Lessons in culture

Well done! Now go and overthrow the Qing dynasty
Well done! Now go and overthrow the Qing dynasty

Stroll through most cities and you’ll see memorials to all sorts of human achievement – from victory in war to brilliance in the lab. But how about success in an exam? Yes, even that has been commemorated. Tucked away in obscure corners of China, you can still sometimes find archways and stone tablets celebrating the fact that a local man once, a long time ago, passed the fiercely competitive Imperial Examination.

The reward for success was an appointment to the civil service, bringing with it prestige and, for many, great power. In theory, the exam – which endured, on and off, for 1,300 years – was open to almost any man in China. In practice, most of those who sat it came from well-off families. Generally, they were the only ones who could afford to subsidise a son until he was ready to sit the exam, by which time he was usually in his 30s.

Flash forward in time to 2009, more than a century after the last Imperial Examination: students in Shanghai face another test – the OECD’s PISA international student assessment. Just as with their predecessors’, their results are closely watched and – when they show the city’s students ranked first in the world – widely celebrated (although we haven’t heard of any statues being erected).

Is there a link between these stories of ancient and modern achievement? A report from the Economist Intelligence Unit offers grounds for thinking that there might be. The Learning Curve draws on research from PISA, and other international student assessments, to try to take the lid off “the black box” of education. To explain, we know what goes into education – funding, class size, teacher salaries, and so on – and we also have a pretty good idea of what comes out, in terms of student performance. But we still struggle to explain what happens between these “inputs” and “outputs”.

This is not a minor issue. Take spending: You might assume that countries that spend proportionally more get better results, but that’s not the case. Finland devotes 6.4% of its GDP to education, and its students regularly come first among OECD countries in PISA; France spends pretty much the same (6.3%), yet its students only hover around the OECD average. And this is not a rare example: As the EIU report states, in education “inputs are turned into outputs in ways that are difficult to predict or quantify exactly.”

So, clearly, other factors are at work, but what? Research in recent years has given us a much better sense of the importance of factors like how well schools deal with students’ from different social backgrounds. But, as the EIU report points out, there are other factors that we understand less well, including teacher quality, the role of school choice and autonomy and the ability of educational systems to identify the skills of the future. And, it says, there’s something else we need to think about – culture.

Which brings us back to China. The Imperial Examination can be criticised on many grounds, not least that it ignored science and experimentation. But it can surely be said to have underpinned a key idea in the culture of China and much of East Asia – one that can be traced back even further to Confucius: namely, if you want to succeed, you need to study.

The EIU report argues that the influence of the surrounding culture can’t be underestimated in determining how well education systems perform, and suggests it may be even more important than national wealth. In particular, it identifies culture as being key to the success of two PISA frontrunners – Finland and Korea. These two take very different approaches to education, but their cultures have at least one thing in common: a profound respect for teachers.

Indeed, the role of teachers has come to be increasingly recognised in recent years and, as The Learning Curve notes, several governments have sought to shift or buttress cultural attitudes to the profession by raising its prestige. This has included concrete action, such as setting starting salaries at the same level as other professions, and symbolic steps, such as Singapore’s creation of a National Teachers Day.

The issue is also receiving growing recognition on the international stage. For example, this week sees Amsterdam hosting the third annual Teacher Summit, with the involvement of the OECD. The conference will look at ways of raising the quality of teaching and evaluating how well teachers are doing. You can find out more at the conference website and follow the discussion on Twitter at #ISTP2013

Useful links

2013 International Summit on the Teaching Profession, 13-14 March 2013

OECD educationtoday blog

OECD Insights: Human Capital

After the disaster, who cares?

Click to read the report
Click to read the report

Today’s post is from Kate Lancaster, editor in charge of publications on regional development at the OECD.

Earthquakes. Droughts. Tsunamis. Landslides. Floods. Fires. Tornadoes. Epidemics. Hurricanes. Volcanic eruptions. Stories of disasters punctuate recorded history and resonate even now. Consider Pliny the Younger’s detailed account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, which destroyed Pompeii and Herculanum, or Daniel Defoe’s journal recounting the 1665 plague in London, or even the less carefully documented tale of the cow that set Chicago ablaze in 1871.

Today, however, disasters unfold live and pass quickly. They fill our televisions, computers, even phones, as events are happening and in their immediate aftermath. Striking photos, heart-wrenching stories. But then, it’s all over. Once the initial shock has passed, the material and economic damage assessed, a death toll announced, the media often goes home and we turn our gaze away, back to our regular lives, until the next “big one”.

It’s easy to forget that the effects of a disaster linger long afterwards, shaping the places and regions in which they took place.

The Italian region of Abruzzo, already in economic decline, was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2009. Concentrated in the capital city, L’Aquila, the quake also affected more than 50 other small towns nearby. Nearly half the region’s population was displaced by the quake and 309 people died. Thirty-seven thousand buildings were damaged, with devastation concentrated in the renowned historic centre of L’Aquila. Emergency relief in the immediate aftermath of the quake totalled around EUR 3 billion, and another EUR 8 billion was earmarked for reconstruction.

