It is estimated that more than 250 million school children throughout the world cannot read. This is unfortunate because literacy has enormous benefits – both for the individual and society. Higher literacy rates are associated with healthier populations, less crime, greater economic growth, and higher employment rates. For a person, literacy is a foundational skill required to acquire advanced skills. These, in turn, confer higher wages and more employment across labor markets .
Recently, the OECD released the results for PISA 2015, an international assessment that measures the skills of 15-year-old students in applying their knowledge of science, reading, and mathematics to real-life problems. There is a sense of urgency to ensure that students have solid skills amidst modest economic growth and long-term demographic decline in Europe and Central Asia (ECA).
Over the past few decades, cheap and low-skilled labor has provided many countries — including much of East Asia — with a competitive advantage. However, with economies increasingly turning to automation, cheap labor and low skills will no longer guarantee economic growth or even jobs.
In 1950, the average working-age person in the world had almost three years of education, but in East Asia and Pacific (EAP), the average person had less than half that amount. Around this time, countries in the EAP region put themselves on a path that focused on growth driven by human capital. They made significant and steady investments in schooling to close the educational attainment gap with the rest of the world. While improving their school systems, they also put their human capital to work in labor markets. As a result, economic growth has been stellar: for four decades EAP has grown at roughly twice the pace of the global average. What is more, no slowdown is in sight for rising prosperity.
High economic growth and strong human capital accumulation are deeply intertwined. In a recent paper, Daron Acemoglu and David Autor explore the way skills and labor markets interact: Human capital is the central determinant of economic growth and is the main—and very likely the only—means to achieve shared growth when technology is changing quickly and raising the demand for skills. Skills promote productivity and growth, but if there are not enough skilled workers, growth soon chokes off. If, by contrast, skills are abundant and average skill-levels keep rising, technological change can drive productivity and growth without stoking inequality.
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- Knowledge and Skills
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- Social Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- East Asia and Pacific
- Solomon Islands
- Papua New Guinea
- Micronesia, Federated States of
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- Lao People's Democratic Republic
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Every sector is reforming to meet the changing demands of the global economy. Except one. Education remains a predominantly public service. This is fine except that it means that this is also mainly publicly-provided, publicly-financed, and regulated. No public service agency is expected to do as much as we expect of education. How are education systems around the world faring?
"If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want a decade of prosperity, plant trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, invest in people."
Every person needs and deserves quality education. But what does quality education mean? Even for countries which have affirmed their status as “quality education service providers,” there are arguments supporting or refuting education service quality. For developing countries, the challenge is even greater ¾ limited resources, major needs, and lack of experience are common problems faced by decision-makers in education. Various methods are used globally to compare the quality of education system—one of which is the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
A few weeks ago, education policy makers and data analysts around the world were glued to their laptops when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published the results of PISA 2015. More than half a million students – from 72 countries and economies representing 28 million 15 year-olds – had taken the test. PISA, an international assessment administered every three years, measures the skills of students in applying their knowledge of science, reading, and mathematics to real life problems. PISA is one of the most influential international student assessments, which provides a rich set of information on the systems strengths and weaknesses, supports development of effective policies – and at the same time, benchmarks country's achievements vis a vis other participating countries.
During a recent trip to Udon Thani, we visited several small schools in the outskirts of the city. In several ways, these small schools were typical of Thailand’s 15,000 schools with less than 120 students.
In past decades, the schools had nearly three times as many students but, over time, their enrollment numbers had gradually fallen as a result of shrinking birth numbers; and with better roads that allowed some families to place their children in better schools located in Udon Thani city itself.
Several other schools were located in their close vicinity. In fact, a total of seven schools – many of which had also shrunk into small schools – were now located within a 3-kilometer radius.
The schools struggled to provide quality education for their students because they had a hard time attracting and retaining qualified teachers. During our visit, the principal of one of the schools explained that the school had no qualified English language teacher and that many of their teachers were recent, and mostly inexperienced university graduates. The principal feared that many of these new teachers would only stay at the school for a short while before seeking to move to Udon Thani city or another urban area, and to teach at a city school.
With the release last month of the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) results by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), it is apparent that many of the highest achieving students in the world are in East Asia.
Just as in the recently released TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) results, Singapore leads the world in every subject in PISA, outperforming other economies and countries by a significant margin. Students in Singapore perform at a level that is up to two years ahead of their regional and OECD counterparts in science, mathematics and reading. Moreover, almost all Singaporean students have reached a basic level of proficiency or higher. And they just keep getting better, having significantly reduced performance below basic proficiency.
Japan also outperforms most participating economies in science, mathematics and reading. However, its score in reading has declined since the last round. Still, as in Singapore, 90% of students have reached a basic level of proficiency or above.