Friday, 21 November 2014

A chance to design the way forward for education

This blog by Micheal Ward of the OECD invites you to provide your views, on a set of indicators for measuring progress towards education targets for sustainable development, post 2015.

Want to get involved in shaping the future of education? As the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) reach their 2015 deadline, several international groups, including the OECD, are formulating a new set of goals and targets for sustainable development… and we’d like to know what you think.

Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG), a UN-appointed task force, has proposed an agenda for development that includes goals for education, and educators from around the world have developed a set of specific education and learning targets that are closely aligned with that agenda.

The task now is to develop indicators so that progress towards achieving these new goals can be monitored.

To that end, a Technical Advisory Group, co-ordinated by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and including members from the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, the OECD, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank, has proposed a set of indicators, which you can find 

We’d like to hear from you

What do you think about the indicators?

Until 30 January 2015 you are invited to comment on each indicator or to respond to these questions:

1. For each target, does the report identify the best indicators that are most aligned with the concept and are already being tracked in a large number of countries?

2. What new indicators could be developed to be more closely aligned with the proposed targets and have the potential to be globally comparable?

3. For each target, please identify or propose the two most important indicators.

4. Are there key issues that the document has not addressed satisfactorily or other issues that also need to be taken into consideration?

Please visit the 
UIS website for details on how to submit your comments.

To ensure that the consultation is open to as many people as possible, we invite you to spread the word among your networks and social media, referencing #Education2015.

After 30 January 2015, the Technical Advisory Group will review the list of indicators based on your feedback. The final proposal will be submitted for endorsement at the World Education Forum in Incheon (Korea) in May 2015. The final documents will then form the basis of the discussions at the UN General Assembly in September 2015 on the new UN goals for education.

Join the discussion on twitter via @EFAReport @UNESCO @WBEducation @OECD_Edu @UNICEFEducation and #Education2015.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Wellbeing of Nations: Meaning, Motive and Measurement

This blog by Paul Allin, Professor at Imperial College London, discusses a new book that explores the meaning of wellbeing and why it should be measured, the authors look at over 200 recent initiatives and summarise the different approaches taken in this area. 

The desire to explore and understand the territory ‘beyond GDP’ is gaining momentum all the time as we seek more relevant and meaningful measures of wellbeing and progress.  The topic features not only in ProgBlog and WikiProgress, but increasingly in social media channels and in many on-line forums.  A new book “The Wellbeing of Nations” reflects this interest and records many local, national and cross-national initiatives to build measures of wellbeing and progress that go beyond purely economic measures, and the headline measures of GDP and GNP in particular.

The authors, statisticians based at Imperial College London, take the view that national wellbeing – how a country is doing – embraces quality of life, the state of the environment, development and sustainability, as well as economic performance. All  these aspects are important to people, so measures of real progress need these dimensions. (The same applies if attention is focussed on a city or a neighbourhood, rather than on the nation overall).

The book opens by asking what is national wellbeing, and why measure it?  These are not new questions, as we can see from a “short” history of national wellbeing and its measurement, from Plato in Ancient Greece through to current developments to replace the Millennium Development Goals.
Looking across some 200 or more recent initiatives, several different broad approaches to measuring wellbeing and progress are summarised in the book.  These range from making greater use of the full national economic accounts, including with extensions beyond the core accounts, through various sets of social and environmental indicators.  Survey-based data on personal wellbeing are also now being collected by some national statistical offices and other organisations, either as a new overall measures of wellbeing, or to include with other measures.

However, the fundamental point for the authors is to ask what we mean by wellbeing and progress, and how we will use new measures.  A key message is that we are still learning how to use wider measures in public policy, business decision-making and in everyday life.  Until we establish the requirement for new measures, we are unlikely to be able to construct measures that will last in the way that GDP has done.

The UK Measuring National Well-being programme is featured as a case-study in the book. The authors are two of the technical advisors to the ONS work. In the photo above, author Paul Allin (on the left) is seen presenting a copy of the book to Glenn Everett, his successor as director of the programme, during a recent meeting in the UK Office for National Statistics. 

