Time to think about the schools of tomorrow

Trends shaping educationToday’s schools are very different from those your grandparents went to. That’s not too surprising – education constantly evolves in response to social, economic and cultural shifts. So what about the schools of tomorrow – what will they teach, who will their students be and how will they learn? To start thinking about the answers to some of these questions, try taking this quiz drawn from the latest edition of the OECD’s Trends Shaping Education.

You may now begin.

The year in questions

Already broken all your new year resolutions? Get 2016 off to an even worse start by trying the OECD Insights quiz.

Time for your check-up

How much do you know about health? Take the OECD Health at a Glance 2015 quiz and find out. The data visualisation below will help.

We need to talk about the SDGs

UNSustainableDevelopmentGoalsViews vary on how much of a difference the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) actually made to the world. But on one thing people seem more or less united: They were a great communications tool. They took the abstract concept of “development” and turned it into a series of mostly concrete goals – fewer poor people, more kids in school, healthier mothers and babies, and so on.

According to Jan Vandemoortele, an independent researcher and UN veteran, the communications power of the MDGs rested on three pillars – the three Cs: they were clear, concise, computable.

So what about the successors to the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Will the new set of goals adopted at the United Nations in October prove equally effective as a communications tool? You could be forgiven for having doubts. While the MDGs had just eight goals and 18 targets, the SDGs have 17 goals and a whopping 169 targets.

The number of goals is just one issue; there’s also the question of scope. The MDGs were essentially focused on the needs of developing countries. By contrast, the new SDGs are part of a global agenda for the development of the entire planet – they apply to wealthy countries just as much as poorer countries, and they cover a much broader range of issues: Poverty reduction, yes, but also economic sustainability, employment, climate change and much, much more.

“If you apply those three C’s to the SDGs, it’s clear you have a problem,” according to Mr. Vandemoortele.

This “problem” – if that’s what it is – was recently discussed by development communicators at a meeting in Paris of the OECD Development Centre’s DevCom network. The discussions provided fascinating insights into differing approaches on how to communicate around the SDGs.

If you’ve heard of the SDGs at all, it may well be thanks to the Global Goals campaign, brainchild of the British filmmaker Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary). The campaign is operating on many fronts: In September, to coincide with the UN General Assembly, it hosted the Global Citizen festival in New York, featuring performers like Beyoncé and Coldplay; it has produced slick videos featuring famous names like Malala Yousafzai, Stephen Hawking and Meryl Streep; it has created a set of logos that rebrand the SDGs as “The Global Goals” and simplify their messages; and it has helped deliver a classroom lesson on the SDGs to half a billion children worldwide in 160 countries.

“We’re campaigning to make the Global Goals famous,” Piers Bradford of the Global Goals campaign said at the DevCom session. “We set out to tell seven billion people in seven days – patently ridiculous,” he admitted, “but it got people’s attention.” The actual estimated impact of the campaign is still impressive – in the region of three billion worldwide.

But the Global Goals campaign hasn’t pleased everybody. Among a number of complaints, some civil society groups have objected to the language of the campaign. They argue that it is oversimplified and fails to mention some key concepts – most notably the “sustainable development” part of the goals. Some of these criticisms were voiced at the DevCom meeting by Leo Williams of the Beyond2015 Campaign.

“Awareness should not be focused on some edited highlights of the SDGs, renamed as Global Goals and shown in films, adverts and music videos,” Mr. Williams said. “It should be about recognizing the change dynamics of the universal agenda, real meaningful participation, meaningful understanding, not just information.”

One concern of some civil society activists is that the focus on the 17 goals, and on certain goals in particular, risks obscuring the fact that they are actually part of a much broader agenda that has much to say on implementation and accountability. “There needs to be the recognition that this is an indivisible agenda,” according to Mr. Williams.

But is such a sweeping agenda really “communicable” (as they say in development circles)? Comments from a number of other speakers and delegates seemed to support the idea that it’s OK to pick and choose from the SDGs.

