The European Human Capital Index: Why I Should Move to Sweden and avoid Italy

The Lisbon Council
The Lisbon Council

In an earlier post I referred to the European Human Capital Index, a metric for the development of human capital by the Lisbon Council. I decided to go the source and read the original policy brief titled Innovation at Work: The European Human Capital Index (PDF) written by Peer Ederer.

The index looks at the ability of thirteen European Union countries to develop and deploy their human capital. Human capital is defined as:

[..] the cost of formal and informal education expressed in euros and multiplied by the number of people living in each country.
Specifically the index identifies and defines four types of human capital and analyses the way they collectively contribute to the wealth of European citizens:

  1. Human Capital Endowment. This figure measures the cost of all types of education and training in a particular country per person active in the labour force [..]. Specifically, we look at five different types of learning for each active person: learning on the job, adult education, university, primary and secondary schooling and parental education. The figure is subsequently depreciated to account for obsolescence in the existing knowledge base and some level of forgetting.
  2. Human Capital Utilisation. This figure looks at how much of a country’s human capital stock is actually deployed. It differs from traditional employment ratios in that measures human capital as a proportion of the overall population.
  3. Human Capital Productivity. This figure measures the productivity of human capital. It is derived by dividing gross domestic product by all of the human capital employed in that country. This diverges from traditional productivity measures, in that the figure takes account of how well educated employed labour is, instead of just how many hours are being worked.
  4. Demography and Employment. This figure looks at existing economic, demographic and migratory trends to estimate the number of people who will be employed (or not employed) in the year 2030 in each country.

When the thirteen European countries are ranked on each of the four dimensions and then the rankings are summed the following table results (four is the best possible score, 52 the worst):

Rank Country Overall score
1 Sweden 8
2 Denmark 14
3 United Kingdom 19
4 Netherlands 21
5 Austria 23
6 Finland 29
7 Ireland 30
8 France 30
9 Belgium 31
10 Germany 36
11 Portugal 37
12 Spain 38
13 Italy 48

This policy brief is a treasure trove of fascinating and insightful statistical information. The author analyses the data and even gives some policy advice.

Did you know that Sweden invests 2.5 times as much in education as Portugal? The difference is biggest in parental education.
Did you know that the Netherlands leads in human capital utilisation? 64% of the total human capital stock is utilised. This is due to our policy schemes like the Life Course Saving Scheme (“Levensloopregeling”) and the abolishing of early retirement schemes in 2004.
Did you know that the rapid expansion of the utilisation of human capital has depressed the growth of human capital productivity? Only Sweden and Finland have managed to keep human capital productivity stable. The human capital productivity of the Netherlands is falling rapidly.
Did you know that (if current employment and immigration patterns continue) Germany and Italy will lose 8.7 million employees by 2030, together accounting for 70% percent of the total European drop? In Italy 60 year olds will outnumber 20 year olds by two to one in 2030.

Based on the Human Capital Index methodology a couple of policy recommendations are made. Some of these are obvious (increase the quality and the quantity of spending on education, Europe spend less on education than its OECD peers), others might be controversial (being open to immigration of skilled labour: “By 2030, can Germans or Italians learn to live in a society where every other 20-year old is a foreigner?”).

This article is well worth the read.

Withishness or How do you Predict the Quality of a Teacher?

Image by Joost Swarte
Image by Joost Swarte

For most of the years that I worked as a teacher at the Open Schoolgemeenschap Bijlmer I was a part time coach for new teachers. The goal was to try and help them be a better educator in a new school. I always had the feeling that my input had very little effect: some teachers seemed to get it intuitively, others would never learn. Malcom Gladwell, author of the highly enjoyable The Tipping Point and Blink has written an article for the New Yorker titled Most Likely to Succeed, How do we hire when we can’t tell who’s right for the job?. It partially addresses this question.

He introduces the topic by explaining how difficult it is for scouts to predict which successful college football quarterbacks will be successful in the National Football League (NFL). These scouts have developed different methodologies to select players for the draft, but they haven’t hit on a great predictor yet.

There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they how they’ll do once they are hired. So how do we know how to choose in cases like that? In recent years, a number of fields have begun to wrestle with this problem, but none with such profound social consequences as the profession of teaching.

The quality of teachers is highly variable. There is a big difference between the best teachers and bad teachers:

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year. Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effect are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile.

Bob Pianta is doing research by taping teachers as they explain things and interact with a class. They then closely watch these tapes and try to extract the competencies of a great teacher.