The authors conclude that there is much research and development around the world to help understand what people mean by wellbeing and by wider measures of progress.  There are a variety of motives for going ‘beyond GDP’, including concerns about sustainability as well as current quality of life.  Robust and valid measures are starting to appear.

However, the authors report that they “have not found full, clear or widely accepted” answers about the meaning of national wellbeing, the motive for measuring it, and how it should be measured.  There is more to be done and more that should be done including, they suggest, widening the system of national accounts (SNA) to become a system of national wellbeing accounts.  This should be taken forward by the international organisations involved in SNA working with the many other organisations and developers who already have a stake in all of this.

Allin P. and Hand D.J. (2014) "The Wellbeing of Nations: Meaning, Motive andMeasurement", John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. 

Paul Allin, CStat, FRSA
Visiting Professor, Department of Mathematics, Imperial College London

Monday, 17 November 2014

A data revolution for children

Katell Le Goulven, the Chief of Policy Planning at UNICEF Headquarters explains why data is central to UNICEF's work for children , as illustrated by the stories in this blog. 
  • The field of early childhood development is being redesigned thanks to recent evidence from neuroscience demonstrating how nature and nurture are inextricably linked during the early development of the human brain.

In Rukoro neighbourhood, Musanze, Rwanda, cell phones powered RapidSMS are being used to register and monitor expecting mothers. If there are any questions, complications or updates, health workers simply send a text to their local clinic and receive a response within minutes. 

 Learn more about UNICEF’s work on data for children and MICS.

Investments in data on children were bolstered a couple of decades ago by the World Summit for Children where world leaders committed to “establish appropriate mechanisms for the regular and timely collection, analysis and publication of data required to monitor relevant social indicators relating to the well-being of children”. And, later on, by the Millennium Development Goals.
Advancements since then have been significant. In 1990, 29 low- and middle-income countries had trend data on child malnutrition. Today 107 do, largely thanks to data collected via increasingly sophisticated household surveys.
More recently, the digital age ushered forth an era when the amount of data is rising exponentially; new data analytics allow us to answer different types of questions than was previously possible; and new technologies helps us do some of what we do, faster and cheaper.
Mobile data helped report 18 million births in Nigeria in 2011-12, and bring down the time to trace and reunify disaster-affected families in Uganda from weeks to hours. SMS surveys have helped reduce malaria medicine stock-outs by 80% in Uganda and young people are engaging in shaping decision making on HIV/AIDS in Zambia.

The recently coined “data revolution” refers to the potential of this ever-expanding and evolving data ecosystem to improve human well-being. These opportunities, however, will not automatically translate into something positive for all. To be sure, the data revolution also raises fundamental rights issues related, for instance, to having an identity and being accounted for, privacy, legitimate use, ownership, participation, and equity and non-discrimination.
These, in turn, question the suitability of our current data policies and governance structures.
People’s well-being should be at the heart of how these policies evolve. And particular attention should be given to children and youth because many risks affect them more specifically. Across the world, children and youth are growing up in a digital world, and data about them will be tracked for much of their lives. While data may help save the lives of many, others may not be aware that their interaction with technology is creating profiles that could impact their future.
A few days ago, I participated in a meeting of experts asked to prepare a report on the data revolution for the UN Secretary-General. During two days, specialists from the statistics, big data, open data, academia and the UN worlds brainstormed on the definition of the “data revolution” and its role to fill in persisting data gaps, to enhance accountability, to track progress towards sustainable development and to empower people.
While participants brought different perspectives to the table, all acknowledged the role of data as a key driver of sustainable development. Consultations held on the second day put the spotlight on the role of data for fostering openness and inclusion and unpacked the opportunities and challenges associated with big data.
These consultations continue online. You can join the conversation and help design a data revolution that works for the benefits of today’s children and of future generations. Submit your ideas here.
Katell Le Goulven is the Chief of Policy Planning at UNICEF Headquarters in New York.
This blog first appeared on the UNICEF Connect blog, here

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

We are in the midst of a statistical revolution

This blog, by Donato Speroni , looks at how two important conferences  sum up ten years of work in this area.  

