in population, but not productivity and incomes, will not generate enough economic demand for new floor space for its spatial expansion to keep pace with population growth. For example, if the population increased by 10 percent but incomes stay constant, the city’s total floor space increases by 6 percent. This 6 percent increase is too small to allow a newly added population the same amount of floor space per person as before: Each inhabitant’s residential and work space will shrink, eventually making the city less livable. Our estimations indicate:

  • The elasticity of total floor space to population is 0.60. If a city’s population increases by 10 percent (holding income constant), its total floor space increases by 6 percent because of built-up area increase (3.5 percent) and vertical layering (2.5 percent) (Figure 3).
  • Elasticity of total floor space to income: 0.29. If the city’s income increases by 10 percent (holding population constant), its total floor space increases by 2.9 percent through a combination of built-up area expansion (1 percent) and vertical layering (1.9 percent).

Figure 3. Horizontal growth is inevitable for most developing country cities

Figure 3. Horizontal growth is inevitable for most developing country cities

Source: Pancakes to Pyramids: City Form to Promote Sustainable Growth

Increasing incomes and economic productivity are together necessary for a rise in floor space per person through vertical layering and pyramidal growth. Our research shows that the growth of cities and the availability of floor space reflect market forces that support productivity and economic growth. The finding echoes the World Bank’s 2009 World Development Report on Economic Geography: “Many policymakers perceive cities as constructs of the state—to be managed and manipulated to serve some social objective. In reality, cities and towns, just like firms and farms, are creatures of the market”.

Slums, sprawl, and skyscrapers reflect market conditions but are generally distorted by poor regulation and inadequate infrastructure. The movement out of slums toward livable cities is critical for developing countries, but this is unlikely to happen without structural transformations and economic growth.

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.

Related Content

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.

Read More »

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.
Brookings recognizes that the value it provides is in its commitment to quality, independence, and impact. Activities supported by its donors reflect this commitment.

Read More »

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.“

Related Content

Read More »

Strengthening the global financial safety net by broadening systematic access to temporary foreign liquidity

( < 1 min) This website uses cookies to improve your experience while you navigate through the website. Out of these, the cookies that are categorized as necessary are stored on your browser as they are essential for the working of basic functionalities of the website. We also use third-party cookies that help us analyze and understand how you use this website. These cookies will be stored in your browser only with your consent. You also have the option to opt-out of these cookies. But opting out of some of these cookies may affect your browsing experience.

Read More »

The game is not yet over, and vaccines still matter: Lessons from a study on Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination

( 8 mins) Just a few months ago, we almost sang a song of triumph in the fight against the pandemic. The infection numbers drastically decreased in countries with high vaccination rates. The Tokyo Olympic Games ended without a big outbreak. Many sports leagues resumed their activities, like Major League Baseball and the English Premier League. We dreamed of a world that was back to normal.

And then the COVID-19 delta variant emerged and changed everything. Although there is still some debate around booster shots, distributing a booster shot and tackling vaccine hesitancy seem to be needed to end the pandemic. A recent Israeli study shows that the booster shot is 86 percent effective in preventing infection among the older population. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also reported that while vaccines show declining effectiveness against infection in general, they still show strong protection against hospitalization despite the variant. Once the model for defeating COVID-19, Israel is now facing a new stage of the pandemic—the infection count hit 8,000 as of August 17 (a month prior there were only 27 new cases) due to the delta variant. The booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine is more necessary than ever. The problem is encouraging people to get it.
In March and August 2021, the Social Policy Institute (SPI) at Washington University in St. Louis and the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya launched two nationally representative surveys to understand vaccination trends in Israel. The second survey asked respondents’ intention to get a third booster shot if available. Through the survey we found:

Demographic and socioeconomic characteristics were significant predictors of vaccination behaviors of Israelis in March 2021, but less so in August 2021.
Throughout the pandemic, confidence in COVID-19 vaccines is a major factor in vaccine hesitancy.

