Monday, September 8, 2014

Japan economy contracts 1.8%; Ebola 'will infect thousands more'; China's education gap

1 Japan economy contracts 1.8% (BBC) Japan's economy shrank 1.8% in the April-to-June period, worse than forecast and raising more questions about the government's economic policy. The official data confirmed that the world's third largest economy suffered its sharpest quarterly contraction since the 2011 earthquake disaster. On an annualised basis it would mean gross domestic product (GDP) fell 7.1%.

The fall was blamed in part on a consumer sales tax introduced in April, with another rise planned for 2015. In the first quarter of 2014, the economy grew by 1.5%. The single biggest factor behind the contraction in the second quarter is thought to be a rise in the nation's sales tax in April, to 8% from 5%.

There are now calls for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to delay a further rise planned for next year, while the central bank has faced fresh demands to expand its stimulus programme. Private consumption makes up some 60% of Japan's economic activity.

2 Ebola ‘will infect thousands more’ (The Guardian) Ebola is spreading fast in Liberia, where many thousands of new cases are expected over the coming three weeks, the World Health Organisation has said. "Transmission of the Ebola virus in Liberia is already intense and the number of new cases is increasing exponentially," the WHO said in a statement.

The organisation noted that motorbike and regular taxis are "a hot source of potential virus transmission" because they are not disinfected in Liberia, where conventional Ebola control measures "are not having an adequate impact".

In Liberia, the disease has killed 1,089 people out of 1,871 cases – the highest national toll, the WHO said last Friday. Across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, a total of 2,097 have died out of 3,944 cases. Another 18 cases and seven deaths have been recorded in Nigeria and one non-fatal case in Senegal.

3 China’s education gap (Helen Gao in Straits Times) While China has phenomenally expanded basic education for its people, quadrupling its output of college graduates in the past decade, it has also created a system that discriminates against its less wealthy and poorly connected citizens, thwarting social mobility at every step with bureaucratic and financial barriers.

A huge gap in educational opportunities between students from rural areas and those from cities is one of the main culprits. Some 60 million students in rural schools are "left behind" children, cared for by their grandparents as their parents seek work in faraway cities. While many of their urban peers attend schools equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, rural students often huddle in decrepit school buildings and struggle to grasp advanced subjects such as English and chemistry amid a dearth of qualified instructors.

For migrant children who follow their parents to cities, the opportunity for a decent education is similarly limited, as various government policies foil their attempts at full integration. The hukou system - residency status that ties access to subsidised social services to one's home town - denies rural children the right to enter urban public schools. Many migrant children are relegated to private schools that charge higher tuition and offer subpar education.

Property in well-regarded school districts became Beijing's hottest commodity this spring. Families have been tripping over one another to trade spacious homes in posh compounds for dilapidated flats next to prestigious elementary schools. In a sought-after neighbourhood in the Xicheng district, for example, a 107 sq ft flat was listed for US$550,000.

China has vowed to transform its manufacturing- and export- based economy into one driven by knowledge and innovation. To reach that goal, it is pivotal that its youth develop to their fullest potential. The Chinese education system will not live up to its reputation as the great equaliser until the son of a rice farmer in Hunan and the daughter of a civil servant in Beijing can both dream of a future inside the red columns of Peking University.

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