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Category archive: Africa

Saturday October 01 2016

The Evolution of Everything, pp. 181-184:

Evolutionary reform of education is happening. James Tooley, Professor of Education at Newcastle University, has catalogued - ‘discovered’ might be a better word - the fact that the poorest slums of cities, and the remotest villages, in countries such as India, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and even China abound in low-cost private schools. He first began studying this phenomenon for the World Bank in 2000 in Hyderabad in India, and has more recently followed it through Africa. In the cramped and sewage-infested slums of the old city of Hyderabad he stumbled upon an association of five hundred private schools catering to the poor. In one of them, the Peace High School, he found doorless classrooms with unglazed windows and stained walls, where children of rickshaw-pullers and day labourers paid sixty to a hundred rupees a month (about 90p-£1.50), depending on age, for their education. Yet the quality of the education was impressive. In another, St Maaz High School, he found a charismatic head teacher with mathematical flair who in twenty years had built up a school with nearly a thousand students, taught by a group of largely unqualified (but often graduate) teachers, on three rented sites, from which he made a reasonable profit. State schools existed, with state-certificated teachers in them, but many of Hyderabad’s parents were exasperated by the poor quality of the education they provided, and many of the private-school teachers were exasperated by the poor quality of the teacher training. ‘Government teacher training,’ one told Tooley, ‘is like learning to swim without ever going near a swimming pool.’

When Tooley told these stories to his colleagues at the World Bank, he was told that he had uncovered examples of businessmen ripping off the poor, or that most of the private schools were creaming off the wealthier parents in a district, which was bad for those left behind. But this proved demonstrably untrue: the Peace High School in Hyderabad gave concessions, or even free tuition, to the children of extremely poor and illiterate people: one parent was a cleaner in a mosque earning less than £10 a month. Why would such people send their children to private schools rather than to the free state schools, which provided uniforms, books and even some free food? Because, Tooley was told by parents, in the state schools teachers did not show up, or taught badly when they did. He visited some state schools and confirmed the truth of these allegations.

Tooley soon realised that the existence of these low-cost private schools in poor neighbourhoods was not unknown, but that it was largely ignored by the establishment, which continued to argue that only an expansion of state education could help the poor. The inadequate state of public education in low-income countries is well recognised; but the answer that everybody agrees on is more money, rather than a different approach. Amartya Sen, for instance, called for more government spending and dismissed private education as the preserve of the elite, while elsewhere in the same paper admitting that the poor were increasingly sending their children to private schools, ‘especially in areas where public schools are in bad shape’. This bad shape, he thought, was due to the siphoning off of the vocal middle classes by private schools - rather than the fact that teachers were accountable to bureaucrats, and not to parents. Yet the poor were deserting the state sector at least as much as the middle class. The lesson that schooling can be encouraged to emerge from below was ignored in favour of the theory that it must be imposed from above.

India was just the start for Tooley. He visited country after country, always being assured that there were no low-cost private schools there, always finding the opposite. In Ghana he found a teacher who had built up a school with four branches teaching 3,400 children, charging $50 a term, with scholarships for those who could not afford it. In Somaliland he found a city with no water supply, paved roads or street lights, but two private schools for every state one. In Lagos, where government officials and the representatives of Western aid agencies all but denied the existence of low-cost private schools, he found that 75 per cent of all schoolchildren in the poor areas of Lagos state were in private schools, many not registered with the government. In all the areas he visited, both urban and rural, in India and Africa, Tooley found that low-cost private schools enrolled more students than state schools, and that people were spending 5-10 per cent of their earnings on educating their children. When he asked a British government aid agency official why his agency could not consider supporting these schools with loans instead of pouring money into the official educational bureaucracy in Ghana, he was told that money could not go to for-profit institutions.

