Here is the #MIKTA #EiEchallenge Launch video featuring Opportunity2Change’s work with School leaders in Vanuatu (second item). Enjoy! Thanks @dfat_iXc for making this idea a reality and thank-you to the school leaders of Santo for being involved in the pilot.
(Source: www.devex.com, 24 April 2018 by Alva Saldinger (Associate Editor for devex.com)
WASHINGTON — There are regular inspections. There are fire doors and sprinklers. There are safety committees where there weren’t before. Workers in Bangladesh’s garment industry are safer than they were five years ago when the Savar building collapsed on April 24, 2013, killing 1,134 garment workers in Dhaka, the country’s capital. But for many, progress has fallen short of its potential in the wake of a disaster that shook a country, an industry, and the world.
Five years on, there are some truths that are widely agreed upon: Garment workers in Bangladesh, specifically those in factories monitored by two agreements that came in the wake of the disaster, are safer today than they used to be. But while there may now be clear fire escapes, rules against locking doors, and checks to ensure structural stability, workers still struggle to make a living on the low wages they earn and fear speaking up or reporting issues; and future compliance remains uncertain as the government prepares to take on more of the monitoring efforts.
Companies have also changed. The Rana Plaza disaster led 220 foreign brands to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a unique binding agreement that set up a monitoring and remediation system in the factories where the mostly European brands sourced from. Other brands, primarily from North America, joined the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Today more of those buyers recognize that factory safety is important and that they will be held to account, and more are being more transparent about publicly listing where they source their products.
“The experiment with those two initiatives seems to have worked in great measure,” said Paul Barrett, the deputy director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
But the Alliance and the Accord had five-year clocks on the agreements, and the time is nearly up. That makes it a time for assessment, reflection, and questions about what’s next.
In the past five years, approaches have been tested and tweaked, capacity has been built, and survivors have had varied levels of support. Those involved today may not have been there amid the rubble and the screams and the sobs, but the lessons they have learned points to a path forward, for Bangladesh, and, perhaps, for garment workers toiling in unsafe working conditions in other parts of the world.
In the years preceding the Rana Plaza disaster, it was clear a problem was building, but there wasn’t an appetite for change, or at least that’s how Jim Moriarty, the executive director of the Alliance, who served as the United States ambassador to Bangladesh from 2008 to 2012, remembers it.
There was a steady stream of fires and other problems at factories, and while the garment industry was an important source of income, especially for women, it was evident there were major issues, he told Devex. Moriarty tried “ultimately unsuccessfully,” he said, to draw attention to the issues before the disaster.
Moriarty described the progress in the past five years as “amazing” and “encouraging,” but warned that workers must continue to have safe conditions.
The data, at least for the Accord and Alliance-monitored factories seems to support his praise.
Between 2006 and 2009, there were 213 fires that killed 414 workers in Bangladesh garment factories. By comparison, since Rana Plaza, only about 40 workers have died in garment factories related to safety issues, said Christie Miedema, the campaign and outreach coordinator at the Clean Clothes Campaign.
Factories covered by the Accord and the Alliance are safer in part because they underwent a series of inspections, had plans to fix the problems identified, and those that didn’t comply were not allowed to work with member companies.
During those inspections, a litany of problems were identified, including structural flaws, blocked fire exits, and a lack of fire doors and proper fire alarm and sprinkler systems. About 84 percent of those problems at Accord factories have been addressed, and 90 percent of issues at Alliance factories have been remediated. The Accord terminated 96 of its roughly 800 suppliers, and the Alliance 168 of its roughly 2,000. Millions of workers have been trained on safety procedures and safety committees have been formed at many factories.
However, factories under the purview of the government’s national initiative continue to have many safety challenges. The government inspected 1,549 factories and closed 513 which were determined to be unsafe, but since then, it has reported working with only 754 factories, according to a new report from the Center for Business and Human Rights.
As of February, of the 754 factories the government has inspected, only 14 percent have fixed more than 50 percent of the problems, with only 21, or 3 percent, fully remediating the safety violations, the report said, citing the International Labour Organization. The report also states that there may be an additional 900 factories recently added to the list, and it is unclear if they have been inspected or if remediation efforts are underway.
The success of the externally led efforts and the fact that they were limited to factories exporting to Europe and the U.S., has created a bifurcation of the industry, Barrett said. Factories exporting their products and monitored by the Alliance or the Accord have made rapid gains, but workers at factories overseen by the government — which export to Russia, Asia, and sell domestically — or at smaller subcontractors continue to face unsafe conditions.