“I don’t think that at the local level, everybody in a country is going to associate with all the goals,” said Edith Jibunoh, who works on civil society relations at the World Bank: “I completely buy into the idea that in some countries the focus will be on certain areas, and I think that as development communicators we should be really comfortable with that.”

That view was echoed by Mr. Vandemoortele. “We have 169 targets in the SDGs – which is good – but you cannot have it all as a priority. If you have that many priorities then you have no priorities.” He argued that communication of the SDGs needs to happen at two levels, the local and the global, and that at both levels it needs to convey a strong sense of what’s happening in the real world.

“We have to go beyond global statistics, and coloured maps,” he said. Instead, he said, we need to hear more about the on-the-ground experience of the SDGs – Viet Nam’s successful “VDGs,” for example, or Cambodia’s inclusion of mine-clearing in its development goals. “Have you ever heard about these?,” asked Mr. Vandemoortele. “No, because we only hear about global statistics. Let us avoid the trap.”

Useful links

Informal Network of DAC Development Communicators (DevCom)

OECD Development Centre

OECD and the Sustainable Development Goals

OECD Insights: From Aid to Development

Rich or poor? We’re not sure…

launch-event
COPE launch event

Back in May, we asked you a simple question – are you rich or poor? For once, this question wasn’t rhetorical. Thanks to the OECD’s Compare Your Income tool, you could actually check for yourself where you stood on the income scale – rolling around in money or struggling to make ends meet.

Since the launch of Compare Your Income, more than a million people worldwide have completed the survey. And the answer we’ve all given to that question – are you rich or poor? – is absolutely clear: We’ve no idea.

In other words, if we’re rich, we think we’re poorer than we are; if we’re poor, we think we’re richer.

It’s true that these are still early findings and cover just three countries – France, Mexico and the United States. But, they do suggest that many of us have only a dim understanding of whether we’re doing better or worse than our neighbours. In France, only 1 in 6 people correctly guessed if they were high, medium or low earners; in Mexico it was 1 in 8; and in the United States it was just 1 in 10.

The people who were most likely to guess their position on the income scale correctly were middle-earners. By contrast, the people who most often got it wrong were the very highest and lowest earners. Among low earners, most underestimated just how far behind they were compared to everyone else. But the well-off, too, were almost as likely to get it wrong, often dramatically so. More than half of top earners in the U.S. and Mexico actually thought they belonged down in the bottom half of the income distribution.

 

Presumably, these top earners didn’t comprehend just how well they were doing compared with everyone else. If that’s the case, it seems to echo other research suggesting that a high income may not bring much of a sense of economic security. For example, a few years ago Boston College managed the rare feat of getting some millionaires and a couple of billionaires to talk frankly about the joys and dilemmas of being rich. Amid the findings, perhaps the most surprising aspect of being well off was that people still seemed to worry a lot about money. As Graeme Wood wrote in The Atlantic, despite sitting on assets worth tens of millions of dollars, most said “they would require on average one-quarter more wealth than they currently possess”. One heir to a vast fortune admitted that “he wouldn’t feel financially secure until he had $1 billion in the bank”.

Income perceptions aren’t the only issue under examination in the Compare Your Income survey. Among a number of issues, it also looks at people’s attitudes to how the economic pie is sliced up – what percentage of national income goes to top earners and how much should they earn?

Here, again, people’s understanding of the facts seemed to be at odds with reality. For example, French respondents believed that about 60% of the country’s income goes to the top 10% of earners. The actual figure is rather lower – around 25%. And when respondents were asked how large a share of income should go to top earners, they actually opted for a figure in excess of the reality – about 30%.

Speculating again, it’s possible here that respondents are confusing income and wealth. In extremely basic terms, income is the money you receive at the end of every week or month in your paycheque and wealth is the money that’s – hopefully – building up over time in your bank account (as well as other assets). Wealth is, indeed, spread out much more unequally than income: In OECD countries, the top 10% of wealth owners hold about half of all household income, according to In It Together, a recent OECD report.