Suppose you are the parent of a child in a Lagos slum. The teacher at the school she attends is often absent, frequently asleep during lessons, and provides a poor standard when awake. This being a public-sector school, however, withdrawing your child goes unnoticed. Your only other redress is to complain to the teacher’s boss, who is a distant official in a part of the city you do not often visit; or you can wait for the next election and vote for a politician who will appoint officials who will do a better job of sending inspectors to check on the attendance and quality of teachers, and then do something about it. Good luck with that. A World Bank report cited by Tooley states despairingly that pay-for-performance cannot work in public-sector schools, and ‘dysfunctional bureaucracies cascade into a morass of corruption, as upward payments from those at lower levels buy good assignments or ratings from superiors’.

If your teacher is in a private, for-profit school, however, and you withdraw your child, then the owner of the school will quickly feel the effect in his pocket, and the bad teacher will be fired. In a free system the parent, the consumer, is the boss. Tooley found that private-school proprietors constantly monitor their teachers and follow up parents’ complaints. His team visited classrooms in various parts of India and Africa, and found teachers actually teaching in fewer of the government classrooms they visited than in private classrooms – sometimes little more than half as many.  Despite having no public funds or aid money, the unrecognised private schools had better facilities such as toilets, electricity and blackboards.  Their pupils also get better results, especially in English and mathematics.

Friday July 08 2016

When cute wildlife kills other cute wildlife, it has to be handled delicately:

‘We ask that members of the public exercise patience during this time. The City hopes to trap the caracal, collar the animal with a radio tracking device and to move it away from the penguin colony, but still within its current home range. …’

That’s 6k quoting from this.  Says 6k:

Wouldn’t get that in the Kruger National Park, now would you?

I’m guessing: not.

Until today, I had no idea what a caracal was.  Blog and learn.  You mean you still don’t know?  Here you go.  Basically, it’s a big cat (or a small lion-coloured leopard) with big pointy ears.

Latin name of caracal: caracal caracal.

Thursday June 30 2016

6k writes about the long journey from journeyman amateur snapper to Artist:

I don’t pretend to be a photo ninja. I can point, and I can shoot, and sometimes the results can be pretty good. Very occasionally, they can be startlingly good, but only very occasionally. I need to work more at not just pointing and shooting to increase the percentage of those startlingly good shots. We’ll get there.

There follows a picture of a bird spreading its wings.  In other words, the capture of a fleeting moment.

6k photos his family quite a bit, as they do things like explore the spectacularly beautiful coastline near where he lives, in South Africa.  Photoing your loved ones is also a matter of capturing the exact right moment.

With me, I think I get nearest to Art when I’m lining things up with each other.  I have a mental list of things I like, and a picture counts double in my head, if I can line a couple, or maybe even more, of these things.  The most characteristic of such alignments over the years have typically involved a digital photographer, with a London Big Thing in the background.

Here are a couple of efforts I might pick out to enter a competition, if someone told me I had to do that:


In these two cases, there is also an element of me waiting for the right moment, or more accurately me snapping lots of promising looking moments and picking out the best one.

Those two are from this huge collection of unrecognisable photographers, which I doubt many of you scrutinised in its entirety.  So there are two of them again.  I particularly like the one with the blue balloon.

And here is another exercise in lining things up, captured just a few days ago.  This time, the object at the front is a plastic water bottle, resting on the anti-pigeon netting in the courtyard outside and above my kitchen window.  Behind the bottle is a thing that regulars here will know that I like a lot, namely: scaffolding!  This being the scaffolding at the top of the big conversion job that’s being done across the courtyard from me:


That picture involves something I don’t usually like to do, which is cropping.  The original snap was rather bigger.

I don’t know what exactly I’ve got against cropping, but it feels to me like only one or two notches up from cheating.  Maybe I take rather excessive pride in (the Art of) getting the snap I want to emerge straight from the camera, no muss, no fuss, no photoshop.  The truth, of course, is that cropping is itself very much an Art.  But because I don’t do cropping that much, I probably could have cropped this photo a whole lot better than I actually did.

Friday June 17 2016

And I’m back to trivia-mongering.  Any day now, I’ll be back to opinion-mongering too:


It’s the first picture of these.