Making progress hasn’t been simple: Both in supporting victims, in the remediation, and critically in areas such as wage growth and workers’ rights to organize.
Supporting victims was complicated at times, not just because of their varied needs, but also because sometimes politics got in the way. BRAC worked closely with ILO and the government of Bangladesh on the compensation fund, which was held up at one point as the rates of compensation were debated, said Sharad Aggarwal, vice president of BRAC USA.
“How to calculate the appropriate compensation became a sensitive issue,” he said, adding that ultimately ILO’s guidelines were chosen, but they were largely centered on the view of an immediate family needing support, whereas in Bangladesh the extended family often also relies on a worker’s wages.
There were also challenges around identifying those most severely affected among the roughly 2,500 people who were injured, how to ensure medical care costs were covered, and also how to provide long-term income.
“If you talk about providing support to survivors, for us, we believe it should just go on through life,” said Mrityunjoy Das, senior program manager on BRAC’s disaster management and climate change team. “We believe they deserve it. It is us who caused the tragedy.”
This was a unique and challenging response, he said. The livelihood program had to be customized to account for the different physical and psychosocial needs of each survivor. Certain programs had to adapt — group psychosocial counseling didn’t always prove to be enough, while for amputees, they needed help accepting the loss of limbs and learning how to live with prosthetics.
One of the persistent and ongoing challenges is garment industry wages. While safety of labor is crucial, poor wages continue to undermine workers, said Das.
In the immediate aftermath, there was some hope on issues such as wages and the ability of workers to organize. The government initially worked quickly, passing a new labor law, increasing the minimum wage by 77 percent to $65 a month, and accepting more trade unions, said Miedema. Unfortunately, some of those gains have been short-lived. The minimum wage, for example, hasn’t been raised since early 2014, though it should be reviewed this year. Brands have continued to push factories to produce quickly and are paying even lower prices than they were before Rana Plaza, she said.
“In many ways, it’s almost worse off because prices dropped more since, which is incomprehensible,” Miedema said.
The challenge in addressing some of the wage issues is that having a low-wage, high volume model is what has made Bangladesh attractive to brands. That makes it difficult to break the mold and increase the minimum wage, Barrett said. One way that companies may be able to help address the challenge is to look at how they do their purchasing, and have long-term cooperation with suppliers and fewer last minute changes, he said.
There have also been practical implementation challenges. Both Oldenziel and Moriarty said that capacity and the actual remediation of factories are among the greatest challenges in improving safety. With roughly 2,000 factories clamoring for fire doors, there wasn’t enough capacity, even globally, to meet the need for safe equipment, Moriarty said. And at the time, there wasn’t a single fire safety graduate engineer in Bangladesh, he said. Financing was also a challenge for some factories, so repairs were delayed as funding agreements could be negotiated with brands, Oldenziel said.
Both the Alliance and Accord have been working to improve local capacity, helping to train the local engineers needed to do the inspections and installations, and working with the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and the government to build capacity in key fire safety and workplace safety-focused engineering specialties.
While there have been safety gains, there is now concern about whether they will continue as the initial terms of the Accord and the Alliance expire. There are a number of proposals aimed at figuring out how best to address that challenge and others facing the garment industry both in Bangladesh, and elsewhere.
In this next phase, some are calling for a new framework around worker safety. Liana Foxvog, director of organizing and communications at the International Labor Rights Forum said that safety should include the ability of workers to form unions and to collectively bargain for better conditions or wages without retaliation.
“I urge them to take a more holistic view of safety to ensure workers are truly safe, not only from a potential fire or building collapse, but that they can raise their voices at work and are not slapped, or sexually harassed when sitting at the sewing machines,” she said.
Foxvog cautioned against going back to a model of “voluntary corporate responsibility that has failed garment workers around the world.”
What seems clear is that there are ongoing concerns about the government’s ability to take over the monitoring of the factories that have been under the purview of the Accord and the Alliance, which has resulted in a couple different proposals for how to transition responsibility.
The Accord will be extending its work in Bangladesh. In October 2017, the Accord signatory companies, the unions, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, ILO, and the government agreed to a set of handover criteria the government must meet to take over the functions of the Accord. Among the requirements are ensuring government capacity to inspect all factories in Bangladesh, with a proven track record of enforcement of sanctions or withdrawal of export licenses if factories don’t fix problems.
