Joel Spring – Education Networks: Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and The Digital Mind

A summary of one thread within this excellent book….

The DFES (2013) has an overwhelmingly positive view of the future role of ICT in schools and colleges, noting that it has transformed other sectors, that parents and pupils expect it, and that pupils need ICT to equip them with future-work skills. In DFES literature, digital media seems to be presented as a neutral technology through which individual students can be empowered, with emphasis on the benefits such technology can bring to schools, such as more personalised learning, better feedback, a richer resource base and the possibility of extending the learning day. This discourse further constructs not only technologically reticent staff and lack of access to ICT resources as a potential problem, but also centralised government itself, with the forthcoming renewal of the ICT curriculum being fully endorsed and authored by Google, Microsoft, and IBM, with the vision being that 16 year olds will be able to write their own apps by the age of 161.

There are, however, those who are skeptical about the neutrality ICT, the claimed inevitability of its expansion and the supposed benefits of the increasing digitisation of education. One such skeptic is Sociologist Joel Spring who, in a recent book, Education Networks: Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and The Digital Mind, draws our attention to the increasing control of education systems around the world by global corporations, a process which he refers to as Educational Corporatism.

The Nature and Extent of Global Educational Corporatism

According to Spring, a global shadow elite network is responsible for encouraging the growth of Information Communications Technology in state education programs in the USA and increasingly in other countries, something which is unsurprising given that the global education market is a $7 trillion industry, greater than the value of every other information industry combined (WEF 2014).

This network consists of a relatively small number of IT and communications company executives who have close links with senior policy makers in governments, who together have overseen an increase in the use of ICT for the surveillance and education of students. Spring characterises this network as a ‘Flexnet’ because the key actors, or ‘Flexians’, move between government departments and education, media and ICT companies, spending a few years working respectively for one government department before moving to an ICT corporation, and then back to the public sector to spearhead technological initiatives drawing on their corporate contacts to do so, and finally moving back to a more senior Corporate role, supposedly to take advantage of the profits generated from said initiatives.

The Corporate takeover of New York City’s Schools

The means whereby Flexians within the global shadow elite operate is illustrated by the Corporate takeover of New York City Schools.

In 2001 billionaire and superlcass ICT mogul Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor of New York City. After lobbying for and gaining control of New York schools, Bloomberg appointed as school chancellor Joel Klein, a lawyer from another ICT conglomerate, Bertelsmann. Technically Klein lacked the legal requirements to head NYC schools, but this requirement was waived by the state commissioner for education.

Klein initiated changes that centred on student testing and data collection (echoed in education ministries around the world). To aid in this, he contracted with the company Wireless Generation to use their ‘ARIS’ system of data collection and management. Klein then left his position as chancellor to become executive vice president at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which bought 90% of Wireless Generation for $360 million.

In addition to the above, while Klein was chancellor, Murdoch’s New York Post also supported Klein’s efforts to establish more charter schools and undermine protection for teachers.
The Global Neoliberal Agenda for Education

At a global level, the shadow elite influence governments through The World Economic Forum and The United Nations, which both voice considerable optimism about the future role of ICT in meeting the world’s educational needs in the future. As an example of this optimism, Spring points to The World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2010-11, authored by prominent members of the Shadow Elite.

Where education is concerned, the report anticipates ‘Transformation 2.0′, a process in which educational institutions will make increasing use of analytic software tools which convert data into actionable insights. This not only means the now well established use of data on students’ past test results to predict the probability of their passing or failing certain subjects and then directing resources more efficiently to those in need, but the report also predicts the increasing use of ‘data exhaust’, or more qualitative information collected on students throughout their school careers, for the same purposes which in the future might mean increasing surveillance of the number of and length of virtual interactions students make each term in in order to inform educational interventions.

Individual schools and universities do not possess the resources to develop and maintain the kind of software required to collect and collate such ‘Big Data’, so ‘transformation 2.0 might see educational institutions becoming locked into long-term data-analytics contracts with global ICT companies: The future of education might be one where schools do the teaching at a national level but informed by data analysis carried out by global corporations using global data sets.

The WEF report makes several other recommendations:

  • To use ICT to make education more engaging and better suited to the needs of each student through making greater use of data analytics and what Spring calls ‘edutainment’ software, which special emphasis being given to promoting STEM subjects.
  • To better link technology to assessment.
  • To support access to online instruction in and out of school.
  • To increase ‘productivity’ in the education sector: ICT is seen as a relatively const-efficient means whereby schools can accelerate student progress, rather than employing more teachers.

According to Spring’s analysis this vision is ideological and it represents a global Neoliberal agenda for the progressive privatisation of education through governments spending more public money on data analytics, online instruction and assessment delivered by global ICT corporations. It is already the norm in the US for IT and communications companies to develop educational software which are provided to schools for a profit, a practice which the ICT elite wishes to see replicated in other parts of the world.

The ICT Shadow Elite’s ambitions are not limited to developed countries, they are also targeting the education sectors of developing countries, and as an an example of this Spring cites the Microsoft-UNESCO agreement established in 2009 regarding ICT and Higher Education. As part of this agreement, Microsoft offered £50 million of ‘seed money’ to introduce a range of educational technologies to a number of countries – such as DreamSpark, MicrosoftLive@edu, Digital Literacy Curriculum, and The Microsoft IT Academy Program. Spring’s theory is that such an initial seeding will reap dividends in the future as public education sectors expand they will spend increasing sums of money on upgrading software and buying related ICT educational products from Microsoft in future years.

Potential Problems with Increasing Educational Corporatism

Spring points to several possible negative consequences of global companies effectively having more control over national education systems.

Firstly, this is likely to further reduce educational management to the employment of data mining and analysis to predict how student test scores and graduation rates relate to social characteristic information and identifying which limited interventions can be made to improve examination results, with the effectiveness of teachers further reduced to how efficiently they can enhance these measurable results.

Secondly, it is likely that there will be an increasing level of control of knowledge by ICT corporations. The concern here is that this will lead to the further standardisation of knowledge into a form which can be easily assessed through technology, which potentially means preferencing quantifiable knowledge over more qualitative and critical knowledge which require more human intervention to asses. In addition to this, schools are increasingly likely to be seen as institutions whose job it is to provide a 21st century workforce for ICT firms, meaning the preferencing of STEM, ICT and business related courses.

