Economist 6/9/16

  1. Over 4,000 climbers have scaled the world’s tallest peak, Mt Everest. Over 250 have died attempting the journey.Everest is safer than most of its 8,000-metre sister-peaks, thanks largely to Sherpas’ detailed knowledge of the route.On a “death to safe returns” ratio, the mountain does better than other lesser-trodden peaks, like Annapurna for instance (where one climber dies for every three who make it to the top; at Everest it is 1:30).But whereas rocky crags, treacherous cornices, thin air, and wildly fluctuating temperatures are common to most vertiginous snow-clad peaks, Everest’s troubles are partly man-made. The mountain’s two most popular climbing routes, one from Nepal and another from Tibet, are terribly overcrowded.Key portions of the routes are often secured with a single rope-line tugged by more than a hundred climbers at once. One misstep can trigger a domino effect. Any jam at that altitude can be fatal.Until the 1970s Nepal’s government allowed only one climbing expedition every year. Today there is no such cap. Everest is a big draw for Nepal’s $471m tourism industry, the country’s second-biggest foreign-exchange earner after remittances.
  2. MOST people agree that the glamour of regular business travel is not what it used to be. Budget airlines and cheap long-haul carriers have initiated a race to the bottom, on service as much as price.But perhaps things are finally beginning to look up. Not only are airlines running out of add-ons to charge for, but low oil prices have taken the pressure off margins, allowing carriers to invest in service again. As BA mulls charging for food, United and American have reintroduced complimentary snacks. Delta has gone one step further by announcingthat in-flight entertainment will be made free from July 1st.And the news comes just as American announced plansto beef up its onboard Wi-Fi, enabling high-speed connectivity for passengers.
  3. One widely cited paper by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne at Oxford University found that as many as 47% of Americans work in jobs that will be highly susceptible to automation over the next two decades.But a new working paper by Melanie Arntz, Terry Gregory and Ulrich Zierahn of the Centre for European Economic Research paints a slightly brighter picture.Take clerks in book-keeping, accounting and auditing: the earlier study said the odds of computers supplanting them over the next 20 years were 98%. But the newer study finds that three-quarters of those jobs involve some group work or face-to-face interaction—tasks robot struggle with. Applying a similar analysis to all jobs, they find that only 9%, not 47%, are at high risk of automation.Some caveats are in order: employers could restructure jobs to disentangle tasks that are more or less easy to automate.For the poorest quarter of the population, the proportion of jobs at risk rises to 26%, since more of them work in the sort of routine jobs most susceptible to automation.
  4. The secret to stellar grades and thriving students is teachers. One American study found that in a single year’s teaching the top 10% of teachers impart three times as much learning to their pupils as the worst 10% do.The premise that teaching ability is something you either have or don’t is mistaken. A new breed of teacher-trainers is founding a rigorous science of pedagogy.Around the world, few teachers are well enough prepared before being let loose on children. In poor countries many get little training of any kind. A recent report found 31 countries in which more than a quarter of primary-school teachers had not reached (minimal) national standards. In rich countries the problem is more subtle.What teachers fail to learn in universities and teacher-training colleges they rarely pick up on the job. They become better teachers in their first few years as they get to grips with real pupils in real classrooms, but after that improvements tail off. This is largely because schools neglect their most important pupils: teachers themselves. Across the OECD club of mostly rich countries, two-fifths of teachers say they have never had a chance to learn by sitting in on another teacher’s lessons; nor have they been asked to give feedback on their peers. 
  5. Good teachers set clear goals, enforce high standards of behaviour and manage their lesson time wisely.Instilling these techniques is easier said than done. With teaching as with other complex skills, the route to mastery is not abstruse theory but intense, guided practice grounded in subject-matter knowledge and pedagogical methods.The places where pupils do best, for example Finland, Singapore and Shanghai, put novice teachers through a demanding apprenticeship.Big changes are needed in schools, too, to ensure that teachers improve throughout their careers. Instructors in the best ones hone their craft through observation and coaching. They accept critical feedback—which their unions should not resist, but welcome as only proper for people doing such an important job.Money is less important than you might think. Teachers in top-of-the-class Finland, for example, earn about the OECD average. But ensuring that the best stay in the classroom will probably, in most places, mean paying more.

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