“We have to find a new narrative that goes beyond the Beyond GDP research” 

This sentence by Enrico Giovannini, in his key note speech at theMoving beyond GDP in European economic governance” expert conference in Brussels on 10 October, summarises the state of the art. We have the well-being indicators, developed at national and international level in the last ten years; we are in the midst of a “statistical revolution” that will give us new instruments to measure progress and compare it between nations; but all this formidable data sets will be of limited use if it is not transferred into new political goals. Yes, but which goals?

In theory, we know what we want: that the economy continues to grow, but that growth should be inclusive (leaving no one behind) and sustainable (without compromising the ability of future generations to have a better future). But is this really possible?

Two visions clashed in the Brussels conference, captured in the strategic moment of the passing of the baton between the old and the new European Commission. The first view, more optimistic, believes in the effective possibility of promoting a sustainable and inclusive growth to ensure the well-being of citizens.

The second, more drastic view, thinks that in Europe the time for growth is over and supports a more rapid and dramatic change in lifestyle and investments. Through this discussion, the search for new statistical parameters has stimulated political debate on the vital issue of the European contribution to a better world.

Provided by the BRAINPOol project

It is clear that "to pursue a sustainable and inclusive growth" or "to change the development model" involve alternative policy priorities, different numerical targets and indicators. For example, if the goal of sustainable growth can be achieved with a gradual change (along with many other interventions) from fossil fuels to renewables, the alternative strategy requires a faster innovation in the pattern of development and results in accelerated efforts to change both the energy mix and the level of energy consumption. Very briefly, on the one hand we have a gradual reformism, on the other hand a revolution; it is clear that these processes cannot be measured with the same parameters, because it is not just a problem of quantity indicators, but also of different goals.

"Growth is structurally disappearing from the European Union?"

Even if we do not endorse Serge Latouche’s “Happy degrowth” theory, we need to know which results are realistically achievable in the situation we will have to face in the next few years. Tony Long of WWF presented at the Brussels conference an elaboration on the average growth in France over the past decades, which shows increasingly poor results. In his view, the new European Commission should initiate long-term macro-economic analysis, to answer the question: "Growth is structurally disappearing from the European Union?" The relationship between employment and technology is another important question to which we are unable to respond. Co-President of the Club of Rome Anders Wijkman pointed out that up to ten years ago productivity and employment grew in parallel, but now the productivity improvements have no longer a positive impact on jobs.

For many people, however, "growth is like a religion," said the Belgian Philippe Lamberts (Member of European Parliament, Green). "Many people are not willing to accept the facts (for instance about climate change) because they live in their own world". On the other hand, as pointed out the same Wijkman, even those who are convinced of the need for change are not in a position to express a narrative of transition: there is no comprehensive proposal on how to move from the existing mechanisms into a system actually more sustainable and inclusive: we have a collection of good intentions but few effective decisions and measurable effects.

The uncertain outcome of this process derives also from the fact that the European economic crisis puts us in uncharted territory, as it become evident in another conference -  the Strategic Forum 2014 on Intragenerational and Intergenerational Sustainability, organised by the International Economic Association (IEA) and the International Statistical Institute (ISI), together with the  “High-Level Expert Group on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress” (that is, the working group hosted by the OECD and commonly called "Stiglitz 2"), supported by the Bank of Italy, the Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF)  and SAS, that was held in Rome on September 23 and 24. 

Many of the documents, downloadable from the Forum programme, can help us to understand what is happening in Europe. In a series of very interesting slides, Martine Durand from OECD showed the long-term costs of the recession: even in countries that, on the basis of 2013 data, seemed to have passed the crisis, the conditions of households and the level of investment have not returned to pre-crisis levels. Not to mention the social effects of the lack of confidence in governments and the decrease in the level of satisfaction with life, especially noticeable in the country’s most in need such as Greece and Italy.

From the meeting emerged a stronger concern for sustainability. The social one first, which reflects a situation perhaps even more dangerous than environmental sustainability, for there are many signs that we are heading towards an explosive world (the "perfect storm"). Not only because of the conflicts that already afflict countries in Europe or those geographically close to us, but for the internal contradictions in our economic system: the lack of an adequate safeguard for human capital; the growth of unemployment induced by new technologies that cannot be underestimated and that shrinks the middle class; the frightening increase in inequality in our systems: all issues that go beyond the everlasting controversy about the limits of the public budgets.