The biggest challenge of reconstruction is not just financial, however, as a recent OECD report, Policy Making after Disasters: Helping Regions Become Resilient – The Case of Post-earthquake Abruzzo, explains. Rather, it is simply how to “get it right” going forward. Reconstruction should help make the afflicted area more resilient, which means not only better able to weather future exceptional shocks or disasters, but stronger than before, with a sustainable local economy and a long-term development strategy. Citizens’ voices should be an important part of this process, the report argues. Authorities should create spaces for community deliberation, both physical and online, and should ensure that the opinions expressed can influence the decision process.

Yet in the three years since the quake, community engagement in strategy setting for the future of L’Aquila has, in fact, been very weak, though first steps towards improvement started in 2012. This has worsened social fragmentation and distrust of local governments.  Nevertheless, international experiences show that community engagement does have an important role in post-disaster regions. It can help decision makers to  determine redevelopment plans and can help ensure that these fit local circumstances, thus creating a sense of community ownership.

In Christ Church, New Zealand, for example, University of Canterbury has publicly shared its own experiences during and in the wake of the city’s 2010 earthquake, while Lincoln University has made public its research into the economic impact of the quake. In New Orleans, a local non-profit research group, the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center has been monitoring the quality and pace of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, through its New Orleans Index. The index tracks key social and economic recovery indicators, chosen based on input from local residents and when published, the limitations of each indicator’s data set are clearly spelled out in plain language to ensure transparency.

The experience of these cities, of Abruzzo, and of other regions examined in this report, provide valuable lessons to areas where natural disasters have forced a rethinking of the development model, or where long-term decline has done so. The report concludes with a list of eight practical recommendations for building resilient regions of interest to governments, decision makers, opinion leaders and community residents alike.

Useful links

 L’Aquila earthquake: relaunching the economy Workshop organised by the OECD in partnership with the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Recommendation of the OECD Council on Good Practices for Mitigating and Financing Catastrophic Risks

Large-scale disasters: Lessons learned

OECD Methodological Framework on Disaster Risk Management

OECD International Network on the Financial Management of Large-scale Catastrophes

Born a girl: bad karma?

international women's dayThe ILO estimates that at least 2.45 million trafficking victims are currently working in exploitative conditions worldwide, and that another 1.2 million are trafficked annually, both across and within national borders. Of these, up to 80% are women and girls according to the UN.

A widely-quoted UN estimate says that human trafficking and slavery is the third most lucrative illicit business in the world after arms and drug trafficking, although the UN doesn’t actually give any source for this claim. That could be because of the inherent difficulty in obtaining data on criminal activity or because the estimate includes other activities like taking money to smuggle illegal immigrants into a country. The US Department of State definition of trafficking is “all of the criminal conduct involved in forced labor and sex trafficking, essentially the conduct involved in reducing or holding someone in compelled service.”

Why does it still happen, and why are women the main victims? Economics, culture and tradition are all to blame.

Economically, you can look at it on the global or local level. Trafficking and the modern slave trade are driven by the same factors that encourage other aspects of globalisation such as increased mobility, cheaper travel and the ease of organising international networks. They are also reinforced by economic misery and absence or removal of social protection in countries opening up to the international economy, and the illusions engendered by images of a better life elsewhere on satellite television and other easily accessible mass media.

It sounds cynical, but you can also look at trafficking of women in terms of supply and demand factors, as the World Bank does here. For instance, on the demand side, employers want cheap labour, and not just in the sex industry. In 2004, the Council of Europe drew attention to the fact that domestic slaves are predominantly female and usually work in private households, starting out as migrant workers, au pairs or “mail-order brides”.

The supply of women and girls is maintained by poverty (some UN estimates say that nearly 70% of the world’s poor are women) and lack of opportunity. But social norms that consider women as inferior play a role too. Religion is one of these, and the World Bank report linked to above says that one of the factors pushing women into prostitution in the Mekong region is that under Theravada Buddhism, “women and girls are thought to be unable to achieve enlightenment. Thus, while men can show gratitude and respect to their parents by becoming monks and pursuing the spiritual life, many girls feel that they must make sacrifices for the benefit of their families, villages and their own karma.”

In addition, as this short guide published by the OECD points out, trafficking often emerges where many human rights violations are prevalent already. The most common violations are the right to personal autonomy, the right not to be held in slavery or servitude, the right to liberty and security of person, the right to be free from cruel or inhumane treatment, the right to safe and healthy working conditions and the freedom of movement. Governments can be guilty too, even towards people who have escaped from trafficking. Policies often give priority to detention, prosecution and expulsion of trafficked persons for offences related to their status, including violation of immigration laws, prostitution or begging. Victims may be treated as “disposable witnesses” whose sole value is their ability to assist in prosecuting traffickers.

What can be done?