Thirdly, the corollary of greater control being handed to global ICT corporations is declining autonomy of individual schools and teachers. This actually seems to be an explicit goal of the global shadow elite: the WEF (2011) states that the main barrier to extending technology in is ‘human’, with ICT, rather than more teacher-time being (quite literally) sold as the most effective means to personalise learning in order to meet the needs of each learner.

Another idea which potentially undermines teachers which is widely publicised by prominent Flexian Bill Gates is that we should have least one good course online for all subjects rather than lots of mediocre ones. This idea seems both sensible and inevitable but its manifestation might come in the form of a core of highly skilled experts constructing corporate-approved online content for a global education market, with for-profit companies responsible for managing testing and tutoring replacing much of the work teachers currently do.

A final possible consequence is an increasing inequality of educational provision. As governments struggle with finances in the age of ideological driven Neoliberal austerity, it might be that cash strapped schools move towards providing online only tuition for some courses while students at better managed and funded schools retain more formal ICT-supported lessons. This is precisely what happened in Florida in 2010-11 when 7000 students in Miami-Dade county were placed in virtual classrooms in order to beat the state’s class size mandate, which specified a maximum of 25 students per class, but did not apply to virtual classrooms.


While the increasing use of ICT in education appears to offer many benefits, such as enhanced personalisation of learning and increased teacher productivity, the importance of Spring’s analysis lies in reminding us that while technology itself is neutral, the way in which it is deployed is not given the corporate networks and which are currently lobbying for the further digitisation of state education, and the neoliberal agenda of which this is a part.

At present it is difficult to see how anything can halt the spread of Educational Corporatism: there is a clear demand from today’s students and their parents for digitised education and global ICT corporations are clearly well positioned to play an increasing role in the delivery and management of virtual learning environments; and with further government cuts likely, the viritualising of learning seems an obvious way to save money in the education sector by reducing the number teachers.

Whether or not the future of education will be one of reduced teacher autonomy with for-profit Corporations having greater control over national curriculums and thus even more access to students, and what the effects of this will be remain to be seen.


C. Paucek et al (2014) Chapter 8: Online Education: From Novely to Necessity, in World Economic Foundation: Education and Skills 2.0: New Targets and Innovative Approaches. Geneva: Switzerland.

DFES (2013): Digital Technology in Schools. accessed 16/01/2104, updated 18 October 2013. Archived at

Spring, J (2012) Education Networks: Power, Wealth, Cyberspace and The Digital Mind. New York: Routldege. Kindle Edition.

WEF (2011) The Global Information Technology Report 2010-11: Transformations 2.0



The Island of Nauru – Our Collective Ecological Future?

The case study of Nauru illustrates the potential catastrophic consequences of pursuing economic growth without considering the ecological consequences. It may only be one island but Klein argues that the logic which hollowed out Nauru is the same logic which has driven the global economy for the last 400 years. 

The extract below is taken from Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’ (2014: Chapter Five  Beyond Extractivism

Few places on earth embody the suicidal results of building our economies on polluting extraction more graphically than Nauru. Thanks to its mining of phosphate, Nauru has spent the last century disappearing from the inside out; now, thanks to our collective mining of fossil fuels, it is disappearing from the outside in.

For decades, the tiny South Pacific Island of Nauru, home to only 10 000 people, seemed to be an example of a developing country which was doing everything right.

During the 1970s and 80s, the island was periodically featured in press reports, as a place of almost obscene riches, much as Dubai is invoked today, and in the mid-80s Nauru was reported as having the highest GDP capita in the world.

All of this was due to the fact that Nauru was made up almost pure phosphate, a valuable fertiliser, which the Nauruans had been shipping to mainly Australia since they gained their independence in 1968.

Extraction had been going on long before, since 1900, carried out by a series of colonial rulers, who had a simple plan for Nauru once all the phosphate had been extracted – simply ship the islanders to another island. In other words, Nauru was developed in order to disappear – an acceptable (and largely invisible) sacrifice to make for the advancement of industrial agriculture.

When the Nauruans themselves took control of their country in 1968, they had hopes of reversing the hollowing out of their island. They put large chunks of their mining revenue into a trust fund, with the intention of winding down the mining operation and rehabilitating their island’s ecology. However, this long term plan failed as Nauru’s government received catastrophically bad investment advice and the countries mining wealth was squandered.

As a result, rather than being wound-down throughout the 70s and 80s the mining continued unabated and Nauruans benefited from the royalties which rolled in – one consequence was a radical change in diet as islanders came to eat large amounts of processed food (as one resident recalls – ‘during the golden era we didn’t cook, we at in restaurants) which resulted in Nauru becoming the fattest place on earth (today it has the highest levels of obesity and the highest levels of diabetes in the world). Another consequence of high levels of cash was high levels of corruption amongst public officials.

Another consequence was, of course, the hollowing out of the island – in the 1960s Nauru could still have passed as a pleasant tropical island, but the 1990s it was a hollow shell with a small strip around the edge where people lived.

Now the island faces a double bankruptcy – with 90% of the island depleted from mining it faces ecological bankruptcy and with a debt of at least $800 million it faces financial bankruptcy as well.

But this is not the end of Nauru’s problems – it now also faces rising sea levels and inland water shortages because of climate change.

This isn’t the end of the misery of Nauru – because in the past decade the island has become a dumping ground of another sort – In an effort to raise much needed revenue it has agreed to house an offshore detention centre for the government of Australia, in what has become known as ‘the Pacific Solution’. Australian navy and customs ships intercept boats of migrants, most from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan, and immediately fly them to Nauru where they languish in a detention centre, unsure of their status, sometimes up to five years.

Amnesty International has called the camp ‘cruel’ and ‘degrading’ and one journalist has likened it to a death factory because conditions are so bad that people have been driven to attempt suicide.

Unfortunately for us, the logic which has led to such devastation and cruetly on Nauru is the same logic which has underpinned the last 400 years of ‘development’. This logic is the logic of ‘extractivism’ – a non-reciprocal, dominance based relationship with the earth, one of purely taking. The opposite is stewardship, which involves taking but also taking care that regeneration and future life continues.