Think you can do better than the million-plus people who’ve already taken part in the Compare Your Income survey? There’s still time to have a go – just follow the link below.

Useful links

The OECD today launches its new Centre for Opportunity in Equality to take forward the organisation’s work on inclusive growth and inequality.

Compare Your Income

Say goodbye to the 9-to-5

There are few traditional offices left in the wild
There are few traditional offices jobs left in the wild

In the United States it’s called “the 9-to-5”; in France it’s métro, boulot, dodo –“subway, work, sleep”; in Japan it’s personified as the “salaryman” and his female equivalent, the “office lady”. Whatever it’s called, the traditional job seems to be something we all identify with.

So it was a surprising to read earlier this year that most jobs are anything but permanent, routine and predictable. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), only around one in four workers worldwide have what most of us think of as a traditional job – stable and full-time with predictable earnings and working for a single employer. The rest? They’re all “employed on temporary or short-term contracts, working informally often without any contract, are self-employed or are in unpaid family jobs,” as The Guardian reported.

To be sure, there are major variations. For example, even though there are signs of a slight shift towards higher rates of formal employment, very few people in poor and developing countries have formal jobs. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, fewer than one in five workers are working 9-to-5, says the ILO.

By contrast, traditional jobs are much more widespread in the wealthy OECD countries. But that, too, is showing signs of change. While part-time and temporary work and self-employment still only accounts for about one in three jobs in OECD countries, it makes up a much bigger share of new jobs. Between 1990 and the crisis, around half of all new employment in OECD countries involved these sorts of jobs.

Part-time and temporary work doesn’t always have a very good reputation – often for good reasons – but it undoubtedly meets the needs of some workers. Women, who still bear the brunt of household chores and parenting duties, are much more likely to work part-time than men. Among women who work, about 40% are part-timers against 28% for working men. Young people, too, are a big presence in non-traditional jobs. Among temporary workers, close to half are aged under 30. Some may be tempted by the gig economy; others are probably finding it impossible to break into the permanent workforce.

The growth of non-traditional jobs is affecting not just workers and their families. Its impact can also be seen in society and the economy, and not least in income inequality. The main reason for this is that part-time and temporary jobs are helping to drive a trend towards job “polarisation” or a hollowing-out of the workforce. In other words, old-style jobs are vanishing in the solid middle of the workforce – middle incomes, mid-level skills – while non-traditional jobs are increasingly prevalent among both low and high-skill workers. So, goodbye full-time accountants, hello part-time cleaners and freelance designers.

This squeeze on the middle would tend to widen the income gap in any case. But its impact is exacerbated by the fact that, for low-paid workers, non-traditional jobs tend to pay less – hour for hour – than traditional jobs. Indeed, about 60% of so-called “working poor” households rely mainly on income from non-standard workers.

And lower pay isn’t the only problem facing low-skill temps and part-timers. As the OECD’s recent report on inequality, In It Together, notes, non-traditional workers “tend to receive less training and, in addition, those on temporary contracts have more job strain and have less job security than workers in standard jobs.” Non-traditional work is also rather less of a “stepping stone” to a traditional job than many people think, especially for part-timers and the self-employed.

And there’s a cost for businesses, too, from the decline of traditional jobs: As the OECD’s Stefano Scarpetta told the FT recently, the rise of temping “is not even good for the firms themselves nor for the economy, because this reduces the build-up of human capital on the job.”

Still, despite the drawbacks, it seems clear that growing numbers of people are going to be temping, working part-time or self-employed in the future. In response, countries will need to find ways of better supporting such workers to ensure they don’t slip beneath the poverty line. That may mean changes to taxes and benefits and more support in areas like training and job search to ensure that non-traditional workers can maximise their earnings and job prospects.

