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Happiness Ranking: From Oslo To Addis Ababa And Beijing

Smiles of all ages in Hamar, Norway
Smiles of all ages in Hamar, Norway

It's official: Norway has toppled Denmark to become the world's happiest country in 2017. Or, to put in local linguistic terms, the world's lykkeligste country. This year's rankings, which came this morning to coincide with the International Day of Happiness, surely has left more than one Danish unhappy, or ulykkelig (yes, Norwegian and Danish languages are close).

The World Happiness Report is an annual UN survey which ranks 155 countries by their state of global happiness, based on criteria including GDP per capita, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and public trust. As expected, developed Western nations dominate the list, and nations of the African continent make up most of the bottom part. Worse, the report shows that "only two African countries have made significant gains in happiness over the past decade": Sierra Leone and Cameroon. A situation that booming demographics are unlikely to change.

Ethiopia, which ranked 119 and where a state of emergency was imposed in mid-2016 amid student protests, is a good indicator of the continent's current situation. As Italian journalist Enrico Caporale reports for La Stampa, the country has one of the highest population growth rates in the continent and it "is projected to reach 210 million people in 2060, up from the current 99 million." And like many other African countries, the former Italian colony is being caught in a vice between Chinese "neocolonialism" and a process of "Islamization" fostered by Gulf monarchies.

"Outside the airport, at the first traffic light, my taxi jockeys for position with a economy car driven by a man who appears to be Chinese. ‘Since they began arriving a few years ago I see them everywhere," my Ethiopian taxi driver complains. ‘We used to call white people ferenji, which means foreigner, but now we mainly use it for the Chinese. They've built everything here."

Back in China, there is little doubt that this expansion abroad has helped accelerate a quarter-century of rather stunning economic growth. But how has the rise to becoming the world's No. 2 economy translated on the happy front? Monday's UN report notes that China remains stuck down in the 79th slot on the World Happiness Report, demonstrably no happier than they were before the economic boom. 伤心 Sad.

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Future

AI Is Good For Education — And Bad For Teachers Who Teach Like Machines

Despite fears of AI upending the education and the teaching profession, artificial education will be an extremely valuable tool to free up teachers from rote exercises to focus on the uniquely humanistic part of learning.

Journalism teacher and his students in University of Barcelona.

Journalism students at the Blanquerna University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.

© Sergi Reboredo via ZUMA press
Julián de Zubiría Samper

-Analysis-

BOGOTÁ - Early in 2023, Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates included teaching among the professions most threatened by Artificial Intelligence (AI), arguing that a robot could, in principle, instruct as well as any school-teacher. While Gates is an undoubted expert in his field, one wonders how much he knows about teaching.

As an avowed believer in using technology to improve student results, Gates has argued for teachers to use more tech in classrooms, and to cut class sizes. But schools and countries that have followed his advice, pumping money into technology at school, or students who completed secondary schooling with the backing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have not attained the superlative results expected of the Gates recipe.

Thankfully, he had enough sense to add some nuance to his views, instead suggesting changes to teacher training that he believes could improve school results.

I agree with his view that AI can be a big and positive contributor to schooling. Certainly, technological changes prompt unease and today, something tremendous must be afoot if a leading AI developer, Geoffrey Hinton, has warned of its threat to people and society.

But this isn't the first innovation to upset people. Over 2,000 years ago, the philosopher Socrates wondered, in the Platonic dialogue Phaedrus, whether reading and writing wouldn't curb people's ability to reflect and remember. Writing might lead them to despise memory, he observed. In the 18th and 19th centuries, English craftsmen feared the machines of the Industrial Revolution would destroy their professions, producing lesser-quality items faster, and cheaper.

Their fears were not entirely unfounded, but it did not happen quite as they predicted. Many jobs disappeared, but others emerged and the majority of jobs evolved. Machines caused a fundamental restructuring of labor at the time, and today, AI will likely do the same with the modern workplace.

Many predicted that television, computers and online teaching would replace teachers, which has yet to happen. In recent decades, teachers have banned students from using calculators to do sums, insisting on teaching arithmetic the old way. It is the same dry and mechanical approach to teaching which now wants to keep AI out of the classroom.

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