Educational-reform efforts typically start with a push for higher standards for teachers – that is, for the academic and cognitive requirements for entering the profession to be as stiff as possible. But after you’ve watched Pianta’s tapes, and seen how complex the elements of effective teaching are, this emphasis on book smarts suddenly seems peculiar. [..]
A group of researchers [..] investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master’s degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom. Test scores, graduate degrees and certifications – as much as they appear related to teaching prowess – turn out to be about as useful in predicting success as having a quarterback throw footballs into a bunch of garbage cans.

Koumin did research into desist behaviour (stopping some kind of misbehaviour). He found that teachers need to have an ability which he calls “withisness” which he defines as:

“[..] a teacher’s communicating to the children by her actual behavior (rather than by verbally announcing: ‘I know what’s going on’) that she knows what the children are doing, or has the proverbial ‘eyes in the back of her head’.” It stands to reason that to be a great teacher you have to have withishness. But how do you know whether someone has withisness until she stands up in front of a classroom of twenty-five wiggly Janes, Lucys, Johns, and Roberts and tries to impose order?

In the field of financial-advice, companies have the same problem: no one knows in advance who will become a high performing financial adviser. Recruiters in that field typically interview a thousand people (keeping the gates wide open) and pick out about 1 in 20. These recruits will go through an extensive training camp in which they need to obtain a minimum number of clients and have a minimum number of meetings in a certain amount of time. If they manage this, then they are hired.

This example suggest that for the teaching profession:

[..] we shouldn’t be raising the standards. We should be lowering them, because there is no point in raising standards if standards don’t track with what we care about. Teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree – and teachers should be judged after they have started their jobs, not before. That means that the profession needs to start the equivalent of [the financial-advice field’s] training camp. It needs an apprenticeship system that allows candidates to be rigorously evaluated.

Is this research valuable for the Dutch policy makers in trying to solve our looming educational crisis? I have to admit I haven’t followed Dutch educational policy very closely but I can imagine a couple of things that are relevant to this topic:

  • The Dutch currently have a shortage of teachers. This shortage will get bigger in the next couple of years. Schools have trouble finding teachers for certain topics, let alone find great teachers. Lowering the barrier for HBO and WO educated people to be let into the teaching profession might become a necessity. It is good to know that this will not necessarily be a bad thing for the quality of the teaching (my years as a coach confirm this for me).
  • How do you ethically arrange for affordable apprenticeships in schools? When the budding financial advisers fail, they only incur costs to the company that was trying to hire them. When an apprentice teacher fails, a whole group of children will have had a bad educational experience. We need a framework in which we can safely try and find out who is a great teacher and who isn’t.
  • Gladwell’s article refers to teacher salaries. These are currently extremely rigid. I used to say that I could predict what I would earn in 15 years time. If we want to rate teachers based on their actual performance, then we should also try and go to a system which rewards excellent performance in some way. The introduction of “scale 11”  in the Netherlands has not had this effect. Which school in the Netherlands will be the first to pay their teachers according to performance? I would love to see that happen!

Online Educa Berlin 2008: Day 2

During the second day of the Online Educa I was able to go to the Going Global with E-Learning keynote in the morning and to the Battle of the Bloggers session in the afternoon. Here are some of my notes and thoughts:

The keynote started with a presentation by Christophe Binot, E-Learning Manager at Total in France. What he showed was quite shocking to me. All the things he described were classic webbased training materials. It felt like I was back in the 20th century. There was no talk of collaborating, of networks, not even of performance support. Instead he focused on the more than 1000 lessons in four languages.

Next up was Richard Straub. He is currently the Secretary General of the European Learning Industry Group (ELIG) and used to by an employee of IBM, but has gradually stepped out. ELIG has the mission to promote innovation in learning in Europe. They are trying to anticipate the 21st century.

The theme of his talk was the unstoppable move towards openness and how this will enable an education continuum.

We are making a move from a closed world to a more open world:

Closed Open
Top down Bottom up
Central planning Participation
Command and control Autonomy
Bureaucratic Commons sense
Rigid Flexible
IPR Intellectual capital
Proprietary Community based
Authority Reputatio

We are moving from a society of relatively static organisations towards what Straub calls the “Hollywood studio approach” of dynamic teams built around a project. The knowledge workers of the second half of the 20st century will be replaced by knowledge entrepreneurs who will work on the basis of flexible contractual relationships.

Focusing on education this might mean that the traditional silos (elementary school, secondary education, tertiary education, employment) will be bridged to create an education continuum of lifelong learning.

Straub then presented some new research from the Lisbon Council focusing on the European Human Capital Index. He had a fascinating graph showing the human capital biography of a German professional:

x-axis = age, y-axis = human captial
x-axis = age, y-axis = human captial

This is definitely material which I will look into further.

He finished his talk by mentioning that the new notion of blended learning is mixing formal and informal learning (not mixing classroom and online learning), and by recommending Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge.

