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Is growing inequality sustainable?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program warns about the increased inequality in her second blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members. 


Economic inequality is growing globally. The richest one percent of society owns 45% of global wealth and are on track to owning two-thirds of the world’s wealth by the year 2030. In 2017, the wealth of the world’s poorest 50% was equal to that of only 42 billionaires compared to 380 of them in 2009 according to OXFAM. What does this mean for society? Is this level of inequality sustainable?

Society largely comprises owners of capital and the providers of labour. Governments regulate the relationship between these two parties and provide public goods and services. Today, the global economy is larger today than ever before. The growth is far from proportionately distributed. The incomes to workers have not increased as fast as returns on capital, widening the inequality gap. The situation has worsened since the 2008 financial crisis. This trend will be sustained based on the current trajectory.

Income is a key component of economic inequality. Since around 1980, income inequality has been increasing in almost all regions globally but at different rates. The same variances are also evident within the regions and countries. The core twin drivers of this change have been education and technology. The gap between skilled labour and unskilled labour wages has been growing for decades. Advancement of technology has led to increased demand for skilled labour, putting a premium price on it. Variances in levels and types of education can account for as much as 60% of the difference in wages. A higher level of education leads to increased productivity and indirectly to faster diffusion of technology through innovation. Both factors contribute to faster economic growth. The higher the divergence in levels of education, the greater the income inequality.

The World Inequality Report looks at the proportion of the national wealth held by the top ten percent of society. It ranks Europe as the most equal society today at 37% and Middle-East the least equal at 61%. Sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, and India are in-between at 55%. The rate of growth in inequality is decreasing in Europe but rising in the USA. It has remained relatively constant in Sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, India and Asia in the last three decades. The rapid increase in income inequality in the USA is due to massive educational inequalities and a non-progressive tax system.

Is growing inequality sustainable? Based on the current trajectory in the use of technology and divergence in access to education, inequality could rise to alarming levels. It could lead to precarious levels of distrust between the wealthy and the poor. Globalisation will allow capital to flow across tax jurisdictions. It is likely to make redistribution of income through heavy taxation untenable. Advanced inequality could result in polarisation of society into wealthy elites and the poor in future. It could lead to a highly dissatisfied class within society and cause political, economic and social upheavals.

How can this potentially volatile situation be avoided? Public and social institutions, and policies shape inequality. Progressive tax systems and public investments in human development such as quality education and healthcare have shown promise to minimise further widening of the economic inequality gap. Their impact is amplified by creation of employment opportunities. Strong labour unions and government regulations are crucial in ensuring that these factors work in harmony to decrease inequality.

Two key questions beg answers: Will governments be able to develop and implement the right policies? Would higher taxation levels be acceptable to capitalists whose core motive is to maximise returns on capital? The time to fix inequality is now rather than when political, economic, and social catastrophes set in. Tackling inequality will require the political will of governments and the good will of capitalists.

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  economics  education  inequality 

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Literacy for the Year 20018

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 4, 2018
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2019

Monica Porteanu has written her fifth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. Here, she explores the evolving meaning of the word literacy. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

At its origin, the term “literacy” meant “the ability to read and write.” Although it was first recorded in the 19th century, coinciding with the beginning of the industrial era, specialists have studied its evolution starting from much earlier times. One of the ways they have tracked literacy was through signatures on marriage certificates. When discussing literacy and the industrial revolution, economic historians such as E.G. West, note that “the evidence on literacy and schooling is interdependent.” His study suggests that “literacy specialists usually describe figures of schooling as ‘indirect evidence’ of literacy. Schooling specialists, meanwhile, regard literacy as ‘indirect evidence’ of schooling.”

With the transition from the Industrial to the knowledge era, the term has evolved to convey the message of “competence or knowledge in a specific area.” For example, in addition to reading and writing, organizations such as OECD discuss numeracy and financial literacy. Futurists advocate for future literacy. Others address health or science literacy, with reading and writing is now considered fundamental literacies.

What does it mean for the era we are in? Arguably, we are still attempting to understand what that is. The knowledge era seemed to have been first identified by Peter Drucker, in 1959, when he introduced the concept of the knowledge worker. Today, the term seems more relevant as ever. Some suggest that 2018 belongs to the era of the humans or the Anthropocene, while the World Economic Forum points to the fourth industrial revolution. Eras, nevertheless, seem to be better defined after the fact. Literacies, however, seem to prepare us for what’s to come. Asking what these literacies are, regardless of how we choose to name an era, seems timely. Today’s literacy types include technological and informational competencies, which have been essential for a while now. Such a trend appears to continue, but for how long could it last? With the current aims of developing systems that are highly usable by humans, will there continue to be a need for deep technological literacy?