Extractivism is also directly connected to the notion of sacrifice zones – places that, to the extractors, somehow don’t count and therefore can be poisoned, drained, or otherwise destroyed, for the supposed greater good of economic progress.

This extractivist thinking, unfortunately, lies behind not only the whole history of modernity and colonialism, and obviously neoliberalism, but also behind Socialism, including most of the recent leftist movements in Latin America, because despite their advances in bringing greater equality, national income is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Even the mainstream in the Green Movement are failing to challenge the extrativist model because they have come under the thrall of large-scale, big tech solutions to climate-change, rather than accepting as necessity that the earth requires us to consume less.

Pretty much the only ray of hope for a sustainable future according to Klein lies in the Scandinavian social-democratic models, which are going to take a globalised grass-roots movement to realise on an  international level.

Is a Western Style of Education Appropriate for Developing Countries? (Education and Development Post 3/3)

Previous Post: What are the Barriers to Providing Universal Education? (Education and Development 2/2)

Many of the education systems in developing countries are modelled on those of the west – in that they have primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, they emphasise primary academic subjects such as English, Maths, Science and History and they have external systems of exams which award qualifications to those who pass them. The idea that a Western style of education is appropriate to developing countries is supported by Functionalists/ Modernisation Theorists and generally criticised by Dependency Theorists and People Centred Development Theorists.

Functionalist thinkers (Functionalism is the foundation of Modernisation Theory) argue that Western education systems perform vital functions in advanced industrial societies. These functions include (a) taking over the function of secondary socialisation from parents (b) equipping all children for work through teaching a diverse range of academic and vocational subjects, (c ) sifting out the most able students through a series of examinations so that these can go on to get the best jobs and (d) providing a sense of belonging (solidarity) and National Identity. Functionalists thinkers such as Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons saw national education systems with their top-down national curriculums and examinations as being essential in advanced societies.

It follows that Modernisation Theorists in the 1950s also saw the establishment of education systems as one way in which traditional values could be broken down. If children in developing countries are in school then they can be taught to read and write (which their parents couldn’t have done in the 1950s given the near 100% illiteracy rate at the time), and the brightest can be filtered out through examinations to play a role in developing the country as leaders of government and industry.

According to modernisation theory, school curriculums should be designed with the help of western experts and curriculums and timetables modelled on those of Western education systems – with academic subjects such as English, Maths and History forming core subjects in the curriculums of many developing countries.

However, there are a number of criticisms of the Modernisation Approach to education.

Dependency theorists have pointed out that most people in developing countries do not benefit from western style education. According to DT, education was used in many colonies as a tool of control by occupying countries such as Britain, France and Belgium. The way this worked was to select one quiescent minority ethnic group and provide their children with sufficient education to govern the country on behalf of the colonial power. This divisive legacy continued after colonies gained their independence, with school systems in developing countries proving an extremely sub-standard of education to the majority while a tiny elite at the top could afford to send their children to be educated in private schools, going on to attend universities in the USA and Europe, and then returning to run the country as heads of government and industry to maintain a system which only really benefits the elite, while the majority remain in poverty.

One potential solution to the exclusion faced by the majority of children from education in the developing world comes in the form of Non Governmental Organisations such as Action Aid, who are best known for their Sponsor a Child Campaign, in which any individual in the west can pay £20/ month (or thereabouts) which can fund a child through education. One example of a homegrown version of this charity is the Parikrma Humanity Foundation which essentially ignores the daunting numbers of uneducated children and just focuses on educating one child at a time from the slums of India, to a relatively high level, so that they can escape their poverty for good.


People Centred Development theorists criticise Modernisation Theory because of the fact that Western style curriculums are not appropriate to many people in developing countries. In short, the situations many people in poor countries find themselves in mean they would benefit more from a non-academic education, and more over one that is not explicitly designed to smash apart their traditional societies. According to PCD if people from the west want to help with education in developing countries, they should find out what people in developing countries want and then work with them to meet their educational needs. One excellent example of this is the Barefoot education movement which teaches women and men, many of whom are illiterate, in North West India to become solar engineers and doctors in their own villages, drawing as far as possible on their traditional knowledge. There is one condition people must meet in order to become teachers in this school – they must not have a degree.


It might also be the case that modern technology today means that Western Education systems are simply not required in developing countries. Bill Gates (Head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest Philanthropic charitable organisation in the world which controls over $30 billion of assets, and has a similar amount pledged by wealthy individuals) – who (again unsurprisingly) believes that developing online education courses will change the face of global education in the next 15 years because they can be accessed by anyone with a smartphone. One of the leaders in the development of online courses is the Khan Academy- whose strapline is ‘You can learn anything… for free.

An interesting experiment which suggests this might just work is Sugata Mitra’s ‘hole in wall experiment’  in which he simply put computers in a hole in a wall in various slums and villages around India and just left them there – children picked up how to surf the internet in a matter of days, and even learned some rudimentary English along the way. Mitra’s theory is that children can teach themselves when they work in groups, and his intention is to develop cloud based educational material which will enable children to teach themselves a whole range of subjects.


One problem with leaving education to People Centred Development Approaches or leaving it to children to educate themselves on the internet is that this will probably leave children in poorer developing countries lagging behind in terms of the skills and qualifications required to compete for the best paying jobs in the international job market. In comparison to developing countries, developed countries spend a fortune on their education systems and children spend considerably longer in education, and there is an undeniable link between the successful education systems in South East Asia and the hours invested in education by South East Asian children in countries such as China, South Korea and Singapore and the rapid growth of these economies over the past decades. The problem with this approach is that its success may well be related to the culture of the region which emphasises the importance of individual effort in order to achieve through education.

Related Posts

Education and Development 1/3: Introduction

Education and Development 2/3: Barriers to Education

What are the Barriers to Providing Universal Education? (Education and Development Post 2/3)


Related Post: Education and Development (part one of three – the global picture of education and how education can promote development)

There are many barriers to improving education in developing countries which means that development through education is far from straightforward…

Read the section below and complete the table at the end of the section. 

Firstly, poverty means that developing countries lack the money to invest in education -this results in a whole range of problems – such as very large class sizes, limited teaching resources, a poor standard of buildings, not enough teachers – let alone the resources to monitor the standards of teaching and learning.