Who are the unvaccinated Israelis?
To understand those who are vaccine hesitant, we investigated the demographic and socioeconomic correlates to vaccination in Israel. In March 2021, 61.5 percent of 1,517 respondents answered that they had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Notably, vaccination rates varied by demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. The logistic regression model estimated that males (65.7%), older adults (Generation X: 71.0%; baby boomers: 83.4%), parents with one child (66.8%), those with a bachelor’s degree (67.2%), those in higher-income groups (fourth quintile: 68.7%; fifth quintile: 72.4%), and employed respondents (64.5%) were more likely to get vaccinated than the average population (p

Read More »

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

( 2 mins) Trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) began earlier this year, with massive potential to boost inclusive economic growth and reduce inequality and poverty in Africa. Indeed, the World Bank predicts that 30 million Africans could be lifted out of extreme poverty, while incomes could rise by $450 billion by 2035. Exports could increase by $560 billion, while wages may increase by 10.3 percent and 9.8 percent for unskilled and skilled workers, respectively. The AfCFTA is not a panacea, though, and new complex challenges (e.g., COVID-19 and climate change) have exposed the vulnerability of social and economic systems across the world, highlighting their interconnectedness and emphasizing the need for collaboration around radical and sustainable solutions.
Thus, many experts believe that the AfCFTA can be an important tool as Africa looks to navigate these complex challenges. Indeed, in terms of addressing climate change-related challenges, the final negotiations over and implementation of the landmark trade agreement are creating opportunities to install and enforce new climate-friendly policies. For example, the AfCFTA can promote environmentally friendly protocols and e-commerce or advance the development of green value chains for minerals. Moreover, the momentum behind a climate-friendly AfCFTA can further bolster green industrialization and encourage investment in green infrastructure that will integrate climate risks and act as a buffer against current polluting infrastructure.
On September 20, the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative will co-host an event with the United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA) in which panelists will explore opportunities for green trade with Europe in the context of the AfCFTA and the new European Green Deal. The discussion will delve into contentious issues around the carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) tax and trade laws, while looking at ways in which partnership with Europe can support green value chain development, green technology, and green investment in Africa toward green transformation.
After the program, the panelists will take audience questions.
Viewers can submit questions for panelists by emailing [email protected] or via Twitter @BrookingsGlobal by using #GreenAfCFTA.

Read More »

Greening the African Continental Free Trade Area

( 2 mins) Trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) began earlier this year, with massive potential to boost inclusive economic growth and reduce inequality and poverty in Africa. Indeed, the World Bank predicts that 30 million Africans could be lifted out of extreme poverty, while incomes could rise by $450 billion by 2035. Exports could increase by $560 billion, while wages may increase by 10.3 percent and 9.8 percent for unskilled and skilled workers, respectively. The AfCFTA is not a panacea, though, and new complex challenges (e.g., COVID-19 and climate change) have exposed the vulnerability of social and economic systems across the world, highlighting their interconnectedness and emphasizing the need for collaboration around radical and sustainable solutions.
Thus, many experts believe that the AfCFTA can be an important tool as Africa looks to navigate these complex challenges. Indeed, in terms of addressing climate change-related challenges, the final negotiations over and implementation of the landmark trade agreement are creating opportunities to install and enforce new climate-friendly policies. For example, the AfCFTA can promote environmentally friendly protocols and e-commerce or advance the development of green value chains for minerals. Moreover, the momentum behind a climate-friendly AfCFTA can further bolster green industrialization and encourage investment in green infrastructure that will integrate climate risks and act as a buffer against current polluting infrastructure.
On September 20, the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative will co-host an event with the United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa in which panelists will explore the themes relevant to a “green” AfCFTA and debate whether the AfCFTA can be used as a tool to promote green strategies.
After the program, the panelists will take audience questions.
Viewers can submit questions for panelists by emailing [email protected] or via Twitter @BrookingsGlobal by using #GreenAfCFTA.

Read More »

Developing a roadmap for USMCA success

( 3 mins) Introduction
The passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) through the U.S. Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, as well as with strong political backing in Canada and Mexico, underscored the importance of USMCA for North American trade and economic relations.1 It builds on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and largely retains NAFTA’s commitment to lowering trade barriers although it rolls back trade openness in the auto sector. USMCA also adds robust new and timely commitments, particularly on digital trade, labor, and the environment.