Useful links

OECD Policy Brief: Adapting to the changing face of work

OECD work on employment and income inequality

In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All (OECD, 2015)

OECD Employment Outlook 2015

How good is your job? Measuring and assessing job quality” – OECD Employment Outlook 2014

Where do you stand on the income scale? Find out with the OECD’s Compare Your Income web tool.

It’s a gig, but is it a job?

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Whistle while you work…

Time was when the only people who had gigs were long-haired types who stayed in bed till noon and played in bars till dawn. These days, it seems, everyone’s hopping from one gig to another – drivers, software designers, cleaners. Bye-bye full-time work, hello freedom and flexibility.

Well, maybe …

The “gig economy” has emerged as potentially one of the major shifts in what the Financial Times calls “the new world of work(paywall). It’s certainly one of the most eye-catching. Unlike other trends in this brave new world, the gig economy seems to represent a significant shift in what it means to be a worker. Depending on where you stand, it will either liberate millions of people to become mini-entrepreneurs free from the 9-to-5 grind or imprison them in a world of low-wage self-servitude and insecurity.

If you’re confused by what defines the gig economy, you’re not alone. The term is used to refer to everything from old-style temping to the sharing economy – think amateur-hotelier sites like Airbnb or car-rental sites like RelayRides. But it seems mostly to describe various forms of self-employment and independent contracting facilitated by online platforms like TaskRabbit and Uber. Indeed, in France, uberisation has become shorthand for the gig economy.

This ambiguity is not a trivial matter. Uncertainties over the gig economy, and what it means to be a gig worker, have sparked reviews and court cases in a number of countries. In the United States, for example, a judge in California recently gave the green light to a group of Uber drivers to sue to establish their legal status. The drivers contend they are effectively employees of Uber, and so entitled to be reimbursed for expenses, including the cost of buying petrol and maintaining their cars. Uber argues that they are independent contractors, which means it is not required to cover payroll taxes, health insurance and the cost of maintaining cars. As The New York Times pointed out, the outcome of the case “could strike at the heart of the ride-hailing company’s business model.”

That’s not the only uncertainty hanging over the gig economy. As the Wall Street Journal (paywall) reported last month, despite all the hype there doesn’t currently seem to be a lot of evidence in US jobs data of a big upsurge in self-employment. The same is true, too, of the United Kingdom, according to Ian Brinkley of The Work Foundation. But, as he also points, the emergence of the gig economy may still be “too recent a development to show up in the aggregate figures”.

Indeed, given the rapid growth of services like Uber so far, it’s hard not to feel that we are witnessing genuine shift in the economy. That may well continue, if for no other reason than demographics. By many accounts, the so-called Millennial generation – the oldest of whom are now approaching their mid-30s – are particularly keen on gig working. According to research in the US, almost half of millennials “will choose workplace flexibility over pay”. Of course, a few years down the road, when they’re trying to feed children and pay school fees, Millennials’ taste for job security may well increase.

Indeed, for individual workers, that tension between the freedom of freelancing and the security of the 9-to-5 may become a core issue. “There’s certainly something empowering about being your own boss,” Arun Sundararajan of the NYU Stern School of Business wrote in The Guardian. “[…] But there’s also something empowering about a steady pay cheque, fixed work hours and company-provided benefits.”

There will be dilemmas, too, for government policy, both in terms of wider regulation of the gig economy and unleashing what some argue is its potential to create jobs. According to consultants McKinsey, it could contribute $2.7 trillion, or 2%, to the global economy over the next 20 years and add the equivalent of 72 million full-time equivalent jobs.

But will they be good jobs? That question is relevant not just to the gig economy but to other trends in the world of work, such as temporary and short-term employment, both of which are on the rise. As we’ll discuss in the next post, some fear that the benefits of these shifts may be outweighed by the loss to workers of both income and job security.

Useful links

OECD work on employment

Where do you stand on the income scale? Find out with the OECD’s Compare Your Income web tool.