The new 2018, or transition, accord, which has already been signed by about 140 brands, will have a greater focus on capacity building, to help prepare the government for a transition. The new agreement is slated to last for three years, with the possibility of extending to a fourth year, or wrapping up its work earlier than the three-year mark if the government is ready to take over, Oldenziel said. Every six months, a joint monitoring panel will review the government’s readiness.
There are a few key differences in the 2018 accord: All factories will be treated equally rather than having a tiered system, it has an increased emphasis on freedom of association, and Accord brands can also add subcontractors to the list of factories to be inspected. There is also the potential to expand its scope to related industries such as home textiles and fabric accessories, as well as to other parts of the supply chain such as spinning, weaving, washing dying and packaging.
But there may also be challenges to the Accord’s continued operations. In the NYU Stern report, Siddique Rahman, the president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, is quoted as saying: “We allowed the Accord and Alliance to operate for five years. Then it was agreed they would go back. They are unnecessarily disturbing us.”
The Alliance, by contrast, has decided to stop its operations as planned but is working to create a safety monitoring organization, an independent and credible monitoring body, that would take over the inspections, remediation oversight, and accountability checks, as a bridge to the government overseeing all that work, Moriarty said. The organization would partner with ILO, the government, the BGMEA, and member brands, and factories that were part of the Alliance would continue to be monitored, with a third party inspection roughly every 18 months and regular audits of self-reported factory data. He likened the safety monitoring organization to the U.S. government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and said it would have power because brands would only source from companies that are part of the organization and would stop sourcing from factories that fell short.
It would also be a vehicle for continuing training programs including basic worker safety training, training security guards, and a new effort to train mid-level managers.
“We think that’s the way we begin to build a sustainable model,” Moriarty said.
“I think there is absolutely a crucial role for international organizations like the ILO to play but … eventually the country itself has to align politics and policy so that it’s industry is held to a suitable standard of safety.”
— Paul Barrett, deputy director of the Center for Business and Human Rights, NYU Stern
Barrett, and his coauthors in the report, suggest a somewhat similar arrangement — an international task force led by Bangladeshis to address factories and conditions that yet been well addressed. But, Barrett added, ultimately it will be the responsibility of the government to effectively regulate the industry.
“I think there is absolutely a crucial role for international organizations like the ILO to play but I would come back to the point that eventually the country itself has to align politics and policy so that it’s industry is held to a suitable standard of safety,” he said.
When it comes to wages, meanwhile, this year may well be the moment of change, as the 2013 law required an increase at least every five years. What that increase might be is unknown, but trade unions are asking to triple wages to make up for inflation and get to a fair wage, Miedema said.
The country also needs a better injury insurance system, one administered by the government, she said. Workers have to show that the employer is at fault, which is a high bar, and often injury insurance payouts are limited, rather than ensuring money for the rest of the injured worker’s life, Miedema said. In 2015, the government of Bangladesh, supported by ILO, committed to creating a system, but there has been very little progress, she said.
BRAC, for its part, has launched a project aimed at transparency and accountability that will map and document basic information about all the factories in Bangladesh’s garment sector.
“Having that information will really allow us to continue to build the relationships among the different actors to talk about challenges,” Aggarwal said.
With success in improving workplace safety in Bangladesh, it seems natural that questions would arise about the replicability of the model, and the idea of trying it in different countries or with different industries.
Some brands have asked the Accord about going to other countries, Oldenziel said, but with the 2018 Accord, its focus will continue to be on Bangladesh. “I don’t see why in the future we couldn’t go to other countries where there are similar safety concerns, it’s up to the signatories to decide. I don’t know how broadly shared the appetite is.”
The key components, if such an agreement is replicated, are ensuring there is an independent inspection regime, that there is clear disclosure framework and that workers representatives need to be involved in the governance. Those are the elements that made the Accord unique and would merit consideration in any replicated efforts. Also key was that the Accord allowed brands to use their collective leverage to demand change, Odenziel said.
There have been some recent efforts to try to replicate elements of the Alliance or Accord in other countries. The Life and Building Safety initiative which is managed by IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, aims to provide safer working conditions for factory workers in the ready-made garment and footwear industry through developing country-specific solutions, according to its website. IDH declined an interview, saying the project was in the pilot phase so they could not comment. LABS is working in India and Vietnam, with plans to expand to Pakistan and Cambodia, helping to bring together brands, governments, civil society, and technical experts to create frameworks for monitoring factories, assessing problems, reducing risks, and remediating challenges
As companies do think about replicating the model and using their leverage to demand greater safety, “they should be careful to think about whether they can include all garment factories in a given country so they don’t get bifurcation,” Barrett said.