The importance of USMCA for regional economic relations is amplified by growing geopolitical competition with China and the COVID-19 pandemic. This competition is over whether China will develop the world’s largest and most innovative economy in this century with attendant military prowess, or whether the U.S., and the West more broadly, will retain its economic lead and dynamism. These tensions are leading to calls to reduce North America’s economic reliance on China. The pandemic has also underscored the importance of expanding and deepening resilient supply chains, of which reshoring activities within North America will be vital to the region’s economic health and sustainability.
USMCA presents an opportunity for the three countries—U.S., Mexico, and Canada—to “build back better” and leverage the region’s collective talents, capital, and expertise to develop a more competitive, sustainable, and inclusive North American economy, which can rival some of its fiercest competitors. Ideally, USMCA will also provide a sustainable framework for the region to work as key partners on important and forward-looking issues.
At this critical juncture, the Global Economy and Development program at Brookings established the USMCA project to research, monitor, and support the development of an ambitious but achievable USMCA agenda. This work includes a website that will house the interactive data on North American trade and investment flows, track USMCA committees and dispute settlement action, and follow compliance with USMCA commitments. It will also publish an annual report that will assess progress and identify opportunities.
Maximizing the opportunities that USMCA presents the region will require the three countries to see each other as true partners with a common cause. It would also be vital to develop a new narrative for the agreement that articulates both the economic and political importance of the USMCA for U.S., Mexico, and Canada relations. This view was widely shared by several participants at a recent Brookings roundtable—participants comprised of senior representatives from business, civil society, and former government officials from the three USMCA countries. The USMCA provides the framework for this robust partnership among the three countries.

Related Content

This paper will provide background on NAFTA and how it has evolved into present day USMCA. It will then focus on five priority areas where progress is still needed and where USMCA could have the most impact:

Building a more competitive North American economy, including by growing trade and investment;
Ensuring resilient supply chains;
Expanding digital trade;
Supporting improvements in wages and working conditions; and
Addressing climate change.

The conclusion provides recommendations on how USMCA can help the region advance on each of these priority areas.
Download the full policy brief

Read More »

How will the rise of the global middle class affect trade and consumption?

( 2 mins) Around the world, the middle class is expanding at a rate we have never seen before in history. Homi Kharas, a senior fellow in the Center for Sustainable Development at Brookings, joins David Dollar in this episode to discuss how that global middle class is defined and where growth is concentrated. Kharas also explains how preferences among the global middle class will affect production, trade, regional value chains, and efforts to address climate change for years to come.

Related Content

Future Development
Which will be the top 30 consumer markets of this decade? 5 Asian markets below the radar

Homi Kharas and Wolfgang Fengler
Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Future Development
A long-term view of COVID-19’s impact on the rise of the global consumer class

Wolfgang Fengler and Homi Kharas
Thursday, May 20, 2021

Future Development
When will the global consumer class recover?

Kelsey Wu and Max Thomasberger
Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Homi Kharas

Senior Fellow – Global Economy and Development, Center for Sustainable Development

David Dollar

Senior Fellow – Foreign Policy, Global Economy and Development, John L. Thornton China Center


Read More »

Africa in the news: Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and vaccine updates

( 5 mins) Guinean special forces oust president and dissolve government
On Sunday, September 5, Guinean special forces led by Col. Mamady Doumboya announced on state television that they had removed President Alpha Condé from office and dissolved the current government. In the announcement, Doumboya indicated that military officials would rewrite Guinea’s constitution and also accused Condé of human rights abuses and corruption. Condé, who was elected to a third term in October following a controversial amendment to the constitution allowing him to extend his stay in power, remains in an undisclosed location, according to the country’s military. Social unrest in the country had been building in advance of the coup, particularly after Condé’s government oversaw violent crackdowns on those protesting the constitutional amendment that led to the deaths of 92 protestors over several months.