This is well illustrated in this video of Khabukoya primary school in a remote region of Kenya, near the Ugandan border.


Kenya spends 6% of its GDP on education and has a comparatively good level of education for Sub-Saharan Africa – yet this school appears to have been forgotten about. The school has 400 students and yet only one classroom with a concrete floor and desks, with all other classrooms having mud floors, and being so small that students are practically sitting on top of each other. Funding is so limited that the school relies of volunteer labour to partition the too-few classrooms they have, a task which is being done with mud and water, and to make matters worse half of the students are infected with jiggers, a parasitic sand flea which burrows into the skin to lay its eggs, which causes infections which are often disabling and sometimes fatal.

Secondly, the high levels of absenteeism in primary and especially secondary schools is a major barrier to improving literacy. Most developing countries have enrollment ratios approaching 100%, but the actual attendance figures are much lower. Even in India, a rapidly developing country, the female secondary attendance rate is 50%, while in Ethiopia, it is down at 16%.

Thirdly, the persistence of child labour- The International Labour Organisation notes that globally, the  number of children in labour stands at 168 million(down from 246 million in 2000) and 59 million of these are in Sub-Saharan Africa.Agriculture remains by far the most important sector where child labourers can be found (98 million, or 59%), but the problems are not negligible in services (54 million) and industry (12 million) – mostly in the informal economy.

Fourthly, poor levels of nutrition in the first 1000 days of a child’s life significantly reduces children’s capacity to learn effectively – malnutrition leads to stunting(being too short for one’s age) which affects more than 160 million children globally and more than 40% of under-fives in many African countries including Somalia, Uganda and Nigeria. According to the World Health Organisation children who are stunted achieve one year less of schooling than those who are not.

Fifthly, War and Conflict-The United Nations notes that 34 million, or more than half all children currently not in education, live in conflict countries, making conflict one of the biggest barriers to education. Many of these children will be internally displace refugees, but on top of this there are approximately 7 million children living as refugees in non-conflict countries (stats deduced from this Guardian article) and most of these receive a poor standard of education. In conflict countries, the vast majority of humanitarian aid money is spent on survival, with only 2% going towards education.


One of the most interesting examples of conflict preventing education (at least ‘western education especially for girls’) is the case of Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria- A terrorist organisation who gained international notoriety in 2014 when they kidnapped 200 girls from their school dormitory.

Sixthly, Patriarchal cultural values– means many girls the world over suffer most from lack of education.Pakistan and India are two countries which have significant gender inequalities in education provision – In India (one of the BRIC nations) the percentage of girls attending school lags 10% points behind that of boys, a situation which is even worse in Pakistan, the country is which Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for attending school. In this video she describes some of the fear tactics the Taliban use to prevent girls going to school – such as bombing schools which allow girls to attend and public floggings of women who allow their daughters to attend school.

Although the starkest examples of gendered educational opportunities are to be found in Asia, there is also inequality in Africa and this blog post talks about gendered barriers to education in East Africa

A seventh barrier is the lack of teachers to improve education –the link has a nice interactive diagram to show variation by country.Somewhat ironically this link takes you to an article which discusses how increasing primary education has led to problems as this has led to an increase in demand for secondary education – which many African countries are too poor to provide!

Finally, an eighth barrier is widely dispersed populations in rural areas means children may have difficulty getting to school.

Education and Development (part 1 of 3)

Ensuring inclusive and quality education for all is objective number four of the United Nation’s new Sustainable Development Goals

Under this objective The United Nations notes that:

Obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development. Major progress has been made towards increasing access to education at all levels and increasing enrollment rates in schools particularly for women and girls. Basic literacy skills have improved tremendously, yet bolder efforts are needed to make even greater strides for achieving universal education goals. For example, the world has achieved equality in primary education between girls and boys, but few countries have achieved that target at all levels of education.

Four specific challenges are identified:

  • Enrollment in primary education in developing countries has reached 91 per cent but 57 million children remain out of school
  • More than half of children that have not enrolled in school live in sub-Saharan Africa
  • An estimated 50 per cent of out-of-school children of primary school age live in conflict-affected areas
  • 103 million youth worldwide lack basic literacy skills, and more than 60 per cent of them are women


Some of the specific targets for 2030 include:

  • Ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes
  • Ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education
  • Ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
  • Eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations

The United Nations argues that Massive Aid Injections are Required to promoteducation

The United Nations estimates that to achieve SDG 4 developing countries would need to increase their education expenditure by an average of 50%, which they will not be able to afford by 2030, resulting in a funding gap of $39 billion, which will need to be met by outside investors.

infographic_3 infographic_4

Education in Developing and Developed Countries: A Comparison

Looking at the global picture is one thing, but looking at statistics country by country provides a much better idea of the differences between developed and developing countries in terms of education.There are a number of indicators used to measure progress in education and just some of these include:

  • The primary enrollment ratio.
  • The mean number of years children spend in school.
  • Attendance figures (at primary and secondary school and in tertiary education).
  • Literacy rates (which can be for youth or adults).
  • National Test Results (e.g. GCSE results)
  • Performance in international tests for international comparisons – such as the PISA tests.
  • The percentage of GDP spent on education

(The main sources for data on education come from the United Nations, UNICEF, and The World Bank.)

A selected breakdown of some of these statistics shows the enormous differences in education between countries:

Ethiopia  Kenya  India   The UK(6th in world) 
Youth Literacy Rate Male 62.00% 82.00% 88.00% 100%
Youth Literacy RateFemale  47.00% 80% 74.00% 100%
Primary attendance  65.00% 74.00% Male 98%Female 85% 100%
Secondary attendance  16.00% 40.00% Male 58%Female 48% 100%
GDP PPP $1200 $1800 $4000 $36000
%of GDP spent on education 4.70% 6.00% 3.30% 5.8%

In the UK, The government spends nearly £90 billion a year on education, employing over 400 000 teachers (all of whom have to be qualified)and over 800 000 people in total in the education system. Education is compulsory from the ages of 4 to 18, meaning every single child must complete a minimum of 14 years of education, and the majority of students will then go on to another 2-3 years of training in apprenticeships or universities. In the primary and secondary sectors, billions of pounds are spent every year building and maintaining schools and schools are generally well equipped will a range of educational resources, with free school meals provided for the poorest students.