By Paul MacFlynn, senior economist at the Nevin Economic Research Institute, source: www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk)
Earlier this month the deadline passed for large companies to report their gender pay gap to the UK government. The drip feed of announcements from these companies over the last number of months has led to increased discussion about the average pay of men and women.
Despite the best efforts of many commentators and advocates, the debate about the gender pay gap has been inevitably confused with equal pay. To put it simply, the gender pay gap measures the difference in earnings between men and women. It measures the difference between what the average man is paid compared to the average woman. It does not look at men and women in the same jobs and compare their pay. It may well be the case that some women are paid less than men for the same work, but under the Equal Pay Act 1970, it is illegal to do so.
That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, as some recent high-profile examples have shown, but this is not what the gender pay gap is about. There is no fixed definition of the gap because it can be measured overall, at sectoral level and can be adjusted for part-time work. This means that the gender pay gap can be reported with many different numbers, and this is often where the confusion can begin. To illustrate this point let’s take a brief look at the most recent data for Northern Ireland.
The latest ONS report for the UK regions showed that Northern Ireland does indeed have a gender pay gap, but it actually favours women. Women earn on average 3.4% more than men. Problem solved? Not really. The measure the ONS reports compares full-time hourly earnings between men and women.
The problem is only 63% of women are in full-time employment compared to almost 90% of men. Looking at overall hourly pay, women took home only 91% of the average man’s wage packet.
If we look at weekly pay, the gap is even larger because, either full-time or part-time, women still tend to work fewer hours than men.
We know that some of this is explained by family and care issues but it doesn’t explain as much as you might think.
A universal childcare system could mitigate some of this effect but there is also an issue surrounding the types of jobs and the areas of work which women tend to favour.
If we further narrow our analysis to adjust for the industry and sector in which they work, the pay gaps between men and women can be slowly eroded away.
Many have argued that this shows that even with all the social supports possible, so long as women choose to work in lower paying sectors, a gender pay gap is inevitable.
There are a number of problems with this analysis. The first issue is with the implicit assumption that women ‘choose’ to work in low paying sectors.
Although it is regularly trotted out as a perfectly logical reason for the gender pay gap, it is an utterly bizarre notion.
It is alleging that the majority of women suffer from a pathological tendency toward low pay.
It is of course more obviously the case that the sectors and professions women choose to work in have been valued less than those traditionally filled by men.
It could be argued that this is just the value that the market places on the type of work carried out by men and women. However, this leads naturally to the question of whether society or the market is best placed to determine what the value of work really is.
Beyond gender equality concerns we are going to have to tackle this issue anyway for two reasons – automation and demography.
The care sector has been consistently one of the lowest paid industries in Northern Ireland as it is in the rest of the UK and many other western economies.
As a society we are living longer and the need for long term adult social care is only going to increase.
This is going to require a more skilled, a more motivated and ultimately a more valued workforce.
The claims about the number of jobs that will be taken over by technology have been somewhat over-exaggerated, but there is little doubt that automation will push more and more people from traditional production sectors into new digital and services sectors.
In short it will eventually put a lot of men into sectors that have up until now been dominated by women.
Therefore, closing the gender pay gap should not be seen as just a gender issue, it is also about creating a labour market fit for the future.
It is about recasting how we value work and moving towards a more ethical model of employment.
For the future we don’t just need to focus on equal pay, we also need to focus on what we define as equal work.
(24 April 2018, source: www.herald.co.zw)
Last week Zimbabwe made a lot of international headlines. Mostly these were for the right reasons and one controversial reason. The right reasons were for its breakthroughs in its engagement agenda. Zimbabwe’s flag flew side by side with the Union Jack at Zimbabwe House in London as the two came together to celebrate Zimbabwe’s Independence and National Day.
Zimbabwe and Britain’s relationship has always been topsy-turvy. One could describe the two countries as having been “frenemies” (friendly enemies). That said, we were glad at seeing Harriet Baldwin and Dr Sibusiso B Moyo toasting to Zimbabwe and the people drinking to it. This moved the relationship to the old territory of friendship. Within the following two days the friendship was completed by the meeting between Boris Johnson and Dr SB Moyo. What a week.