Engineer Thomas Selig, 28, set up his camera on a tripod 100 metres away from a cluster of female lions and cubs in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. He then retreated to a safari vehicle to take pictures with a remote control. A lioness decided to make off with his camera, and proceeded to chew it!

Lucky someone had a second camera, to show what happened to the first camera.

Actually, according to what I am now reading, a lot of people never stopped opinion-mongering.

Friday April 01 2016

What do you suppose this is?:


Just looking at that, I can’t tell.  A bit of pink string or wool?  A vapour trail in the sunset?  Clue: This is Friday here at BMdotcom and living creatures are involved.

But click on it, getting the bigger picture, and it all becomes clearer.

However, I submit that this clarity is not because of the picture being slightly bigger.  It is because we see where this strange Thin Thing is to be seen.  We don’t so much see what it is as deduce it.  We?  Maybe it was not like that for you.  Maybe you have a better screen than I do.  But this was how I worked it out.

The picture is one of these.  6K called it “The thin pink line”, so I’m guessing he realised how it might be cropped.  By, e.g., me.

Sunday March 27 2016

Or: Spoughts thoughts?  You choose.

Sport (spought) has been good to me of late.  Last summer, England won the Ashes.  My local cricket team, Surrey, got promoted to division one, and also got to the final of the fifty overs county knock-out tournament.  England then defeated South Africa in South Africa.  England (a different England but still England) won the Six Nations rugby Grand Slam.  And now (back to cricket again) England have got to the last four of the twenty overs slog competition, alongside the Windies, India and New Zealand.  Few expect England to win this.  But then, few expected England to get to the last four.  No South Africa (beaten amazingly by England).  No Australia (beaten today by India (aka Virat Kholi)).  No Pakistan or Sri Lanka.  But: England still involved.

Concerning the Grand Slam, the best thing about it was England winning all its games, but otherwise it was … a bit crap.  The recently concluded World Cup, in which England did rather less well loomed too large over it.  The World Cup featured no Six Nations sides in its last four, and when watching our local lads stressing and straining against each other you couldn’t help (a) thinking that the Southern Hemispherians would murder them, and (b) that a lot of the best Six Nations players seemed to be Southern Hemispherians themselves.  I mean, what kind of rugby world are we living in when the most threatening French back is called Scott Spedding and was born in Krugersdorp, South Africa?

The Six Nations was worth it just to hear Jonathan Davies, a man whose commentating I have had reason to criticise in the past, say that a certain game is “crucial”, and that Wales have “matured”:



As for the twenty-twenty slogfest now in full slog, well, I have been rooting for England (England’s best batsman being a bloke called Root), but also for Afghanistan.  You might think that as a devout anti-Islamist, which I definitely am, I would be rooting for the Muslim teams to lose.  But actually, I think sport is one of the leading antidotes to Islamo-nuttery, and it is my understanding that the Islamo-nutters regard sport and sports-nuttery not as an expression of Islamo-nuttery, but rather, as a threat to it.  Sports nuttery ultimately causes fellowship with the infidels rather than hatred of them, underneath all the youthful antagonisms which it does indeed inflame.  It’s hard not to get pally with people when you play or follow games with them and against them, especially as you get older, and remember previous hostilities with fondness rather than anger.

So, in short: go Afghanistan!  The Afghanistan twenty-twenty cricket team, I mean.  Afghanistan gave England a hell of a fright and nearly beat them.  And yesterday, they actually did beat the West Indies, even though it didn’t count for so much because the Windies had already got through to the semis and the Afghans would be going home now no matter what.  But, even so, beating the Windies was a big deal, and the cricket world will have noticed, big time.

Here is Cricinfo, at the moment of Afghan triumph:


I love it when a T20 game really boils up, and they put “dot ball” in bold letters, the way they usually only write “OUT” and “FOUR” and “SIX” and “dropped”, or, as in this case, “an amazing, brave, brilliant running catch!”