Since the 1988 education act, all schools are regularly monitored by OFSTED and thus every school head and every single teacher is ultimately held to account for their results, and the system is very much focused on getting students qualifications – GCSEs and A levels, of which there is a huge diversity. At the end of secondary school, around 70% of students have 5 good GCSEs, but even those who do not achieve this bench mark have a range of educational and training options available to them.

It might sound obvious to say it, but there is also a generalised expectation that both students (and staff) will attend school – attendance is monitored regularly and parents can be fined and even sent to jail if their children truant persistently.

In addition to getting students GCSEs, schools are also required to a whole host of other things – such as teach PSHE lessons, prepare students for their future careers,foster an appreciation for multiculturalism,monitor ‘at risk students’ and liaise with social services as appropriate. Schools are also supposed to differentiate lessons to take account of each individual students’ learning needs.

Of course there are various criticisms of the UK education system, but after 16 years of schooling the vast majority of students come out the other end with significantly enhanced knowledge and skills. Finally, it is worth noting that girls do significantly better than boys in every level of the education system.

Things are very different in many poorer countries around the world – For a start the funding difference is enormous, more than a hundred times less per pupil in the poorest countries; many school buildings are in a terrible state of repair, and many schools lack basic educational resources such as text books. Attendance is also a lot worse, especially in secondary school, and in some regions of India 25% of teaching staff simply don’t show up to work (while reporting very high levels of job satisfaction). A third significant difference is that there is no OFSTED in developing countries, and so schools aren’t monitored- teachers and schools aren’t held accountable for student progress, which is reflected in the fact that a huge proportion of students come out of the education system with no qualifications.

How Can Education Promote Development? 

There is no doubt that education can promote development…

Firstly, education can combat poverty and improve economic prosperity. For every year at school education increases income by 10% and increases the GDP growth rate by 2.5%.Teaching children to read and write means they are able to apply for a wider range of jobs – and potentially earn more money, rather than being limited to subsistence agriculture.

Secondly education can be used to improve health.School can be used to pass on advice about how to prevent diseases and thus improve health and they can also be places where free food and vaccinations can be administered centrally (as is the case in the UK) – improving the health of a population.

Thirdly, education can combat gender inequality.This is illustrated in the case study of Kakenya Ntaiya, who, at the age of 11 agreed with her father that she would undergo FGM if he allowed her to continue on to secondary school, which she did, eventually winning a scholarship to study in the United States. There she learnt about women’s rights and returned to her village in Kenya and set up a girls only school where currently 100 girls are protected from having to undergo FGM themselves.


Fourthly, education can get people more engaged with politics. You need to be able to read in order to engage with newspapers and political leaflets and manifestos, which typically contain much more detailed information than you get via radio and televisions. Thus higher literacy rates could potentially make a country more democratic – democracy is positively correlated with higher levels of development

Related Posts

Education and Development 1/3: Introduction

Education and Development 2/3: Barriers to Education

The Corporate Takeover of Education? Pearson’s Rapidly Expanding Control of UK Qualifications

Amidst the other aspects of the privatisation of education (Marketisation, Academies, Free Schools, Apprenticeships, Tuition Fees etc.) you may have missed this aspect!

Pearson PLC is a FTSE 100 company worth nearly £10 billion with sales of £4.9 billion and a £720 million profit in 2014, whose best-known subsidiary is Britain’s largest exam board, Edexcel, which generates a a profit of £60 million a year.

Over the last five years Pearson PLC has aggressively expanded its control of Britain’s qualifications and assessment market.

Between 2008/09 and 2012/13 its share of the GCSE market increased from 21% to 30%

Pearsons GCSE


Its share of ‘other qualifications’ has increased from 5% to 28%

Pearsons other table

Pearsons other

However, Pearson’s share of the smaller A level market decreased slightly from 25% to 23%.

Pearsons A level

Despite the shrinking in the A level market, taken together this means that Pearson PLC now sets the examination standards for almost 30% of qualifications undertaken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (1).

NB – There is more expansion planned! In its 2014 annual report Pearson PLC clearly states a desire to further expand its role in the UK education further, by getting more involved in such areas as the development of blended and virtual schools (e.g. Connections Education); and schools improvement programmes (e.g. through the Pearson’s School Model), and the use of ICT is central to all of this (2), although to date progress in these other areas seems to have not been as rapid as with its takeover of the qualifications market.



Early Retirement Extreme – A Motivational Visualisation (?)

One consequence of striving for early retirement is that you end up having no-life, so I’ve developed the visualisation below to provide some motivation.

Extreme Early Retirement

It shows how long my current total savings would last assuming monthly outgoings of £700/ month (the minimum/ base mount I’ll need to live off once the mortgage is paid off).

The end date is set at July 2033 when I turn 60 and my teacher’s pension kicks in which, with lump sum factored in, is already set to provide me with more than £700/ month from that point forwards.

The start date is pretty arbitrary – I just backdated it to to this July because that’s my most recent birthday. No reason why I couldn’t start this at some point in the future, but you never know, I may find a duffel bag of £50s tomorrow and be able to retire at 44, there’s always hope. (And there in’s the curse of my life – hope).

Personally I like the Viz – it shows me clearly that each £700 I save (which is what I can tuck away each month at a push) brings my retirement date forward by a month. (OK perhaps if I’d started it at 2022 or something around there it would be a tad more motivational?!?)

In summary, here’s a few financial facts which have emerged out of this exercise, based on calculations specific to my own individual circumstances!

  1. £700 saved = retirement date brought forwards by one month

  2. £24 saved = retirement date brought forwards by one day

  3. £1 saved (actually every so slightly less!) = retirement date brought forward by one hour.

Alternatively, you could express this in terms of how many hours and days each good or service costs you in terms of retirement-days lost. E.G…

1 large Cappuccino from Costa (cost £2.65) pushes one’s retirement back by 2 ½ hours.

1 pint and a bag of crisps in the pub (approx cost £5) pushes one’s retirement back by 5 hours.

1 Domino’s Pizza (£10 if on special) pushes retirement back by 1 day.

Another way of seeing this is to look at the time spent engaging in the ‘consumption moment’ in terms of a ‘time trade-off’ – Given that each of these activities takes me about 30 minutes then….