The 2003 “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons” is the leading international instrument. It goes beyond trafficking for forced prostitution and takes into account other forms, including forced domestic work and commercial marriage. These aren’t just problems in developing countries. The slaves referred to by the Council of Europe were working in its member countries. Earlier this week, the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit reported that a two-year-old girl was among the victims it helped last year.

The 2003 Protocol recommends that governments allow victims of trafficking to remain in the destination country, temporarily or permanently. Governments should also ensure their safety and protect their privacy and identity. It also recommends that governments establish legal measures to award victims compensation.

At national level, efforts in source countries to tackle poverty and lack of rights would strike at the root of the problem, but a number of measures can have more immediate impacts, such as awareness-raising campaigns, given that many victims are deceived into migrating. Given the importance of poverty in fuelling trafficking, funding to start small businesses could help women.

Destination countries can contribute to such programmes. They can also help victims by protecting them even if they are not prepared to help the authorities investigating the trafficking networks, and not deporting them back to the country they were trafficked from.

Useful links

A Women’s Day Challenge, article on the educationtoday blog by Barbara Ischinger, OECD Director for Education and Skills

OECD work on gender

OECD work on gender equality and development

Evaluation of the International Organization for Migration and its Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking  

Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Regional conference to combat child trafficking

Stimulating competition through open access networks

Click to download the report
Click to download the report

Today’s post is written by Agustin Diaz-Pines of the OECD’s Science, Technology and Industry Directorate

Even though the term “open access” is widely used in policy discussions surrounding broadband networks, there is little universal agreement as to what it means. A new OECD report entitled Broadband Networks and Open Access helps to shed some light on this important concept by examining how and why open access policies have been implemented in communication markets around the world.

Let’s start by providing a working definition. “Open access” is an arrangement that provides effective, wholesale access to network infrastructure or services at fair and reasonable prices, and on transparent and non-discriminatory terms. Open access arrangements are currently used in a variety of situations, including in fixed access networks, mobile networks, Internet exchange points (IXPs), undersea cables, etc.

So why are they so important? Open access arrangements are crucial for promoting competition, greater consumer choice and lower prices in markets where it would otherwise be extremely challenging. Permitting new businesses to connect to existing communications networks, for example, is more affordable and less risky than building networks from scratch.

Open access policies have played a major role in promoting competition in broadband markets, especially in countries with little infrastructure competition. “Unbundled access” policies, whereby new entrants of the telecommunications market are offered access to facilities of the incumbent, have helped increase the number of unbundled broadband lines in the United Kingdom from 123,000 in 2005 to more than 8 million in 2012.

The Internet has developed an efficient, open access system for data transfer. A recent OECD report found that Internet service providers leverage Internet exchange points (IXPs) to send and receive data at 100,000 times lower than typical voice rates. These arrangements for infrastructure-sharing have been reached without the need of public intervention.

Regional and municipal networks in Northern Europe have succeeded in extending fibre deployment. For example, Stokab, owned by the city of Stockholm, runs a dark-fibre network and grants access to all operators on equal terms. Overall an estimated 95% of municipality networks and 42% of housing companies’ broadband networks in Sweden follow an open access model.

Wireless open access policies have contributed to the emergence of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), which in turn can drive innovation and increase infrastructure competition. French regulations, for example, compel incumbent mobile operators to offer national roaming to new entrants via a commercially-negotiated price. As a result, the French company Free entered the telecommunications market in January 2012, and three months later opened up its 4 million Wi-Fi hotspots to its smartphone customers, in turn creating the world’s largest carrier-run mobile data offload network.

It should be noted that open access agreements have rarely been reached voluntarily, as firms prefer to reach commercial arrangements that are not necessarily non-discriminatory or transparent. Put another way, most open access policies have been the result of direct or indirect public intervention.

However, regulators need to balance the benefits of open access policies against the incentives for different actors to invest in infrastructure and services.  Too often this is presented as a trade-off between increasing competition and a potential negative effect on investment.  For example, if open access prices are too low it may discourage investment in new networks by both incumbent firms and new entrants.

The goal is to introduce open access polices in a way that facilitates new investments and drives incumbents to respond in kind, thus producing benefits for the overall market. For example, in the case of the French company Free, the incumbent operator, Orange, expects to earn more than $2.5 billion over the next few years from selling its access to Free. It stands to argue that Orange could then use this extra income to re-invest in its own network in order to stay ahead of its new competition. French regulation also specified that Free needed to meet certain targets, like investing in its own network to reach a minimum of 27% of national coverage, before it could benefit from Orange’s roaming prices. In this way, regulators were able to carefully ensure that incentives to invest in infrastructure didn’t suffer as a result of open access polices.

Moving forward, it is clear that broadband adoption – especially in wireless and fibre – remains crucial for overall economic development.  The Internet is now established as a key infrastructure that supports every sector of the economy and is a fundamental driver of innovation, productivity gains and economic growth. Open access broadband policies therefore need to be considered by governments where there is insufficient competition, so that the entire economy can continue to fully leverage its potential.


OECD work on Broadband and Telecom

OECD work on Internet Economy

OECD Innovation on Twitter