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Infographic of the Day: Even Poor Countries Can Excel in Education

A remarkable series of graphs, commissioned by the Gates Foundation.

Infographic of the Day: Even Poor Countries Can Excel in Education

Sitting comfortable in our first-world lives, it’s easy to assume that we’ve got the best of everything. And it’s easy to assume that problems of infant mortality, hunger and education are simply a matter of having a roaring GDP. But that’s not true at all, as these remarkable interactive graphs show.

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Produced by The Guardian and the Gates Foundation, the charts are draw from the Millennium Development Report Card. Basically, it shows how well countries are performing on key development metrics, relative to their GDP.

The size of the outer ring shows performance on a Millennium Development Goal, such as primary-school enrollment. The inner ring shows GDP per capita. Thus, if both are high (as they are in the U.S., for example), you get two rings, brown and blue, without much space between. But if a country is overperforming — getting kids in school despite a relatively modest GDP — you get a big space between the two. For example, look at Trinidad & Tobago (often cited as a model of good governance in the Caribbean) or Guyana:

[Click to see interactive version]

The picture flips for infant mortality; you want the pink ring to be tiny. So you can see that Colombia does well, while Guatemala is shockingly bad: Infant mortality:

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[Click to see interactive version]

Similarly, hunger. You want the yellow ring tiny. So Mozambique is terrible, while Uganda does relatively well, considering their tiny GDP:

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[Click to see interactive version]

Now, the data viz technique is obviously confusing — it could certainly be much clearer than trying to see the relative size of tiny rings. (Not to mention: Having a bigger ring in education is good, but having a smaller ring in infant mortality is good.) But the remarkable thing about these charts is how many rich stories they hint at — why does Ethiopia continue to underperform in hunger? (One solution: commodities markets.) How did Trinidad produce such high school enrollment? In turn, these charts suggest exactly where to look when searching for models of development around the world.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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