Enjoying a Cappuccino for 30 minutes pleasure extends my working life by 2 ½ hours, or 5 times the amount of time it takes me to delicately sup the Cappuccino.

Enjoying a pint and bag of crisps extends my working life by 5 hours, or ten times the amount of time it takes me drink the pint and scoff the crisps.

Enjoying a Domino’s for 30 minutes extends my working life by 10 hours, or 20 times the amount of time it would take me to eat the Pizza.

NB – Don’t forget that all of the above is based on my personal statistics entirely – and I’m not saying that it would take me 20 hours of work to earn enough to buy a Domino’s, of course it wouldn’t. What I mean is that, based on my needing £700/ month to retire, which works out at £24 a day, then £10 costs me half a day. If I forewent the Domino’s and saved the cash, I could retire half a day earlier (assuming I don’t eat Domino’s again, that’s not in the financial model).

Closing thoughts

Of course, with luck, my savings will accumulate at a faster rate – and so every now and again I’ll be able to notch another month forwards. Also, I could of course assume that once I retire with a lump sum of, say £60K, that I can expect some more money back from that in returns too. In short, this is a very conservative way of estimating my early retirement date.

I wish I had the technical expertise to do a live infographic of what’s above, rather than relying on a static version in word.

Executive Summary

No more Domino’s!

If you like this sort of thing, then why not buy my book:

Early Retirement Strategies for the Average Income Earner, or A Critique of Curiously Ordinary Life of the Everyday Worker-Consumer

Available on iTunes, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble – Only £0.63 ($0.99)

Retirement Cover5

Also available on Amazon, but for $3.10 because I’d get a much lower cut if I charged less!

How Corporate Charitable Foundations Influence Economic Policy in Developing Countries

What’s below is again summarised from Arundhati Roy’s ‘Capitalism: A Ghost Story’ (2014). It could be used in the Global Development topics on ‘Organisations in Development’ or ‘the role of Private Aid in Development’

A flow chart of what’s below would run something like this…

TNCs (pump their profits into their) – Charitable Foundations (who established) – The Council of Foreign Relations (which influences) – The World Bank (which sets the economic policies of) – Developing Countries

Basically Roy argues that in the early 20th century, three of the largest corporations in the world (one of which was Ford) set up Philanthropic (charitable) organisations – In the middle of the 20th century, after World War Two, these organisations were key to establishing the Council of Foreign Relations, the World Bank, the United Nations and the CIA. Essentially, Roy is arguing that US Corporations run the biggest international organisations in the world, which in turn coerce Developing countries into doing what these Corporations want.

The enthralling history of ‘philanthropic foundations’ began in the United States in the early 20th century. Among the the first was the Rockefeller Foundation, endowed in 1914 by J.D Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil Company.

Rockefeller was America’s first billionaire and the world’s richest man. He believed his money was given to him by God. Among the institutions financed with Rockefeller’s money are the United Nations, the CIA, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Philanthropic Foundations are non tax-paying legal entities with massive resources with an almost unlimited brief. They are wholly unaccountable, wholly non transparent, and are basically about translating economic power into social, political and cultural capital.

They emerged in the 1920s because it was then that US Capitalism began to look outward for raw materials and overseas markets. Foundations began to formulate the idea of global corporate governance. In 1924 the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations formed the Council on Foreign Relations (the CFR), also funded by the Ford Foundation as well. By 1947 the CIA was working closely with the CFR and over the years the CFR’s membership has included 22 secretaries of state, and all eleven of the World Bank’s presidents have been members of the the CFR. The CFR also contributed a grant of £8.5 million to pay for the land in New York on which the United Nations building now stands.

Given that the World Bank has more or less directed the economic policies of the Third World, coercing them to open up their markets in return for loans and aid, and given that the World Bank is steered by the Council of Foreign Relations, which in turn is steered by Transnational Corporations, it seems to follow that it’s TNCs which really have really determined the foreign policies of third world countries over the past few decades.

By the 1950s the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations were funding international educational institutions began to work as quasi-extensions of the US government, which was at the time toppling democratically elected governments in Latin America, Iran and Indonesia.

The Ford Foundation established a US style economics course in Indonesia at the Indonesian University. Elite Indonesian students, trained in counterinsurgency by US army officers, played a crucial part in the 1965 CIA backed coup in Indonesia which bought General Suharto to power. He repaid his mentors by slaughtering hundreds of thousands of communist rebels.

Twenty years later, young Chilean students who came to be known as the Chicago Boys were taken to the US to be trained in neoliberal economics by Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago (endowed by J.D Rockefeller), in preparation for the 1973 CIA backed coup that killed Salvador Allende and brought General Pinochet and a reign of death squads, disappearances and terror that lasted for seventeen years. Allende’s crime was being a democratically elected socialist and nationalising Chile’s mines.

Like all good Imperialists, the Philanthropoids set themselves the task of creating and training an international cadre that believed that Capitalism and by extension the hegemony of the United States was in their own interests.

Corporate foundations also provide scholarships at universities for courses in development studies – and many of these are for people from the middle classes in the developing world – these are the future finance ministers, corporate lawyers and bankers of the developing world. Of course the courses funded are the ones which sing the virtues of neoliberal economic policy, rather than the ones which are critical of neoliberalism.

According to Roy, not only do Philanthropic Foundations control the agendas of International Economic Organisations, governments and education systems, they also control the media and social movements which emerge to protest neoliberal policies – she gives a few examples of how, but probably the best piece of supporting evidence for this point of view is that we don’t question the role of philanthropic foundations in society. When Corporate funded philanthropic foundations first appeared in the United States, there were debates about their accountability, and people suggested that if they had so much money they should maybe raise the wages of their workers instead, nowadays we just don’t question them.

In summary, Roy argues that Philanthropic Foundations are simply a way of using a minuscule percentage of profits to run the world.

A Question to Consider….

The largest philanthropic foundation on earth today is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Roy points out that it’s odd that Bill Gates*, who admittedly knows a thing or two about computers, is now designing education, health, and agriculture policies, not just for US governments but for governments all over the world.

The question that Roy makes us ask is this – Is Bill Gates really trying to help people through his organisation, or is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation really a just a way for Gates to translate his economic capital into global political power, and to make sure that government policies the world over benefit Microsoft?

