Monday, August 31, 2015

India growth slows to 7%; Save a job, not a cent; Schools less like Singapore, more like Silicon Valley

1 India growth slows to 7% (Simon Atkinson on BBC) India's economy grew at an annual rate of 7% between April and June, official figures have shown. This is slower than the 7.5% growth recorded for the previous quarter, and lower than expected. India and China - which also posted 7% growth in the second quarter - are now the joint fastest growing major economies in the world.

But some economists have expressed concerns that India's official figures do not accurately reflect true growth. "At face value, today's GDP figures for [the second quarter] suggest that India matched China as the world's fastest-growing major economy last quarter," said Shilan Shah at Capital Economics.

"But the GDP data remain inconsistent with numerous other indicators which suggest that, at best, the economy is in the early stages of recovery after three years of tepid growth. "The official GDP data are overstating the strength of the economy, most probably by a significant margin."

Digging into the detail - it looks like growth in Indian manufacturing has slowed from a year ago - a bit of a blow given this is one of the Modi government's main initiatives. And whether pace picks up in the July-September period will largely depend on the weather. This is the monsoon season and when rains are good and harvest plentiful, rural consumption goes up as people working in agriculture have more money to spend. But, so far, many parts of the country have seen less rain than you'd expect.

2 Save a job, not a cent (Natasha Marrian & Sikonathi Mantshantsha in Johannesburg Times) South African president Jacob Zuma has called the economy "sick" and appealed to business and labour to put jobs before profits and wage hikes. Acknowledging that it could no longer be "business as usual", Zuma appealed to business and labour to play their parts in saving jobs.

Zuma said that when jobs were lost the government had to step in, even though it was "in the business of running the country", not businesses. “If the private sector were concerned only about profit margins in the current economic climate, it would mean that it "did not care", Zuma said. Reducing labour to maintain profit margins, is that the way to go?"

Labour should not demand high wages that could result in job losses, he said. "Should we come together and recognise that the economy is sick? How should we save jobs? Should we tighten our belts?"

In the mining and steel sectors, the government, business and labour are in talks to save thousands of jobs as the energy crisis, among other factors, bites harder. The Department of Trade and Industry has come to the rescue of the beleaguered steel industry, approving a 10% duty on certain imported steel products currently entering the country free of duty.

3 Schools less like Singapore, more like Silicon Valley (Zoe Williams in The Guardian) In the UK we are on the brink of a crisis in teacher numbers. Apparently it’s harder to recruit when the country comes out of recession, since the profession loses its risk-takers. It doesn’t help one bit when the population insists on continuing to produce more children.

It feels passe to listen to teachers’ unions these days: the Department for Education wrote them off as dinosaurs, “the blob”. Yet the unions have an inconvenient habit of making predictions that come to pass and delivering findings that are observable in the real world. In 2014, a survey by the National Union of Teachers found that 96.5% of teachers said the hours damaged their family life, and 90% had considered leaving in the previous two years.

When results are good, that is billed as “parent power”; when they’re bad, that’s because the school is “coasting”. When a teacher is experienced and/or opinionated, the term for that is “burnt out”. When the targets aren’t met, that is definitely the fault of the school. An unrealistic goal is never named as such; rather, it’s a “challenge”, or it is “modern”, or it’s the way they do it in Singapore.

Community schools continue to form mutually supportive clusters. They do this not because they’re dinosaurs, or inherently left-wing, but because some people understand instinctively that networks of trusting experts, working together towards the same goals, drive up standards. This has been noted repeatedly in the private sector; it was Silicon Valley’s porousness, the cooperation between Xerox and Apple, the sharing of information and standardisation of connectivity, which drove excellence.

The contrast is Boston’s Route 128, which until the 80s was the other technology cluster: it was dominated by large corporations who jealously held on to staff, privileged loyalty over cross-pollination, put competition at the centre of their strategy and thereby consigned themselves to the stasis that was their undoing. By the end of the 80s the Massachusetts Miracle was over.

The analogy with schools is pretty clear: teachers, like any other bold professional innovators, will work best if they’re allowed to work together. Teachers mostly understand the grades for what they are, essentially measures of pupil affluence, unrelated to teaching quality; and yet they are still ground down by the relentless quantification.

Teachers and parents would work much better in tandem, given that their ends are identical. The assumption of teaching as a network, rather than a bear pit of competing institutions, would obviate much of the measuring and marking that consumes a lot of their time and introduces so much tedium into what recently was a rewarding career. It wouldn’t just be better for the teachers themselves, it would be better for everyone.

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