These were the reasons to celebrate, but then there was the controversial reasons to defend. The striking nurses were fired en masse. There was divided opinion. Some supported this fully. Some felt it was the return of hard-line politics. Some, like this writer, felt that this confrontation between the new authorities and unions was inevitable and the decision by the Government to asset its authority unavoidable.
Unionism is generally politics. It also plays political games and most unionists have ended up in big league politics. And unions should not be allowed to dictate to governments because there should only be one authority in the land. Institutions are there to keep that authority in check, but it should be one authority with its pillars as well as checks and balances.
The moment President Mnangagwa said; “Our system of economic organisation will incorporate elements of market economy in which enterprise is encouraged, protected and allowed just and merited rewards,” was defining. From that moment the power and strength of the unions had to be reduced. This is because capital was being offered space to flourish. Now as neoliberal as it may sound, unionism struggles to co-exist with free market economics. There is just not enough space for both. This is exactly what Margaret Thatcher found out.
In that quoted line in his inaugural speech, President Mnangagwa had unleashed a free market economy in Zimbabwe. Yes, there is that interaction with State enterprises and parastatals, but even those are now going to be run like commercial entities. The labour market needs to change in tandem, with this new thrust. So the nurses’ strike came at a time when a clear message needed to be sent that unions will never be allowed to have a stranglehold over the economy again. This is an ideological position which is in line with the, “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra. The labour market cannot stay unreformed when both the political and economic system are being reformed.
The fact is clear that the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA) had a legitimate grievance. They had been promised their allowances in 2010 and had waited for eight years for them. For the first time in nearly a decade, they were going to be given their money. Even the Government of National Unity could not give them that money since the promises. Tendai Biti and his $217 in the account had a broke treasury so he failed to honour the promises. But after an eight-year failure by the previous regimes, the new Harare administration said it was clearing the debt in two days. The money was moved and everything was just left to nurses accessing their money a day after the holiday. They still refused to go back to work to save lives. They knew that every second mattered in the health sector because lives could be saved. But they still put lives at risk by refusing to go back until that money hit their accounts. The Government had to be decisive. That decision is transformative on the labour market and unionism.
Nurses just gave the opportunity for the State to confront and reduce the power of the unions. Free market does not operate in an environment of labour market rigidity. This is part of the reasons why zisco and Air Zimbabwe are unattractive to investors.
These are enterprises whose major debt overhang is wage arrears for people who did not work, but are being paid for being on the books. Anywhere else they would have been laid off the moment there was no job for them. But they were kept on and walk to the workstation to clock in and go back home and expect a wage for it.
While its not their fault, they are in this place the new dispensation should reform the labour laws and practice to re-orient them towards a free market economy attractive to investment. The firing of the nurses should be seen as a warning shot that we will never have more of the same in the market. Zanu-PF is very likely to make an adjustment in its constitution because all claims of socialism are beginning to sound hollow when we are running a free market economy. The only thing that will remain is “comrade”.
If reduction of union power increases employment, then let’s all embrace it. The ZCTU used to have a lot of power. That made sense then because the company owners were a certain race and class while the labourers were another race and class. The powerful race was exploitative towards the other. Calling for the reduction of union power is not calling for the return of servitude. Laws should be in place to protect the workers from that, but at the same time unions should not have so much power to paralyse the country any moment they choose to.
They should not allow themselves to be used as pawns in a high-stake political game towards elections. If unions operate more responsibly they are unlikely to force the government’s hand to push controversial reforms. But if they act the way we saw ZINA acting then reforms are going to come and they will be not only be wide, they will also be deep. It’s better to be in a job and not in a union than to be in a union and jobless.
If the Zimbabwe economy is going to improve there is a need to reform the labour market. That includes reducing the powers of the unions. Decent wages have to be paid and people should be paid for their labour, but unionism is an industry in itself and there are political sharks that abuse the unions. We saw it in Hwange and we saw it with nurses’ strike. Mr Doug Coltart was one such.
The level of wages being paid should be linked to how a company is performing. That way it is in everyone’s best interests to make it work. Both unions and governmental influence on the labour market is too much.
But the Government was right to employ its strikebreaking techniques against ZINA. This is because the power of the unions should be balanced with the interests of the public as well as the interests of the country. The idea is not to reduce the rights of the workers, but the power of the labour mandarins to hold the country at ransom. The best reform in anything is that which comes from within.