The last speaker of the keynote session was Laura Overton of the independent, not for profit, community interest company Towards Maturity. Her organisation does research in multinational companies with the goal of improving the impact of learning technologies at work.

According to their research the key factors hindering the implementation of innovative learning technologies are the lack of knowledge about its potential, the high reluctance to adopt and the lack of implementation skills. Interestingly 23% of the global companies also considered the overhyping of learning products by their suppliers to be a significant hindrance to implementation.

Mature companies are moving from aligning to needs to delivering impact. Towards maturity has an interesting model of factors in this process:

Toward Maturity
Towards Maturity
  • Alignment to (business) needs is the most important factor for success.
  • Learner context. Engage learners and listen to them, involve them in the design and  the implementation.
  • Work context. Connect to regional priorities, don’t fight technical infrastructures, work with local cultures to your advantage.
  • Building capacity. Collaboratively author content, ensure that local training divisions are equipped using the latest tools, support and connect.
  • Ensuring engagement. Equip local heroes, organise pilots, develop communication toolkits, create peer to peer communication strategies.
  • Demonstrating value. Don’t be afraid to ask for value, dig deeper and communicate successes via a wide selection of media.

These strands collectively intertwine. All contribute to impact and involve stakeholders at all stages. Overton sees it like a “six-legged” race where each of these strands has to coordinate with the others to progress.

The Battle of the Bloggers session in the late afternoon was meant to be a reflective and interactive session on what had been the most relevant topics of the conference. A back channel was provided using Backnoise.

Unfortunately I only learnt two things from this session:

  • Belgium has another unknown comic: session chair Bert De Coutere lead it with a great sense of humour.
  • A backchannel does not add a lot of value yet. People (me included) do two things in it: they discuss the backchannel itself (“we should have this in every session”) or they make witty remarks.

The blogger panelists did not seem to be too comfortable behind their tables on the stage in front of a very large and largely empty room. We had a heckler that could only talk about how all generations have turned into sheep and a vocal audience member with the age of somebody from generation Y, but the mind of baby boomer. All in all Michael Wesch could have gotten some great cultural anthropological material for research on weird group interactions.

Online Educa Berlin 2008: Language

Jay Cross
Jay Cross

Language is still our prime tool for learning. I find language a fascinating subject and noticed a couple of things about language during the Online Educa.

First, Jay Cross. He was a panelist during the Battle of the Bloggers session. One topic they discussed was the financial crisis and how it could affect our profession. Jay said that if you are currently a Director of Training it would probably be smart to change your job title to something like Director of Sales Readiness (“we can’t let the director of sales readiness go…”). I think he is right. Language changes perception and a change in how you call something can significantly alter people’s behaviour. This is also the reason why I don’t like to use the Dutch word “allochtoon“: I think it has an unnecessary connotation of exclusiveness and us versus them.

Jay was very insightful about the other topics too, so I decided to go to the front desk an buy his book Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance. I like how he consciously has put “performance” in the title of his book. That way he instantly disarms any suggestion that informal learning is just a pet topic for educational scientists. Instead, it directly addresses the issue that is central in the corporate world: “executives don’t want learning; they want execution. They want the job done. They want performance.”

The ability to adapt your language to the language of the client is one of the skills that any good consultant should have. Ton Zijlstra had an interesting take on this. We met at an Edublog dinner and one of the things we talked about was how he uses to find people who bookmark the same sites as he does, but who do this using different tags. If they use different tags for the same concepts it means they are in a different community or network. That is interesting, because they could be starting point for a whole set of new connections.

The Reichstag Dome: Norman Foster is a Genius

Reichstag, Berlin, photo by chris-dcx cc by-nc-nd
Reichstag, Berlin, photo by chris-dcx cc by-nc-nd

This evening I had the chance to go to the Reichstag in Berlin. This incredible building currently houses the German parliament (the Bundestag).

Admission to the magnificent dome is free. The last people are allowed in at 22:00 and are then allowed to stay till midnight. I hope our Dutch public institutions will take the Reichstag as an example.

The view of Berlin at night was impressive. Walking up the spiral (which is separate from the downward one) make you see the full panorama about three times.

The dome was designed by Norman Foster and built to symbolise the reunification of Germany. When you look down towards the inside you can see the seats of the parliament which get direct sunlight reflected through the mirrored cone in the centre of the dome.

Looking at that mirrored cone I suddenly realised Foster’s brilliance: the cone not only allows sunlight in, it also must allow the people sitting in the parliament seats to oversee all of Berlin when they look up. To me this makes the dome a wonderful physical realisation of a metaphor for not performing omphaloskepsis, but instead looking outward to the world at large.

A great city, Berlin.