It is not even enough to advocate greater investments in schools, because we must first understand what types of schools can prepare young people to find a satisfactory role in this new world, as pointed out by the governor of the Bank of Italy, Ignazio Visco with a short but effective intervention.

In conclusion, I think that the work done by statisticians and economists in these ten years gave us the tools to build a better world, with more inclusive and sustainable well-being for all. But now we need a vision: we have to decide which world we want, to realistically consider the limits of growth, and how we can build it.

Donato Speroni

Monday, 6 October 2014

What's new in this year's Global AgeWatch Index?

This post by the Jane Scobie, Director of Communication and Advocacy at Help Age International provides an overview of the 2014 Global AgeWatch Index. This blog is part of the Wikiprogress series on ‘Engaging Citizens with Well-being Statistics’.

What happens to people when they get to 60?

It's a little discussed subject. Data broken down by age is limited, but bringing together what is available from the UN, World Bank and Gallup gives us a snapshot of what is happening to older people now and how we can change things for the better.

The Global AgeWatch Index brings together data on income, health, employment, social connections and personal security into one number and ranks countries accordingly. The ranking is accompanied by a global report - this year focusing on income security in old age - and country report cards that highlight innovative responses by government, growing citizen action and some frightening gaps in policy.

 New questions and insights

  • What makes China and Bangladesh rank higher than India? How do people fare in the lowest ranked countries - Afghanistan, West Bank and Gaza and Malawi?
  • Why does Bolivia do so well in comparison? Why is Turkey, a country with high economic growth, so far behind Mexico?
  • What are the emerging issues facing governments at the top of the Index, Norway, Finland, Ireland and Argentina, where populations aged 60 plus make up between 15% and 26% of the total?

These are some of the questions the Index explores.
Two new features of the 2014 Global AgeWatch Index help explain the issues behind the figures.

Included in our country report cards are radar charts that benchmark individual countries against regional averages. And 34 of the report cards include detailed commentaries, written by in-country experts, adding a richness to the data.

Living without a pension
The 2014 Index report points out that 150 million people aged 65 or over in Index countries live without a pension of any kind - For example only 29% of older Indians receive a pension, 4% of older Malawians and barely anyone in Myanmar. However 95% of older Bolivians get a social pension which not only helps them individually but is also credited with reducing household poverty by 13.5%. And 74% of older Chinese now have a pension - that is 130 million people.

The 2014 Index report shows that pension coverage is rising, particularly in Latin America, but adequacy is still a major issue. For example in Kyrgyzstan the pension is worth US$98 a month, US$6 below the subsistence level of US$104. Research shows that heating and other bills eat up to 70% of this income. The situation is compounded by low economic activity amongst older people in Central Asia compared to other regions.

The Index measures older people's capabilities through economic activity and educational status. Some 22% of people aged 80-plus are looking for a job in Indonesia, and 92% of people aged 55-64 in Tanzania work. Many people in Colombia aged 60 and over want or need to go on working but face age discrimination. Job adverts routinely specify young applicants, for example.

Global postcode lottery

It is not only which you country you live in that determines your wellbeing in older age. Reports from individual countries show that provincial responsibility for services means that these are often very different in rural and urban areas, depending on local government providers.

For example, supplementary health services in Canada, access to day care centres in Colombia and ambulances services in Kyrgyzstan, vary greatly between different parts of the country.

Rising issues

Caregiver burnout and the demand for individual care and community services to enable people to stay in their own homes in their later years are issues of concern for civil society, governments and professionals the world over.

The transition into old age is inevitable, but it is not adequately being addressed. We hope the Global AgeWatch Index will stimulate demand for better data and debate.

We invite you to explore the report and website to find out more.

This blog first appeared on the Global AgeWatch Index site, here. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Counting Pennies: A new PISA report compares students’ financial know-how

This blog is written by Wikichild co-ordinator Melinda Deleuze. The post presents findings from the latest PISA report, highlighting the links between students' financial literacy levels and their socio-economic background. It is a part of the Wikiprogress spotlight on Education and Skills.