What might the literacies for tomorrow look like? Would they still be interdependent with schooling, as noted for the industrial era? How could one prepare for a future when the current rate of change is high already?

While possible but unknown tomorrows unfold in our imagination, they still have two things in common: (1) they are uncertain; and (2) preparing for them is ambiguous. At the same time, most of us have difficulties dealing with ambiguity. In fact, social psychologist Geert Hofstede has identified “uncertainty avoidance” as one of the six dimensions of culture. His study across about 100 nations, reveals that globally, the human comfort with ambiguity sits, on average, at about 36%. The other 64% of the time, humans seem to prefer to control the future. The higher such preference is, the more rigid the codes of beliefs, behaviour, and intolerance are.

But how could one control the future? At best, we can prepare. Getting ready for next year seems attainable with current competencies. Bracing for five years from now would include a multitude of assumptions, and potentially competency changes. How about ten years out? Or fifty? The longer the time horizon, the more we seem to joke about and care less how far ahead we talk about. At the same time, such a view would encourage us to switch our thinking beyond what we know today.

In this context, let’s say, the year is 20018, eighteen thousand years ahead of now. What literacies would prepare us for 20018? By that time, we could be back to an agrarian era, or become Martians, or non-existent altogether. Who knows? Breathing might become the literacy of those times. What would prepare us for such eras, seems to be our ability to deal with the ambiguity awaiting us. Shouldn’t we think about ambiguity as critical literacy? How might such literacy be developed?

Some might argue that ambiguity develops during critical thinking or resilience practice or training events. The same event though still sets the expectations for a determined outcome by the end of it, such as earning a grade, job, or advancement. Others might point to life events or religion as good teachers of ambiguity.

Overall, the current schooling system cannot train us to be at ease in ambiguous environments. So do most of existing societal dimensions, including economics, politics, and governance. Isn’t it the time to address that?

© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  economics  education  politics 

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How to Evaluate a Foresight Course

Posted By Administration, Monday, November 3, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 22, 2019

Alireza Hejazi proposes a method to evaluate foresight courses in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Teaching foresight is both enjoyable and challenging. New and experienced teachers alike are constantly faced with making foresight theory and practice meaningful for their students. Developing and running a foresight course is a challenging job, but evaluating it can be more thought-provoking. Looking at a foresight course from different points of view, foresight instructors may find this question meaningful: “how should we evaluate a foresight course to ensure the credibility of learning outcomes?” This blog post reviews three stages of evaluation and deserves foresight coaches’ care and appropriate action.

1. Pre-evaluation
Many observers believe that an evaluation agenda can be developed only after running an educational program. However, if foresight instructors inspect these three points in their syllabi with the support of an expert, they will save much energy, time and fund for future reviews and corrections: (1) Establishing instructional objectives, (2) Planning instructional strategies, and (3) Assessing learning outcomes. Without enough care for these three items, every educational initiative is doomed to failure.

Instructional objectives are “statements describing what the student will be able to do after completing a unit of instruction” (Kibler, Cegala, Barker & Miles, 1974, p. 2). Instructional objectives are typically articulated on the course syllabus, and many teachers provide detailed instructional objectives for specific units covered in a course. They help students know what to expect. In using instructional objectives, teachers are better able to articulate what they teach, and can better help students meet those objectives. For example, we can tell our students that they will be able to lead a scenario learning process for a leadership team that tests their strategy against a range of possible future developments.

Instructional strategies that are usually used in foresight courses include futurist lectures, discussions, group activities, reflection papers, and presentations. The choice of instructional strategy depends on the particular goals of a specific lesson or unit. In the domain of strategic foresight, common education base indicates that instructional strategies should be developed so that students become skillful at learning and practicing foresight knowledge, engaging in both written and oral academic discourse, working fluently with foresight data, building environmental scanning systems, developing scenarios and problem solving effectively. All these require providing students with particular opportunities, models, and guidance needed to develop each of those sets of skills.

Learning outcomes are more determined by the motivation, skills and behaviors of the student and less by differences among instructional strategies. In other words, any single instructional strategy is inherently more effective than all other strategies. Lerner et al. (1985) found that there must be a “goodness of fit” between the instructional situation and the student. Not surprisingly, some students are in situations where they “fit well” with their instructional situation and those students excel academically; other students have a poor fit with the instructional environment and are at risk academically.

