Ed­u­ca­tion and op­por­tu­nity

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Ed­u­ca­tion is a fun­da­men­tal driver of per­sonal, na­tional, and global de­vel­op­ment. Since the be­gin­ning of the cen­tury, recog­ni­tion of this has driven many coun­tries to pur­sue the Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goal of achiev­ing univer­sal pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion and erad­i­cat­ing gen­der dis­par­i­ties at all lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion by 2015. This has con­trib­uted to con­sid­er­able progress in ex­pand­ing ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties and at­tain­ment world­wide. But there is much more to be done.

To be sure, univer­sal pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion has nearly been achieved. More­over, con­sid­er­able progress has been made to­ward gen­der equal­ity in ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties and at­tain­ment. In­deed, en­roll­ment rates for school-age fe­males have in­creased steadily at all lev­els, reach­ing near par­ity with male en­roll­ment glob­ally. As a re­sult, the gen­der gap in av­er­age years of school­ing for the adult pop­u­la­tion – a widely used mea­sure of ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment – has nar­rowed.

More­over, in 2010, for peo­ple aged 25 and above, the fe­maleto-male ra­tio in av­er­age years of school­ing was almost 100% in ad­vanced coun­tries and about 85% in de­vel­op­ing re­gions. But, in many low-in­come coun­tries in Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, the Mid­dle East, and South Asia, girls still have far less ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, es­pe­cially at the sec­ondary and ter­tiary lev­els, than boys do.

Sig­nif­i­cant global dis­par­i­ties also re­main in post-pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion and the qual­ity of school­ing. In ad­vanced coun­tries, almost 90% of the pop­u­la­tion aged 15-64 has at­tained at least some sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, com­pared to only 63% in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. Like­wise, though more than 33% of the work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion in ad­vanced coun­tries has achieved some level of ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, the pro­por­tion is just 12% in the de­vel­op­ing world.

Aca­demic re­search sug­gests that coun­tries with higher per capita in­come, lower in­come in­equal­ity, and lower fer­til­ity rates tend to invest more in chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion, with pub­lic ex­pen­di­ture lead­ing to higher en­roll­ment rates. The log­i­cal con­clu­sion is that ef­forts to pro­mote more in­clu­sive eco­nomic growth and im­prove ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems can raise en­roll­ment among young peo­ple in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries and re­duce dis­par­i­ties be­tween gen­ders and among so­cial groups.

But sim­ply nar­row­ing the gaps in school-en­roll­ment rates and to­tal years of school­ing is not enough. Coun­tries must also en­sure the qual­ity of their ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems – a key chal­lenge for the com­ing decades.

As it stands, poor ed­u­ca­tional out­comes and in­ef­fi­cient ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems are elic­it­ing deep con­cern world­wide. In many coun­tries, pri­mary schools fail to pro­vide stu­dents with ap­pro­pri­ate cog­ni­tive skills like nu­mer­acy, lit­er­acy, prob­lem­solv­ing abil­ity, and gen­eral sci­en­tific knowl­edge.

Fur­ther­more, in­ad­e­quate ed­u­ca­tion at the sec­ondary and ter­tiary lev­els, in­clud­ing tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing, is leav­ing stu­dents un­equipped to meet the job mar­ket’s chang­ing de­mands. As a re­sult, many coun­tries are strug­gling with a mis­match be­tween the skills that em­ploy­ers seek and those that work­ers have.

Wide dis­par­i­ties in ed­u­ca­tional qual­ity, of­ten mea­sured by stu­dent achieve­ment on in­ter­na­tional ex­am­i­na­tions, are ev­i­dent within and across coun­tries. The re­sults of most in­ter­na­tion­ally com­pa­ra­ble math­e­mat­ics, read­ing, and sci­ence exams for pri­mary and sec­ondary stu­dents re­veal a con­sid­er­able gap not only be­tween ad­vanced and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, but also across the de­vel­op­ing world. Ac­cord­ing to the Trends in In­ter­na­tional Math­e­mat­ics and Sci­ence Study, South Korea had the high­est av­er­age score (590) in 2011 on the sci­ence test for sec­ondary stu­dents, while Ghana scored the low­est (306).

Though aca­demic per­for­mance is de­ter­mined largely by fam­ily in­puts and stu­dents’ in­di­vid­ual tal­ents, other fac­tors, such as the amount of school re­sources avail­able to stu­dents, also play an im­por­tant role, as do var­i­ous other school in­puts, such as teacher qual­ity, class size, ex­pen­di­ture per pupil, and in­struc­tion time. The in­sti­tu­tional fea­tures of ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems are another im­por­tant de­ter­mi­nant of stu­dent achieve­ment. Pri­vate fi­nanc­ing and pro­vi­sion, school au­ton­omy, and ex­ter­nal mon­i­tor­ing and as­sess­ment mech­a­nisms tend to in­flu­ence the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion by chang­ing the in­cen­tives for stu­dents and teach­ers.

In the fu­ture, new in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies are ex­pected to stim­u­late the ex­pan­sion of ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties and to im­prove ed­u­ca­tional qual­ity at the na­tional and global level, by of­fer­ing a va­ri­ety of in­no­va­tive learn­ing chan­nels. For ex­am­ple, the abil­ity to use new tech­nolo­gies to build bor­der­less net­works among schools can of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents in low-in­come coun­tries to learn from teach­ers in ad­vanced coun­tries – and vice versa.

The im­per­a­tive is clear. Global lead­ers must com­mit to en­hanc­ing the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion and re­duce the ed­u­ca­tion gap by in­creas­ing school re­sources, im­prov­ing the ef­fi­ciency of ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, and seiz­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties af­forded by tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion. All of this will serve to en­rich hu­man cap­i­tal, which is es­sen­tial to boost­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity and in­comes.

In­deed, if such ef­forts are de­signed specif­i­cally to en­sure equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for all, re­gard­less of gen­der or wealth, they will be a boon to the global econ­omy, while pro­mot­ing so­cial co­he­sion at the na­tional level. When it comes to im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tion, there re­ally is no down­side.

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