Earmarking Justice

In his State of the Union address on 12 February 2013, US President Barack Obama proposed a new initiative to improve access to high-quality early childhood education. The action is much needed: according to OECD figures from 2010, only 51 per cent of US children were enrolled in pre-primary education at age three, rising to 69 per cent at age four.

By comparison, in New Zealand, which became in 1986 the second country in the world to have its ministry of education take responsibility for early childhood education, 95 per cent of children in 2012 had been through an early childhood education program before starting school at five years old.

Earmarking Justice

Early childhood education is linked to improved prospects for future learning and employment. And, as the new Intergenerational Justice Index (IJI) study from the Bertelsmann Foundation's Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) project shows, it can help to level the playing field in terms of allocating resources fairly between older and younger generations.

As demographic changes lead to aging populations in many OECD countries, the increased weight of older people in voting systems means they have more power than ever before to direct policy preferences. So, more than ever, it is important that countries take steps to ensure their policies provide future generations with at least the same chances that their parents and grandparents had.

Estonia Ranks Top, the United States Bottom

To find out which countries best provide for younger and future generations, SGI's Intergenerational Justice Index (IJI) measured OECD countries on several indicators: ecological footprint, child poverty, public debt per child and spending bias towards older generations.

The best-performing country, SGI found, was Estonia, while New Zealand achieved a creditable fourth place. The United States ranked bottom of all the 29 countries studied, followed by Japan and Italy. If these countries do not change their current policy directions, their young people will grow up facing burdens of injustice, in terms of public debt, ecological degradation, and social immobility, that will be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

IJ offers policy recommendations that could help to shift the balance and help countries to improve their levels of intergenerational justice. The study suggests intergenerational earmarking as a way to rebalance public spending towards the young. Revenues raised in addressing one form of intergenerational justice, for example, environmental taxes, could be used to mitigate other areas of injustice, for instance by offering child tax credits or family allowances.

Proxy Votes for Children Could Foster Intergenerational Justice

Another interesting, albeit potentially controversial, the recommendation is the introduction of proxy voting for children. Parents would be given the right to vote on behalf of their children, with a child's vote equalling one-half of an adult vote. In this way, children would be given a voice in politics, and parents would be rewarded for their societal contribution.

High-quality early childhood education is especially important. Research has found that children who participate in early childhood programs are more likely to graduate from high school, hold down jobs, and earn more money. They are less likely to find themselves on state welfare or to go to prison.

The experience of high-quality early childhood education particularly benefits children from disadvantaged backgrounds, which means that providing early childhood programs could work as a corrective social justice measure as well as an intergenerational rebalancing.

In New Zealand, beginning in 2007, three-year-olds were offered two free years of pre-school. Children attend programs for 20 hours a week, 48 weeks of the year. The government hopes that by 2016, 98 per cent of children will receive early childhood education.

But despite this excellent record, there are concerns about the program's future. Education unions complain that funding cuts are affecting the quality of early childhood education. Recently, the word 'free' was removed from the government strategy; now, almost half of early childhood education providers, hit by increasing costs and lower subsidies, are asking for extra fees from parents. Shifting costs onto parents could limit the availability of high-quality education for disadvantaged families. 
Prospects for the US Seem Bleak

The US government says that in the United States, only 3 in 10 four-year-olds have access to high-quality early childhood education programs. Socioeconomically disadvantaged children are least likely to be in early childhood education programs: just 59 per cent of the poorest US children are in pre-kindergarten, as compared to 90 per cent of children from wealthier homes. The president's program is to implement free access to high-quality preschool for all four-year-olds from families at or below 200 per cent of the poverty line.

To receive federal funding, states would have to meet strict requirements. All teachers must have a bachelor’s degree and be given access to ongoing professional development. Teachers’ salaries should be comparable to those for teachers in higher levels of the education system. Class sizes should remain small and activities should cover the entire school day. Curricula should measure up to state standards and programs must be continuously evaluated. As it stands, few states would be able to meet these strict standards and qualify for federal money.

However, it is unclear how the US program would be financed. The president’s 2014 budget proposal includes a plan to pay for universal preschool by increasing taxes on cigarettes, which could have positive public health outcomes as well as providing a revenue stream for the program. But even if the tax succeeded in getting past the vested interests that would oppose it, such “sin taxes” have diminishing returns over time, raising questions about future funding.

Any new federal funding is supposed to be matched by state funding. But because of budget constraints, many states have already cut funding for their existing early childhood education programs, casting doubt on their willingness to provide more dollars for a new federal initiative.

What makes a NEET?

NEETS - young people aged between 15 and 29 years old who are not in employment, education or training - are a potential problem both for society and for themselves. The proportion of young people neither working nor studying offers an insight into how well economies manage the transition between school and work – better than youth unemployment rates, which do not take into account the numbers in education. It's especially illuminating when the figures are broken down into those who are still looking for work ("unemployed") and those who have dropped out of the labor market altogether ("inactive"). Particularly worrying are those in the very youngest age bracket – aged 15 to 19 – who may not have completed their secondary education and are disproportionately likely not even to be seeking work. There’s a risk they may never catch up with their better-educated peers.

So what makes a NEET? And what can governments do to make sure young people successfully make the transition from education into work? The latest edition of Education Indicators in Focus suggests that there are several intertwined factors.

What makes a NEET?

Charting the way towards excellence and equity in education

Something remarkable is taking place in New Zealand right now: ministers and teacher union leaders from the best-performing and most rapidly improving education systems are making a unique global effort to raise the status of the teaching profession. The agenda of this year’s International Summit on the Teaching Profession focuses on three policy goals: excellence, equity, and inclusion. Vital questions are being addressed, such as how can equity be achieved in increasingly devolved education systems, and how can high-quality teachers and leaders be attracted to schools with the greatest needs?

Why are these questions so important? To teachers, parents and young people, these questions may appear remote from the realities of school life; but the Summit’s unique mix of delegates enables both policy and practice to come under the spotlight. Largely as a result of PISA’s policy messages, many school systems have moved away from top-down administrative control towards giving schools greater autonomy. However, if autonomy is to benefit schools, teacher self-efficacy and the quality of learning, education systems should enable schools to enhance their capacity and encourage a culture of collaboration.

Charting the way towards excellence and equity in education

The weight of nations: the shape of things to come?

At lunchtime, Marco can be found in the bathroom stall of his secondary school. He is not ill. Rather, he is eating his lunch away from the eyes of his peers, sensitive to his weight problem and hoping to avoid being teased and targeted by bullies. Like many obese children, he struggles with poor self-esteem, anxiety, and depression.

Growing affluence has had positive influences on the health of OECD citizens. Less premature death and infant mortality, and longer and healthier lives have all been associated with our increased economic well being. But, does affluence lead to indulgence? A just released OECD publication shows that obesity among adults and children threatens to grow into a severe public health crisis.

Skills on Show

Upon entering the vast hall, I was first struck by the quiet concentration etched on the contestants’ faces amidst the hustle and bustle. Here gathered Britain’s best young professionals – each one determined to prove their skill as tile-layers, electricians, plumbers, make-up artists, web designers, IT technicians, mobile robotics designers and landscape gardeners. Each one going for gold at the UK Skills Show, held annually as part of WorldSkills International to celebrate skilled young people and recognize the ‘skills stars’ of today and tomorrow.

Earlier that day, in a far smaller room, another group of people had been equally intent on exploring the other side of the skills equation.

Skills on Show