And soon after that climax to the game, came this:


Chris Gayle is quite a character.  Having scored a brilliant century against England that won the Windies that match and put England in the position of having to win everything from then on, his commitment to the West Indian cause is not in doubt, as it might have been had he celebrated like this with the Afghans without having done any other notable things in this tournament.  He has quarrelled with West Indian cricket bureaucrats over the years, and has definitely seemed to have like playing for the Bangalore Royal Challengers more than for the West Indies.

His demeanour after today’s Afghan game is in sharp contrast to his lordly impassivity after taking the wicket of David Miller of South Africa, which reduced South Africa to 47-5, a predicament from which they failed to recover


One of the delights of virtually following this tournament is that it has been possible to watch little videos of dramatic moments, like the one of Gayle taking this wicket and then not celebrating very much.  The graphic additions to this posting are merely screen captures.  Clicking on them accomplishes nothing.  But if you go to the original commentary from which I took my graphics, you can click on the little black video prompts, and get a little video of the drama just described.

Also: Happy Easter.

Wednesday March 23 2016

I did an earlier posting about some birds I had spied on a walk with GD1, and 6k identified them:

I can help with bird identification!

Your ducks are red-crested pochards (a female and a male), ...

Pochards?  You made that up mate.  Well, no.  But, first I’d heard of it.

… while your ibises are African Sacred Ibis, which are regular visitors to our local dumps and beaches, scavenging what they can, where they can.

Sacred Ibis?  More like profane.

I actually came across some on my walk this this weekend.  While they may be ugly on the ground, they can be beautiful in flight.

I can confirm that these Ibis, Ibises, Ibes, Ibix, whatever, look good in the air, because on that same trip, moments after taking the shot I showed in that earlier posting, of two Ibi squatting on a horizontal tube, I got a shot of one of them flying.  Inside their cage, yes, but still flying.  And suddenly, a squat little pre-war propeller driven failure of an aircraft turned into a post-war jet bomber:


Let’s have a closer look at that:


Profane on the ground, but sacred in the air.

Saturday March 19 2016

Bright sunlight on a basically rather dull day can make the most commonplace objects seem heavenly.  But when a shaft of sunlight slashed across Cape Town earlier in the week, it hit a big container ship and a flock of container cranes, who ended up looking like a herd of giraffes.  Amazing.  And crying out to be horizontalised:


I was saving that for yesterday, because yesterday was Friday and my day for animals (the more bizarre the better).  But come yesterday, I forgot.

Too good to delay, too good to ignore.

Mechanical giraffes
Cat and cubs
A busy day and a collection of Big Things
I slept right through it
Blue sky
Enjoy it when you can
Matt Ridley on how culture leads where genes follow
The culling of the Northern Hemisphere
Early thoughts on the Rugby World Cup
Ships on a roof
Sign with sarcastic sneer quotes
Well that’s a relief
Amusing cats versus important people
Ashes Lag recovery continues
Games lovely games
6k quota photo of sea
Mercedes-Benz W123
Michael Jennings photoes Cape Bojador
Comrade Blimp
Corrie Chipps pictures the Zimbabwe inflation
I love it that the parents are called Susan and Freddie
Lion steals camera
Multilingual signage
Signs from the Frenchosphere
Quota photo by someone else
“There is electricity and water, but there’s no phone line …”
Defeating Islam (2): Conversion to Christianity will trump higher birth rates in Islamic countries
Another world cup photo of photographers
Photoing the World Cup
Samizdata and Zimbabwe both on the up and up?
Was it Sweeney?  And what else were they trying to suppress?
Death to all who try to tiptoe past our guards while wearing giant baby costumes!
Another Samizdata piece
Africa is big
What a lot of circles
Bowled Harmison bowled Harmison
Kings Cross gasometer sunset travels 6000 miles
Nothing there
Billion Monkeys on Table Mountain!
Adriana and Ivan in Addis
Lots of links
An improbable England win in the Six Nations
Leon Louw talks about the habits of highly effective countries
Sssssssss!!!! White man!  Take my photo!!
Other Billion Monkeys at the Globalisation Institute party!
The latest Brian and Antoine elections around the world mp3