If the unions adopt a less aggressive approach, they are likely to avoid enforced reforms. This is because Zimbabwe is trying to attract investment right now. So there is no way trade unions should be allowed to have a monopoly on power. That is why VP Chiwenga’s move was the first throw of the dice towards reducing union power. In all major countries, unionism is in serious decline. In Zimbabwe, there is also only one way for it to go; down.
Neither the employers nor the employees should have a monopoly on power. Zimbabwe has no competitive labour markets at the moment. But the unions continue to agitate for higher incomes which cannot be sustained by the economic realities of both country and company. There is no investor who will invest in a country where strikes are the order of the day and production is disrupted anytime there is a political activity somewhere.
Labour unions are so focussed on the people that are employed. They have no concerns whatsoever for the unemployed because they don’t pay subscriptions. But a government has more focus on fairness and especially the social plight of the unemployed. In these power dynamics, unions cannot be allowed to be too powerful. This is what allows them the audacity to be selfish and demand wages above the inflation rate and wages beyond a budget as well as incomes which are not economically sustainable.
Workers need a voice, but more importantly they need a job. There should be equality at work. For that to happen there should be jobs in the first place. But capital being the coward it is, it can only be attracted if we reform our labour markets, starting with reducing the power of the unions.
April 9, 2018 2.07pm AEST (Taken from: www.theconversation.com, written by: Alfredo Paloyo and Silvia Mendolla, Senior Lecturer in Economics, University of Wollongong)
Parents and teachers are interested in ensuring children perform their best in school. Some believe putting smart students together can improve educational outcomes. But evidence about the impact of classmate or schoolmate quality (as measured by, say, test scores) on individual performance in an educational setting is only just beginning to accumulate.
Establishing the presence and size of peer effects in education is important. Targeted educational interventions for one group of students may spill over to their classmates. Deliberately sorting students may raise the average attainment of pupils in ways other interventions may not.
Who are your friends?
The principal aim of our study was to estimate the impact the quality a student’s class and schoolmates has on academic performance.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as simply taking the outcomes of a student with good peers and comparing those to the outcomes of a student with bad peers, because students tend to choose their peers. The difference in outcomes may be due to differences in other factors that affect peer quality and the academic outcomes simultaneously, such as parental investment in education.
Also, any particular student is a peer of other students. Thus, this student can influence the outcomes of their peers just as much as their peers affect their outcomes.
A final complication is that students belonging to the same school are exposed to the same factors or shocks that could drive their outcomes. So, any seemingly correlated peer effect may simply be due to exposure to the same environment.
Ideally, one would take a random sample of students, assign half to classrooms with good peers and the other half with bad peers, then take the difference in average outcomes. Obviously, there are sound ethical objections to such an experiment.
Instead, we have to rely on a more complicated strategy to estimate the impact of peer quality. In our case, we use changes in one’s peer quality that we believe are not due to self-selection, reflection, or correlated factors to see how these changes translate to individual academic performance.
Using data on English children, our study shows peer quality has a small effect on an individual’s test scores at age 18. But a large proportion of low-ability students has a detrimental impact on the performance of average children. In addition, academically weaker students are influenced most by their peers. All together, putting a weak student in a class with other weak students would be detrimental for all of them.
The variation in peer effects is a particularly interesting result. To demonstrate this, we ranked students by ability. Weaker students are on the left and better students on the right, as measured by their test scores taken at around age 14.
A one-standard-deviation increase in peer quality (as measured by average test scores earlier in life) improves one’s performance in exams taken at around age 17–18 by over 50 points in the bottom quintile. This effect diminishes as we take better and better students. As we move from left to right, the impact estimate, represented by the red line, declines.
Two studies present findings similar to ours. In both cases, the researchers examine how changes in peer quality affect school performance as students transition from primary to secondary school in the UK.
One of the studies demonstrated that average peer ability has no significant impact on individual performance.
The other showed less variation in peer effects than what we uncovered. But their outcome is based on performance in tests at age 14, while we used a broader spectrum of academic outcomes. This includes test scores at age 16 and 17–18, and the likelihood of pursuing tertiary education.
Sorting students more effectively can help weaker students
It’s important to carefully select an appropriate pupil mix, especially to support weaker students. But such an adjustment is unlikely to compensate for deficiencies in other areas, such as early-childhood investments at home and teacher quality at school.
Can we do better than randomly sorting students into classes? Yes. When placed with better-performing classmates, weaker students are likely to gain from the improved learning environment, and smarter students are unlikely to be negatively affected.