Statistics Without Borders in the DPRK

UPDATE 1 (2013-1-18): The Wall Street Journal has published a couple of pieces on statistics education in the DPRK. The first piece is here.  The second piece is here.

Here is a blurb from the first piece:

The Pyongyang Summer Institute in Survey Science and Quantitative Methodology last year began teaching students at North Korea’s first private university about such topics as probability, correlation and survey methodology. More than 250 students, mostly in their 20s, learned from 13 instructors from the U.S. and Europe. This summer, the institute hopes to have 30 teachers instructing 250 students and 100 government workers.

Funded in part by the International Strategy and Reconciliation Foundation, a small Washington, D.C., nonprofit that focuses on North Korea, the institute has an annual budget of about half a million dollars, Dr. Chun said. The group sent an email this week to members of statistical organizations—including the American Statistical Association, which helps run the institute through its international outreach arm—soliciting instructors for the summer. The institute made clear it wouldn’t be able to fund most travel costs. Dr. Chun expects 60 to 70 applications for 30 spots.

Here is a blurb from the second piece:

The institute’s organizers steer well clear of politics. “PSI stays away from controversial courses,” said Yena Lee, co-founder of PSI. She added, “Through dialogue over these nonpolitical issues, we hope to pave the way to greater scholarly and professional engagement with DPRK and to long-term sustainable science diplomacy.”

“I had to change some of my ‘go-to’ examples about political polling, but discussion of politics and religion were off limits,” said Fisher, who in addition to — and unconnected to — his work in North Korea is a statistician at the U.S. Government Accountability Office. “Our purpose was one of science diplomacy and we all viewed it as an educational humanitarian mission.”

Governmental constraints extend to instructors while they’re in the program — for instance, barring them from leaving campus unaccompanied. Rules also kept students from PSI and PUST from being interviewed about the program. “That would not be allowed” by the North Korean government, said Norma H. Nichols, director of the International Academic Affairs Office at the institute’s host university, PUST. “If I were in Pyongyang and had the students nearby, it would still be a near impossibility to get permission even for one of them to participate with me in a Skype call.”

Instructors spoke positively about their students in the stats classes. The institute’s director, Asaph Young Chun, described how in one of his two classes last summer, students had to share textbooks because there weren’t enough to go around. “Most of the students now know by heart what survey is about, why pretest is essential and how data analysis should be planned in advance,” Chun said. And most, Chun said, “were so engaged, responsive, and interactive, I observed. They did not hesitate asking questions when in doubt or when I gave them opportunities to ask questions.”

ORIGINAL POST (2012-6-13): According to the group’s press release:

Statistics Without Borders Participates in Unprecedented Science Diplomacy Program between North Korea and the US/International Community
Alexandria, VA (PRWEB) June 13, 2012

Statistics Without Borders (SWB), an outreach group of the American Statistical Association (ASA), this summer will provide pro-bono instructors for the Pyongyang Summer Institute (PSI) in Survey Science and Quantitative Methodology in North Korea. The PSI is an intensive, international teaching program at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the first and only private and international university, which was launched in North Korea in the fall of 2010.

PSI is the first program of its kind in North Korea, which has now approved visas for 15 visiting faculty. PSI students are expected to be upper level undergraduates and graduate students whose academic credentials are comparable to those students in Ivy plus schools.

The Summer Institute is jointly administered by the International Strategy and Reconciliation Foundation (ISRF), PUST and SWB. The ISRF is a 501(c)(3) organization recognized by the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Commerce for its humanitarian and educational programs in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The PSI will begin as a three-year pilot program that will take place from July 2012—July 2014.

SWB members make up the majority of the 15 instructors who will provide pro-bono instruction during July for seven four-week courses that will provide training in areas including sampling, statistics, survey methods, census methods, questionnaire design, computer-assisted data collection and analysis, both fundamental and advanced courses. The courses are modeled after those of the 65-year-old Michigan Summer Institute, a renowned international survey training program.

PSI instructors with expertise in survey research methods are: Sunny Bak, statistical consultant; Dr. Annelies Blom, Germany; Dr. Woody Carter, University of Chicago; Dr. Young Chun, an alumnus of Michigan Summer Institute and PSI Director; Bob Colosi, an alumnus of the Joint Program in Survey Methodoloy of the University of Maryland; Michael Costello, RTI International; Justin Fisher, George Washington University; Dr. Mark Griffin, Australian Development Agency for Statistics and Information Systems; Professor Patricia Gwartney, University of Oregon; Professor Ryung Kim, Einstein College of Medicine; Adam Molnar, University of Georgia; Dr. Rene Paulson and Dr. Jacquelyn Pennings, Elite Research in Texas; Pinar Ucar, Qatar Statistics Authority; and Elena Zafarana, Swiss Federal Office of Communications.

The DPRK Working Group of SWB, all ASA members, was formed for planning and implementing the PSI. Co-chairs of the working group are Dr. Gary Shapiro, chair of Statistics without Borders and former mathematical statistician, U.S. Census Bureau; Justin Fisher; and Dr. Young Chun. Other members of the group are: Professor Duncan Thomas, Director of the Biostatistics Division, and Verna R. Richter Chair in Cancer Research, University of Southern California; Dr. Griffin; Dr. James Cochran, professor, Louisiana Tech University; Michael Costello; Professor Sunghee Lee, University of Michigan Joint Program in Survey Methodology; Professor Dominique Haughton, Bentley University; and Professor Mary Gray, American University, Washington, D.C.

About Statistics Without Borders
Statistics without Borders is an apolitical group that was formed in late 2008 to provide pro-bono statistical support to organizations involved in not-for-profit international efforts, mostly involving survey planning and/or analysis of survey data. The goal of the group is to achieve better statistical practice, including statistical analysis and design of experiments and surveys. SWB has more than 500 members from some 30 countries.

About the American Statistical Association
Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, the American Statistical Association is the world’s largest community of statisticians and the second oldest continuously operating professional society in the United States. For more than 170 years, the ASA has supported excellence in the development, application, and dissemination of statistical science through meetings, publications, membership services, education, accreditation, and advocacy. Its members serve in industry, government, and academia in more than 90 countries, advancing research and promoting sound statistical practice to inform public policy and improve human welfare. For additional information about the American Statistical Association, please visit the ASA web site at or call 703.684.1221.

For more information:
Rosanne Desmone
703.302.1861 (direct)
703.946.3820 (mobile)
Rosanne (at) amstat (dot) org


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