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Young people struggling in digital world

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One in four students in OECD countries are unable to complete even the most basic reading tasks, meaning they are likely to struggle to find their way through life in an increasingly volatile, digital world. This is one of the findings of the OECD’s latest PISA global education test, which evaluates the quality, equity and efficiency of school systems.

The OECD’s PISA 2018 tested around 600,000 15-year-old students in 79 countries and economies on reading, science and mathematics. The main focus was on reading, with most students doing the test on computers.

Most countries, particularly in the developed world, have seen little improvement in their performances over the past decade, even though spending on schooling increased by 15% over the same period. In reading, Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China), together with Singapore, scored significantly higher than other countries. The top OECD countries were Estonia, Canada, Finland and Ireland.

“Without the right education, young people will languish on the margins of society, unable to deal with the challenges of the future world of work, and inequality will continue to rise,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in Paris at the start of a two-day conference on the future of education. “Every dollar spent on education generates a huge return in terms of social and economic progress and is the foundation of an inclusive, prosperous future for all.”

The share of students with only very basic reading skills highlights the challenge countries, including those in the developed world, face in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 (SDGs), particularly in relation to “ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.” (SDG 4). The share of low-performers, both girls and boys, also increased on average between 2018 and 2009, the last time reading was the main focus of PISA.

Student well-being is also an increasing issue; about two out of three students in OECD countries reported being happy with their lives, although the share of satisfied students fell by 5 percentage points between 2015 and 2018. And in almost every country, girls were more afraid of failing than boys and the gap was largest among top performers. One in four students also reported being bullied at least a few times a month across OECD countries.

Around 1 in 10 students across OECD countries, and 1 in 4 in Singapore, perform at the highest levels in reading. However, the gap between socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged students is stark: the reading level of the richest 10% of students in OECD countries is around three years ahead of the poorest 10%. In France, Germany, Hungary and Israel, the gap is four years.

Yet some countries have shown an impressive improvement over the past few years. Portugal has advanced to the level of most OECD countries, despite being hit hard by the financial crisis. Sweden has improved across all three subjects since 2012, reversing earlier declines. Turkey has also progressed while at the same time doubling the share of 15-year-olds in school.

The latest PISA findings also reveal the extent to which digital technologies are transforming the world outside of school. More students today consider reading a waste of time (+ 5 percentage points) and fewer boys and girls read for pleasure (- 5 percentage points) than their counterparts did in 2009. They also spend about 3 hours outside of school online on weekdays, an increase of an hour since 2012, and 3.5 hours on weekends.

Other key findings include:

Students’ performance in science and maths

Around one in four students in OECD countries, on average, do not attain the basic level of science (22%) or maths (24%). This means that they cannot, for example, convert a price into a different currency.


About one in six students (16.5%) in Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China), and one in seven in Singapore (13.8%), perform at the highest level in maths. This compares to only 2.4% in OECD countries.

Equity in education

Students performed better than the OECD average in 11 countries and economies, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Korea, Norway and the United Kingdom, while the relationship between reading performance and socio-economic status was weakest. This means that these countries have the most equitable systems where students can flourish, regardless of their background.

Principals of disadvantaged schools in 45 countries and economies were much more likely to report that a lack of education staff affected their teaching standards. In 42, a lack of educational material and poor infrastructure was also a key factor in limiting success in the classroom.

On average across OECD countries, 13% of students in 2018 had an immigrant background, up from 10% in 2009. Immigrant students performed on average less well in reading, by around one year of schooling. Yet in countries including Australia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, immigrant students scored higher or at least the same as their non-immigrant peers.

Gender gap

Girls significantly outperformed boys in reading on average across OECD countries, by the equivalent of nearly a year of schooling. Across the world, the narrowest gaps were in Argentina, Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Peru. Boys overall did slightly better than girls in maths but less well in science.

Girls and boys have very different career expectations. More than one in four high-performing boys reported they expect to work as an engineer or scientist compared with fewer than one in six high-performing girls. Almost one in three high-performing girls, but only one in eight high-performing boys, said they expect to work as a health professional.