*Or to refer to him by his full name – ‘The Man Child Bill Gates’.

Jeffry Sachs – The Case for International Development Aid

This is a brief summary of the case Jeffry Sachs made for International Development Aid in his 2005 book ‘The End of Poverty’. Taken mainly from chapters 12-16

(1) Why is Aid needed?

Sachs argues that injections of aid are needed to break the poverty trap –because there is no where else money is going to come from when there is insufficient income to tax or save.

Sachs uses a description of a visit to Sauri village in Western Kenya to describe the poverty trap – the villagers face a range of poverty related problems including poor food yields due to lack of fertilisers and nitrogen-fixing trees, the fallout from diseases such as AIDS and malaria and the fact that children cannot concentrate in school because of malnutrition. All energies and money are basically spent on combating disease and staying alive.

As a result of the poverty trap the village faces under investment in the following five areas

  1. Agriculture
  2. Health
  3. Education
  4. Power, transport and communications infrastructure
  5. Sanitation and water.


Aid needs to be spent boosting whichever of these areas are undeveloped (and all of them, all at once, if necessary) because a weakness in one can mean money is wasted on another (it’s pointless spending billions on education if disease means kids can’t concentrate in school, or lack of roads means they can’t get to school.). This should be based on what Sachs calls a ‘clinical diagnoses‘ of a countries requirements.

(2) How much aid is needed?

There’s a number of ways of looking at this>

$70 per person per year for at least 5 years would being sufficient to provide suitable investment in these five areas for the poorest regions on earth (basically the bottom billion who are stuck in the poverty trap). After an initial 5 year period, Sachs believes that this figure should reduce considerably and that 10 years should be sufficient for a country to be self-sustaining financially.

Looked at globally The World Bank estimates that meeting basic needs costs $1.08 per person per day – 1.1 billion people lived below this with an average income of 77 cents. Making up the short fall would mean $124bn/ year, or 0.7% of rich world GNP.

(3) Arguements for providing International Development Aid

Firstly, using aid to eradicate poverty will make the world a more secure place

The US spends 30 times as much on its military as it does on aid (for the UK it’s about 8 times as much, 2002 figures), but spending money on military solutions is not going to make an insecure world more secure.

A CIA task force examined 113 cases of state failure between 1957 and 1994 and found that three explanatory variables are the most common:

  1. High infant mortality rates (which indicate low levels of material well-being)
  2. Openeness of the economy – the more open, the less stable
  3. Democracy – the more democratic, the more stable.

Sachs rounds off by listing 25 countries which America has intervened in following State Failure since 1962. His point is that state failure typically leads to US intervention, which is more costly than the price of providing aid which would prevent such interventions.

Secondly, Official Development Aid  is crucial to provide health, education and infrastructure, and because it makes up a significant part of the total income of many countries.

Thirdly,The  public will support a massive increase in aid if there’s leadership on the issue – nearly 90% of the US public support food aid (it depends how you frame the question). Also, broad support was garnered for The Marshall Plan, The Jubilee Drop the Debt Campaign and The Emergency AIDS campaign.

Fourthly – There is evidence that Aid can work:

Besides the usual green revolution and eradication of smallpox examples Sachs also cites…

  • The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation
  • The Campaign against Malaria
  • The Eradication of Polio
  • The spread of family planning
  • Export Processing Zones in East Asia
  • The Mobile Phone Revolution in Bangladesh

Five – the West can easily afford it 

Sachs points out that the richest 400 individuals incomes stand at just under $70 billion dollars, and the first two years of the Iraq War, which was an unexpected cost, was $60 bn a year, so basically yes. He also recommends a 10% additional tax on the richest for the purposes of development.

(4) Sach’s view of why Aid Doesn’t Always Work – Poor Countries Aren’t Getting Enough Aid! (**This can be used to criticise Dambisa Moyo”s views on aid. )

Poor countries are receiving no where need enough aid to make a difference to development – To demonstrate this he uses the West African Water initiative as an example – Worth $4.4 million over 3 years, but this only worked out at less than a penny per person per year, no where near enough to make a difference.

He also cites the case of Ethiopia – in 2003 it would have needed approx $70 billion to kick start development – half for health and most of the rest split between food productivity and infrastructure. It was then receiving $14 per head per year which was well short of the money needed. At the time the IMF acknowledged in private that this was not sufficient but in public made no mention of this.

Another way of outlining how limited current ODA is lies in the following:

in 2002 of $76 billion total assistance….only $12 billion amounted to what might be called development support to the poorest countries (most of the rest was emergency aid, with $6 billion being debt relief and $16 billion going to middle income countries.

As a result of this countries often don’t get anywhere near what they need – Sachs cites Ghana as an example – it requested $8 billion over 5 years in 2002 and got $2 billion. His point is that $2 billion is no where near enough to kick-start development.

(5)) Myths about why aid doesn’t work (**these could be used to criticise Dambisa Moyo)

He actually lists 10, but I’ve only included the first three!

Myth One – Giving aid is ‘money down the drain’

It is common to hear Americans bemoaning the fact that there is nothing to show for the amount of aid given to Africa. This is, however, unsurprising. The total amount of aid per Africa works out at $30 per head, but of this $5 goes to consultants, $4 was for food aid, $4 went to servicing debts and $5 for debt relief, leaving $12 per African.

Of the $3 of US aid to Africa, approximately 6 cents makes it on the ground African projects.

Myth Two – Aid programmes would fail in Africa because of backward cultural norms

Sachs points out that he frequently encounters prejudiced views based on African stereotypes even among those in senior positions in the aid industry – Such as the idea that Africans don’t understand western concepts of time. He dispels this by simply drawing on his own experiences telling him different things.

Myth 3 – Aid won’t work because of corruption

Nearly all low income level countries have poor levels of governance. However, corruption is not a reason to not invest in a country because the causal relationship runs in the direction of wealth reduces corruption. This is because when incomes increase people have more of an interest in keeping governments in check and there is more money to invest in good governance through better communication systems and a more educated civil service for example.