In response to the coup, leaders of the 15-country Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Guinea from the regional bloc on Wednesday and sent a delegation to meet with the junta behind the coup. The African Union (AU) followed ECOWAS in suspending Guinea from its decisionmaking bodies and related activities, stressing the importance of diplomatic efforts to guide Guinea toward a civilian-led, constitutional government.
In related news, the price of aluminum skyrocketed this week as buyers feared supply disruptions in Guinea, which has the world’s largest reserve of bauxite, an ore that’s the most common source of aluminum.
Côte d’Ivoire discovers new oil and gas reserves
Last week, Italian oil company Eni announced the discovery of a large oil and natural gas field off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire. A deepwater exploration detected the field at a depth of 3,445 meters (11,300 feet) and produced estimates that it contains as many as 2 billion barrels of oil and more than 50 million cubic meters of natural gas. In reaction to the news, the Ivorian Energy Ministry stated that the field would “greatly increase Ivory Coast’s proven reserves in coming years.” The discovery reveals yet another oil field off the Ivorian coast: In total, Côte d’Ivoire has identified 51 onshore and offshore oil fields, of which 21 are still untapped.
Also in Côte d’Ivoire, substantial rainfalls across most of the nation’s cocoa-growing regions bode well for crop yields this year, according to farmers in the region. The rains come weeks before Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest cocoa producer, will begin its primary harvest season. In 2019, cocoa and cocoa byproducts accounted for almost 40 percent of the country’s exports. This week, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire agreed to cooperate on cocoa pricing after Ghana, the world’s second-largest cocoa producer, reported that last year’s cocoa bean harvest of 1.1 million metric tons was its largest on record.
Africa’s vaccination campaign hits hurdles as COVAX lowers vaccine delivery goals
On Thursday, September 9, World Health Organization (WHO) Africa Director Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, announced that, for various reasons, Africa will receive 25 percent fewer doses than originally anticipated for the year. This statement came after a declaration on Wednesday from COVAX that is was lowering its delivery goal to 1.425 billion doses instead of its previous goal of 2 billion. According to a joint statement by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, and other involved organizations, the decision to lower the COVAX target is due to export restrictions of the Serum Institute of India as well as manufacturing problems at Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca facilities.

Related Content

Criticisms of many developed countries’ vaccine policies are on the rise, as the U.S. recently announced it would make booster shots available to its population: In fact, on Thursday, September 9, Moeti stated, “in the past week, the COVAX Facility delivered over 5 million doses to African countries—while the United States has thrown away three times that amount of doses during the pandemic.” In addition, countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany have secured enough vaccines for five times their populations.
Experts predict that, at the current pace of vaccinations, Africa will remain far behind the rest of the world: In fact, forecasting by The Economist Intelligence Unit predicts that most countries in Africa will not achieve widespread vaccination until the year 2023 while others such as the Unites States will achieve the goal later this year. Indeed, the region is far behind the rest of the world in obtaining and distributing the vaccine due to a myriad of challenges, including supply, cost, poor infrastructure, few cold chain storage facilities, and patient hesitancy, among other constraints.
For more information on vaccine equity and strategies for accelerating the rollout in Africa, join the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative on September 15 for the event, “Accelerating COVID-19 vaccinations in Africa.”

Read More »

Transforming education systems through family-school collaboration

( 2 mins) After COVID-19 forced schools around the world to pivot and devise new outreach mechanisms, many school leaders had an “aha” moment when they saw family engagement in education rise. From Argentina to India to the United States, leaders realized that what they thought were “hard-to-reach” families turned out to be “hard-to-reach” schools; it was schools’ own approaches to engagement that had been getting in the way.
This new focus on ways to connect families with schools presents an opportunity to markedly shift broader approaches—and the overall vision—for long-term collaboration. With the ongoing support of 50 government, civil society, and private sector organizations in the Family Engagement in Education Network (FEEN), the Center for Universal Education (CUE) at Brookings has been researching how families and schools can work better together to improve and transform how education is delivered and what it can achieve. Successful engagement has far-reaching implications for everything from improving student learning outcomes to creating a shared vision between educators and families on the purpose of education.
On September 30, CUE will host a virtual event to launch its new playbook “Collaborating to transform and improve education systems: A playbook for family-school engagement.” After a short presentation on the playbook’s key findings, lead author and CUE Co-director Rebecca Winthrop will moderate intimate chats with members of FEEN and other education decisionmakers about the role of family-school engagement and why it is so urgently needed—showcasing both speakers’ on-the-ground experiences and other findings from the playbook. The discussions will focus on how effective family engagement approaches can transform education systems to address growing inequality and give all children the breadth of skills needed to thrive in the 21st century—and the practical strategies for doing so.
Viewers can submit questions via email to [email protected] or via Twitter at #FamilyEngagement.

Read More »