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Russia Among Global Top Ten Improvers for Progress Made in Health and Education

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Russia is among the top ten countries globally for improvements to human capital development over the last decade, according to the latest update of the World Bank’s Human Capital Index (HCI).

The 2020 Human Capital Index includes health and education data for 174 countries covering 98 percent of the world’s population up to March 2020.

Russia’s improvements were largely in health, reflected in better child and adult survival rates and reduced stunting. Across the Europe and Central Asia region, Russia, along with Azerbaijan, Albania, Montenegro, and Poland, also made the largest gains in increasing expected years of schooling – mainly due to improvements in secondary school and pre-primary enrollments. The report also shows that over the last 10 years Russia has seen a reduction in adult mortality rates. However, absolute values of this indicator remain high in the country with this progress now at risk due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Human capital contributes greatly to improving of economic growth in every country. Investments in knowledge and health that people accumulate during their lives are of paramount concern to governments around the world. Russia is among the top improvers globally in the Index. However, challenges persist and much needs to be done to improve the absolute values of Index indicators,” said Renaud Seligmann, the World Bank Country Director in Russia.

The HCI, first launched in 2018, looks at a child’s trajectory, from birth to age 18, on such critical metrics as child survival (birth to age 5); expected years of primary and secondary education adjusted for quality; child stunting; and adult survival rates. HCI 2020, based on data up to March of this year, provides a crucial pre-pandemic baseline that can help inform health and education policies and investments for the post-pandemic recovery.

Of the 48 countries in Europe and Central Asia included in the 2020 Human Capital Index (HCI), 33 are among the upper-third in the world, and almost all are in the top half. However, there are significant variations within the region.

In Russia, a child born today can expect to achieve 68 percent of the productivity of a fully educated adult in optimal health. It is at the average level for Europe and Central Asia countries and the third result globally among the countries of the same income group. There is a stark contrast between education and health subscales in Russia. While the education outcomes of the country are high and outperform many high-income peers, its health outcomes are below the global average.

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Accelerating Mongolia’s Development Requires a Shift “from Mines to Minds”

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A new report by the World Bank estimates that out of every dollar in mineral revenues Mongolia has generated over the past 20 years, only one cent has been saved for future generations. The report argues that to break this cycle, Mongolia should use its mineral wealth to invest in people and institutions, while gradually reducing its dependence on the sector.

This is particularly true as demand for key minerals is likely to tumble due to climate change concerns, a shift of investors’ preference toward sustainability, China’s ambitious goal to reduce coal consumption, and persistence of the COVID-19 shock, according to Mongolia’s Mines and Minds, the World Bank’s September 2020 Country Economic Memorandum for Mongolia.

Since the advent of large-scale mining in 2004, Mongolia’s economy has grown at an average rate of 7.2 percent per year, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Growth has translated to rapid decline – although at times partly reversed – in the incidence of poverty and improved quality of life. The report also notes that Mongolia enjoys relatively strong human capital, and its infrastructure capital has improved for the last few decades, though remains scarce given the size of the country and low population density. This performance has been made partly possible through a generous but inefficient social assistance system and a large public investment program supported by mineral revenues and external borrowing.

However, a number of enduring challenges have grown in the shadow of this success. Mongolia’s rapid growth has been obscured by its extreme macroeconomic volatility and frequent boom and bust cycles. Growth has almost entirely come through capital accumulation and the intensive use of natural capital rather than through sustained productivity growth. Meanwhile, the country has not only consumed almost all its mineral outputs, but has also borrowed heavily against them, bequeathing negative wealth to the next generation.

Instead of maximizing the benefits of its mineral wealth for diversified and inclusive growth, Mongolia has increasingly become more addicted to it. At the same time, human capital has been underutilized and institutional capital has eroded.” said Andrei Mikhnev, World Bank Country Manager for Mongolia. “Such inability to capitalize on the country’s endowments has resulted in limited diversification of outputs and exports and has further amplified its vulnerability to the swings of the global commodity markets. Breaking this gridlock calls for a fundamental shift in approach that puts investing in minds on an equal footing with mines.”