Bringing that observation into the foresight field an instructor may find certain instructional strategies effective in advancing specific learning outcomes. For example, while discussions reflect learners’ understanding and analysis of futures concepts, reflection papers and presentations show how competent they are in producing foresight outputs. A foresight teacher can facilitate assessing learning outcomes by creating a table of authorities that identifies the objectives covered by the assessment tool as well as questions corresponding to each objective. Using a flexible variety of questions in the assessment tool (to be changed occasionally) and talking friendly to the students about the test are also good techniques that can be applied.

New foresight coaches can always check the practicality of their educational programs by conducting a pilot course project and may enjoy experienced foresight teachers and gurus’ ideas and views about their project.

2. Evaluation
A foresight course can be monitored effectively by asking a number of questions like these: Is the specific need of learners in learning foresight being addressed? Are the general and special teaching methods are applied effectively? Is the instructor confident about the data presented to the students? What is running right and what is being practiced wrongly by both the teacher and the students? What major conclusions do the students make in their discussions? Are their conclusions supported by the teaching and learning materials? How are educational data being used by the students? Are there other possible explanations for students’ understandings and reflections? What are they?

At the basic level, foresight instructors might be able to answer some of the above questions, but at the expert level, they and their students need to be monitored by expert observers. A good way to do this is inviting some expert foresight teachers to inspect our courses and receive their ideas. Their appraisal would be a wealth of knowledge that can advance our teaching effort in constructive ways. Being open to critiques and welcoming necessary reforms and improvements that should be made in the course will enrich our educational experience and will satisfy our students’ expectations. The following table summarizes stages of evaluation, involved parties and sources of evaluation clearly.

In addition to involved parties and sources of evaluation mentioned above, a foresight course should be also evaluated and compared against courses conducted in similar areas such as strategic planning and management. Foresight teachers may be entitled to a wide range of knowledge and experience shared by many teachers online on strategic matters around the world. The best source of evaluation that is always available to an instructor is the students’ feedbacks. If they report cases like following items, the instructor requires a serious revision of the course material or teaching system: “You’ve left me behind. I can’t follow. The level of jargon in this course is beyond my understanding. I cannot use the LMS (Learning Managing System) easily. I don’t enjoy reading this.” Down the road, everything should be tuned according to students’ needs and level of understanding.

3. Post-evaluation
An eagle knows when a storm is approaching long before it breaks. It flies to some high spot and wait for the winds to come. When the storm hits, it sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm. While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it. The eagle does not escape the storm. It simply uses the storm to lift it higher. It rises on the winds that bring the storm.

Managing a foresight course can appear as a storm and a foresight coach should be as clever as an eagle. When the course is completed and the students are graduated, it’s a good time to look back and find weak and strong points in our foresight educational program. Problems that students reported during the course period such as working with LMS (Learning Managing System), using foresight methods and tools, using and applying foresight data and preparing assigned outputs along with other unpredicted difficulties that appeared during the course all may come upon us like a storm. We can rise above them by setting our course up to higher levels of learning and teaching foresight. The storms do not have to overcome us. We can let our checking do the balancing work for us and lift us above them. Instructor’s experience coupled with students and experts’ feedbacks that had monitored our course make a compound that can enrich our educational effort.

Revisiting and post-evaluating a foresight course can be done in long middle and short runs. In long term, we should consider where our course fits into the curricular goals and course sequences. Perhaps the broad goals of our foresight course should be redefined, and a rearrangement of textbooks and study materials is necessary. For example, setting a goal such as leading a departmental team to develop strategic plans should consider developing mission, vision, and goals, appropriately matched to the near-term competitive, customer and industry environment. In middle term, learning objectives should be articulated for course and appropriate readings; videos, slides, websites, etc. need re-identification. The nature of assignments and activities should be also determined according to objectives, assessments, and instructional activities. And finally in short term, the calendar of activities, syllabus, LMS should be checked and updated.

References

Kibler, R., Cegala, D., Barker, L., & Miles, D. (1974). Objectives for instruction and evaluation. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc.

Lerner, J. V., Lerner, R. M., & Zabski, S. (1985). Temperament and elementary school children’s actual and rated academic performance: A test of a “goodness-of-fit” model. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 26, 125-126.

Tags:  education  foresight  futurist 

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