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Mosquitos, malaria and education | Bill Gates TED 2009

The market does not drive the scientists, the communicators, the thinkers, the governments to do the right things. And only by paying attention to these things and having brilliant people who care and draw other people in can we make as much progress as we need to.

But before I dive into those I want to admit that I am an optimist. Any tough problem, I think it can be solved.

1:14  Over the past century:

    • the average lifespan has more than doubled
    • the childhood death rate has been halved

The key reason we were able to it was not only rising incomes but also a few key breakthroughs.

2:44 1. Malaria

How do we stop a deadly disease that’s spread by mosquitos?

  1.  killing the mosquitos with DDT
  2. treating patients with quinine or quinine derivatives.

In the 1970s the U.S. and most of Europe have gotten rid of it.

Because the disease is only in the poorer countries, it doesn’t get much investment.

Over 200 million people at any one time are suffering from it. It means that you can’t get the economies in these areas going because it just holds things back so much.

When you use indoor spraying with DDT and bed nets you can cut deaths by over 50 percent.

If you go into a country with the right tools and the right way, you do it vigorously, you can actually get a local eradication. And that’s where we saw the malaria map shrinking. Or, if you go in kind of half-heartedly, for a period of time you’ll reduce the disease burden, but eventually, those tools will become ineffective, and the death rate will soar back up again.

7:58  2. How do you make a teacher great?

All of us here had some great teachers. And if you look at the economy, it really is only providing opportunities now to people with a better education.

Over 30 percent of kids never finish high school.  For minority kids, it’s over 50 percent.  And even if you graduate from high school, if you’re low-income, you have less than a 25 percent chance of ever completing a college degree. If you’re low-income in the United States, you have a higher chance of going to jail than you do of getting a four-year degree.

10:51 How to make education better?

Now, our foundation, for the last nine years, has invested in this. We’ve worked on small schools, we’ve funded scholarships, we’ve done things in libraries. A lot of these things had a good effect. But the more we looked at it, the more we realized that

having great teachers was the very key thing. 

We discovered that:

a top quartile teacher will increase the performance of their class by over 10 percent in a single year. That means that if the entire U.S., for two years, had top quartile teachers, the entire difference between us and Asia would go away. Within four years we would be blowing everyone in the world away.

But just appreciating the work of such people is not enough.

Once somebody has taught for three years their teaching quality does not change thereafter.

12:38 This chart takes four different factors and says how much do they explain teaching quality.

  1. Master’s degree  – no effect at all
  2. Teach for America: slight effect.
  3. More important – a period of teaching
  4. Most important – Past Performance.

On average, the slightly better teachers leave the system. And it’s a system with very high turnover.

Now, there are a few places  where great teachers are being made:

A good example of one is a set of charter schools called KIPP.  They take the poorest kids,and over 96 percent of their high school graduates go to four-year colleges.

What to do?

  • provide a lot of teacher tests
  • check results
  • share the information
  • make conclusions

I really think that education is the most important thing to get right for the country to have as strong a future as it should have.

There’s a lot more problems like that — AIDS, pneumonia e.t.c.  And the skill sets required to tackle these things are very broad. You know the system doesn’t naturally make it happen. Governments don’t naturally pick these things in the right way. The private sector doesn’t naturally put its resources into these things.

So it’s going to take brilliant people like you to study these things, get other people involved –and you’re helping to come up with solutions. And with that, I think there are some great things that will come out of it.