The report recommends key policy actions to build the foundation of a diversified and sustainably growing  economy. These include:

  • Implement countercyclical fiscal and monetary policies – supported through transparent fiscal rules, an independent fiscal council, a market-driven exchange rate, and a well-functioning stabilization fund – to smooth consumption over the business cycle rather than maximize current consumption.
  • Undertake bold investment climate reforms to enhance competition, secure investor rights, and create a more level playing field that enables productive firms to invest and grow.
  • Move away from the mindset of diversifying products to expanding endowments, especially in terms of better utilization of Mongolia’s young and educated, especially female, labor force.
  • Accelerate the implementation of fundamental governance reforms (especially on the government effectiveness and control of corruption) to reduce political interference, increase transparency, and improve regulatory quality throughout the economy.

“Fortunately, there are many encouraging signs of improved macroeconomic management in 2017-19, providing the new government an opportunity to advance its reform efforts,” said Jean-Pascal Nganou, World Bank Senior Country Economist and lead author of the report. “Some impressive fiscal outcomes were achieved not by introducing new reforms but by effectively implementing existing ones. They demonstrate that with the right political will and leadership, similar improvements are possible in other areas including monetary and exchange rate policy, the financial sector, the business environment, and the labor market. The new administration has, therefore, an opportunity to institutionalize these reforms and avoid policy regression in the future.”

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Nearly 9 in 10 People Globally Want a More Sustainable and Equitable World Post COVID-19

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In a new World Economic Forum-Ipsos survey of more than 21,000 adults from 28 countries nearly nine in ten say they are ready for their life and the world to change.

72% would like their own lives to change significantly and 86% want the world to become more sustainable and equitable, rather than going back to how it was before the COVID-19 crisis started. In all countries, those who share this view outnumber those who don’t by a very significant margin (more than 50 percentage points in every country except South Korea). Preference for the world to change in a more sustainable and equitable manner is most prevalent across the Latin America and Middle East-Africa regions as well as in Russia and Malaysia.

Next week’s World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit will address the achievement of the sustainable development goals and the appetite for transformation which will drive the “decade of delivery”.

Clear majority ready for a more sustainable and equitable world

Globally, 86% of all adults surveyed agree that, “I want the world to change significantly and become more sustainable and equitable rather than returning to how it was before the COVID-19”. Of those, 46% strongly agree and 41% somewhat agree, while 14% disagree (10% somewhat and 4% strongly).

Russia and Colombia top the list of countries that strongly or somewhat agree with that statement at 94%. They are followed by Peru (93%) Mexico (93%) Chile (93%) Malaysia (92%), South Africa (91%) Argentina (90%) and Saudi Arabia (89%). The countries that are most change averse – disagreeing somewhat or strongly disagreeing with the statement – are South Korea (27%), Germany (22%), Netherlands (21%), US (21%) and Japan (18%).

Dominic Waughray, Managing Director, at the World Economic Forum said, “The Great Reset is the task of overhauling our global systems to become more equitable and sustainable, and it is more urgent than ever as COVID-19 has exposed the world’s critical vulnerabilities. But the technology to transform things tends to outpace the human will to change. In six months, the pandemic has systematically broken down this cultural barrier and we are now at a pivot point where we can use the social momentum of this crisis to avert the next one.”

Ready for significant personal change

Across all 28 countries, 72% want their lives to change significantly rather than returning to what it was like before the COVID-19 crisis (30% strongly and 41% somewhat) while the other 29% disagree (21% strongly and 8% somewhat).

Latin America stands out for its optimism, with Mexico, Colombia and Peru in the top five countries strongly or somewhat agreeing. Agreement is also high South Africa (86%), Saudi Arabia (86%, Malaysia (86%) and India (85%). By contrast, at least two out of five adults in the Netherlands, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Sweden, the US, UK and Canada long for their life to just return to how it was before the pandemic.

MethodologyThese are the results of a 28-country survey conducted by Ipsos on its Global Advisor online platform. Ipsos interviewed a total of 21,104 adults aged 18-74 in United States, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa, and Turkey, and 16-74 in 23 other countries between August 21 and September 4, 2020. Where results do not sum to 100 or the ‘difference’ appears to be +/-1 more/less than the actual, this may be due to rounding, multiple responses or the exclusion of don’t knows or not stated responses.

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