The importance of financial literacy among young people is growing, as more adolescents have access to financial services, have their own bank accounts, make independent financial decisions, and are often in paid employment as well as school. More than ever, the ability of students to manage their finances is central to their immediate and future well-being. Furthermore, rising tuition costs, and the increasing burden of student debt, is a major issue in countries around the world. Earlier this year in Chile, an activist burnt student debt papers worth $500 million in protest of widespread student poverty. Financial literacy is therefore of key importance, not just at the individual level, in terms of enabling young people to avoid or minimise debt or to plan for a more financially-secure future, but also at the societal level.

Queen Maxima of the Netherlands
at the PISA launch
On Wednesday, the OECD launched Volume VI of the PISA 2012 results entitled “Students and Money: Financial Literacy Skills for the 21st Century.” This part of the PISA survey, the first ever cross-national evaluation of financial literacy among young people, involved 29,000 students from 18 countries. The 15 year-olds are asked questions with 5 different levels of questions, from recognising the purpose of an invoice (Level 1) to identifying which loan is the best offer.
(You can take the test here!)
Average scores in all participating countries

Across the 18 countries, students show a wide range of financial skills and knowledge. Shanghai-China students had the strongest performance with a mean score of 603 points, while Colombian students averaged the lowest mean score of 379 points. A majority of the countries are in a tighter point span, ranging from 520 to 480, such as the United States (492 points) and France (486 points). 
Distribution of differences in scores

However, even within countries students demonstrate varying levels of financial literacy. In New Zealand, the top 5% of students score around 700 score points, while the bottom 5% score around 300 points. This 400-point difference equates to about 10 years of schooling.

In addition to providing results on students’ financial literacy levels, the report also explores the relationships between financial literacy and other factors (including gender, rural vs. urban, immigration, mathematics performance, attitudes and socio-economic background). The relationship between socio-economic status and financial literacy comes across as especially important to acknowledge, as it shows a system’s ability to break vicious cycles of inequality and promote truly inclusive growth. In a successful system, students would obtain higher levels of financial literacy regardless of the parents’ level of education, income or wealth. Also, a system which does not rely on parents to transmit financial literacy has greater chances of reducing inequalities in household wealth in the long-term.

Across the 13 participating OECD countries, financial literacy performance increases by 41 score points with every one-unit increase in the PISA index of socio-economic status (ESCS). This score gap represents the equivalent to about one extra year of schooling for students who have above-average family wealth and additional educational resources at home The difference between the students in the top quarter and bottom quarter of socio-economic index amounts to 91 score points (over two years of schooling). A students’ socio-economic status, therefore, explains a large proportion of the variation in financial literacy in OECD countries, more so than gender or immigrant background. 

% variation explained by socio-economic status
Estonia appears to be the champion of breaking socio-economic boundaries in this field, with only a 53-point difference between the students in the top quarter and the bottom quarter of socio-economic status. It is the only country whose students overall have an above-average financial literacy performance, and that has a weak association between financial literacy performance and socio-economic status. It achieves high performance without leaving behind the disadvantaged students.  

Parents’ life decisions also impact students’ financial know-how. Both parents’ occupation and their level of education are strongly related to students’ financial literacy performance in the OECD countries. The financial literacy performance of students with at least one parent with tertiary education differs by an average of 40 score points in comparison to those whose parents do not have a higher education degree. Again, that corresponds to one year of schooling. There is a large range among the countries’ average differences, from Israel’s 79-point difference to Italy’s 9-point difference.

In all countries, the students with at least one parent in a skilled occupation, such as a manager or professional, have a higher financial literacy score than students whose parents work in semi-skilled or low-skilled occupations. The average difference in financial literacy performance between these student groups is 54 points. However, the variation among countries for parents’ occupation is not as stark as it is for parents’ education. Israel has a 75-point difference, while both Italy and the Russian Federation show the smallest differences with 34 points each. Overall, these results show that home-related factors do impact a student’s performance and financially literate parents could make a difference of a year of schooling.

Fortunately, governments are already taking this important issue to heart, with over 50 countries implementing a national strategy for financial education, compared to 10 countries in 2008. The next assessment of students’ financial literacy will to be taken in 2015, allowing for the first comparison of change over time. Fingers-crossed for more good examples like Estonia by then!

*The graphs used in this post were presented at the report's launch on 9 July, 2014.