Will the world’s lack of jobs drive the under-25s to violence and extremism? Do children, meanwhile, make easy targets for the global slave trade, and why is it that teenagers face greater bullying and violence over their sexual orientation?
Business often points the finger at government over the need to tackle the mismatch between qualifications and jobs but could it be doing more to confront the matter itself? Certainly German companies like BMW are bringing the benefit of apprenticeships to US states like South Carolina.
Clay Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor, is an expert on “disruptive innovation” in various industries – when incumbent companies find themselves overtake by a new technology. He is now facing the possibility of being disrupted himself.
At a breakfast held by Bain & Co, Prof Christensen compared his own fate as a professor at an elite university facing competition from Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) with that of sailing ships in the 19th century. They were eventually replaced by engine-driven ships, but it took decades. Read more
An elderly woman walks through a wintry Spanish city, sadly bemoaning her country’s fate. “All the studies show we always come last in the rankings,” she exclaims, shuffling past a placard highlighting Spain’s poor performance in international education tests.
She bumps into old friends, all of whom tell her of their plans to leave the country and “become foreigners”. At a nearby market, stalls advertise the benefits of becoming German, Scandinavian or British. She meets a tousle-haired man clutching his German certificate: “I want to know what it feels like when everyone owes you money – not the other way around.” Read more
Familiar calls rang out this week to halt the decline in western countries’ performances in global education rankings. It seemed on first glance that the rise of the intensive east Asian model of schooling has only accelerated. However, the results from PISA (The Programme for International Student Assessment) come with plenty of caveats – as amply summarised by Sam Freedman of TeachFirst here.
Along with statistical shortcomings – only about 10 per cent of students answered all the questions on reading – there are also broader critiques. Accurately comparing the educational systems of countries with staggeringly different cultural norms, school systems and input hours may be an impossible task. The rankings also focus narrowly on the maths, science and reading skills of students in everyday situations. There is no evaluation of students’ ability to master technology for instance – surely a key skill for the knowledge economy. Read more
South Korean students in Seoul (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)
A novelty that has emerged since the mid-1990s is the international standardised test solely designed to measure how good national school systems are – not individual schools nor their pupils. Today, two of the three big tests issued results.
The tests, TIMSS and PIRLS, measure basic learning skills and primary school performance respectively. (The third big test, the OECD’s PISA test, comes out next December. It measures higher order skills among 15 year-olds.)
The educational divide in the US is always startling: on the TIMSS maths test for teenagers, Alabama’s test scores put them in line with Armenia and behind Dubai. Meanwhile, Massachusetts comes in at around the same level as market-leader Japan.
These tests confirm the crowd of top performers: Korea, the Chinese cities and Singapore always do well. Not even Finland and Ontario, western school-reform pin-ups, have the degree of consistency that the Asian education superpowers do.
This will spark hand-wringing about school performance, but it is important to note the role of culture. As a really simple experiment to show this, we can look at how Chinese children in England do in their GCSE exams at the age of 16. Read more
Qatar has enormous oil and gas reserves, but the little state is trying to kick the petroleum habit and become a high-tech society. It wants a sustainable economy for when the oil runs out – and a more cultured society in the meantime.
The Qatar Foundation is the institution that is leading this drive: I am in the little Gulf state this week for WISE, their annual summit on education, where I was a speaker on the finance of education. The whole thing is rather spectacular.
When they say they are going to do something, they go big – sometimes to a rather baffling degree. One of my favourite examples of this is their super-duper equine health centre, which trains horse-handlers and apparently features a sauna for the horses. Read more
with Gideon Rachman
About this blog
Commentary on international affairs, with Gideon Rachman and his colleagues
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Gideon became chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times in July 2006. He joined the FT after a 15-year career at The Economist, which included spells as a foreign correspondent in Brussels, Washington and Bangkok. He also edited The Economist’s business and Asia sections.
His particular interests include American foreign policy, the European Union and globalisation