Looking at cross national comparisons reveals two things – Firstly that African countries governance levels are similar to similarly poor countries. That is to say that governance is not especially poor in Africa, and secondly there must be something else going which results in poverty other than poor governance – there are still some very poor countries in Africa with good governance yet high poverty, he cites Ghana as one such example.

Statistical indicators reveal that African countries grew at 3% percentage points slower than countries with similar levels of governance and income between 1980 and 2000. The reason for their low growth is geography and poorly developed infrastructure.

(6) A more ambitious approach to Development Aid

Ultimately Sachs believes we should be spending more on aid rather than less!

Sachs outlines ‘a needs assessment approach’ to development which basically involves identifying a package of basic needs, figuring out the investments required,, figuring out what poor countries can pay and then working out the finance gap which is what rich countries should meet. The list of basic needs includes such things as:

  • Primary education for all children, including teacher pupil ratios
  • universal access to antimalarial bednets
  • I kilometre of paved road per person
  • nutrition programmes for all vulnerable populations
  • access to modern cooking fuels
  • Access to clean water and sanitation.

To establish these poor countries would need $110 per person per year for 10 years (calculated by the UN for five countries – Bangladesh, Ghana, Cambodia, Tanzania and Uganda.

Of this Sachs believes that households and poor country governments could pay $10 and $35 dollars respectively meaning that $65 per person per year is the finance gap

Who should pay? Basically it breaks down like this…

USA – 50%
Japan – 20%
UK, Germany, France, Italy – 20%.

Related Posts (contains criticisms at the end )

Summary of chapters 1-4 of Sach’s End of Poverty

Does Aid Work? The Aid Audit

Does Aid Work? The Aid Audit:

Below is a summary of this World Service Podcast from 2015


‘Fifteen years ago, German journalist, Ulli Schauen helped compile a book of the top 500 global aid programmes… they ranged from schools for Maasai nomads to support for organic farming to training for volunteer sexual health workers.

The question is did they succeed or fail? Ulli travels to Kenya to see how the projects in that country fared. Ulli sets out to find if Aid really does make a difference.’

(These projects were all related to the original Millennium Development Goals and the folllow ups are here – one author’s blog – The Aid Audit: Development Projects Revisited After Fifteen Years

International Aid money has helped all of the projects below….


Project One – OSIGILI

in 1995 the Laikipiak Maasai formed an organization called OSILIGI (which means ‘Hope’.)

In one of the first projects OSILIGI organized reading and writing courses geared to the nomadic life. In April, August and December, when the nomadic herdsmen are settled, a teacher comes to the village. During these weeks children have concentrated lessons. This made-to-measure education is considerably cheaper than state elementary school. In 4 years, OSILIGI has reached 380 children with this programme, mainly from poor families.

Eco-Tourism - Marginalising the Maasai?
Eco-Tourism – Marginalising the Maasai?

However, the broader issue OSILIGI campaigns for is to establish land rights – to pasture and watering holes, and here they appear to have lost. The Maasai still have no formal rights and their land, and thus way of life, is under threat from agribusinesses and eco-tourism and in the programme we discover that the Maasai live amongst miles and miles of fences – which fence off private farms – one farm being as large as the island of Malta, which houses shipped-in Rhinos for eco-tourism, but this leaves little room for the Maasai.

Osigili seems now to be focussing on the education aspect, but the land rights issue has been taken up by another organisation – IMPACT. It is possible that more progress will be made in this area in the future.

Project Two – A Voucher System for Health Care

In the far West of Kenya the German Government Trained volunteer health advisers – 20 000 community health workers for 10 years. Unfortunately this terminated in 2006 and so no evaluation or final report can be found, the argument here, however, is that a lasting legacy

The German government now funds a voucher programme for the poor where they can use vouchers to receive free or subsidised contraception, maternal health services and HIV treatment.

Through the voucher programme local (privately run) hospitals receive $50 for maternal treatments and $12 for AIDs screenings (from the German Aid fund, they don’t get state funding) – 3/4s of the money goes on medicine and food, but the rest is available to allow for hospital expansion.

To give an example of how it works – one woman is interviewed who is HIV positive, and giving birth in the hospital meant that the infection was not passed on to her two children.

Despite the above, Kenya still failed to reach two of its MDGs -reducing infant mortality and improving maternal health.

But German Government trying to influence Kenyan health policy into the bargain. Germans wand to promote health insurance, Americans want to promote other issues – donors don’t co-ordinate their programmes.

Project Three – The Matinyani Business Cooperative


This is a cooperative of 4000 women, who initially set up a library, primary school and a health centre. They also established a range of small businesses devoted to weaving, water, candlemaking, bakery.

However, all of this stopped working years ago… 75% of the initial money went into other people’s pockets – so they couldn’t pay workers or for materials to keep the projects going.

However, what these women learnt in the early days of this project allowed them to establish their own businesses, many of which are today successful and export to other countries.

Project Four – Environmental Protection on Lake Victoria


Lake Victoria is heavily overfished and polluted.

This projects aims were to build water treatment plants and limiting the spread of the water hyacinth. There are laws in place about catch size (enforced by the mesh size of nets). However, it seems that everyone is happy about breaking the law and the aid-funded environmental organisation doesn’t seem to be enforcing the rules.

The World Bank Project labelled this one as unsatisfactory.

Project Five – A Foot Pump for Water

An Australian company called Kick Start (originally known as Aprotec ) which focussed on developing just one product – a small, foot operated water pump, claims to have lifted almost one million people out of poverty. Aid has been essential in this. The CEO says that it is not profitable to develop such products for people – it’s high risk, low return, and high cost – so it’s a market failure – thus subsidies in the form of International Aid, with this money going mainly into Research and Development and marketing (radio ads).

The pumps themselves are sold for $130 – and they have sold 250 000, which means about 900 000 will have been lifted out of poverty. We visit a tree nursery to see how this works – where an employee is using the foot pump (like a step machine) to pump water to water the young trees – this has allowed the company to grow a lot more trees and it is now much bigger than it used to be.

Question – Has development aid worked in the above five cases?

The programme finishes off by noting that we see all of the classic problems associated with Aid in the above examples, but it is the positive impacts which stick in his mind, especially the fact that when official projects collapse, the people who have gained skills carry on campaigning in different ways.

Find Out More…. There are another two episodes in the series if you wish to listen further!

A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement