Issues in Educational Development

Education has played a key role in the global economic growth and poverty reduction. But many people still ask, “why invest in Education?”. This is because it is very difficult to measure and quantify the benefits of Education.

The benefits of Education can be classified into Private and Social terms:
Private Benefits:
– Positive effect on technological development, productivity of other workers, and improved social cohesion.
– Positive rate of return (cost versus benefit). It is estimated that the rate of return is 5%-15% for an additional year of schooling. The returns tend to rise for higher education.
– The economic shocks tend to lower the return to unskilled labor, and raise the return for high-skilled labor.

Social Benefits:
– Better public health, reduced population growth, lower crime rate, less deforestation, reduced poverty and less inequality.
– Education also helps in democratization, political stability and human rights.
– Better political engagement and voter participation.
– Better government transparency, and less corruption.
Hence, there are high private and social gains when it comes to investing in education.

Issues in Education:
Although the developing countries have made tremendous progress in education, the recent global economic and financial crisis threatened to reverse this progress. The developing countries are cutting back on their budget for education.

The Dakar Framework for Action was adopted by 164 governments in 2000. It pledges to expand learning opportunities for every youth, adult and child, and to achieve specific targets in key areas of education by the year 2015. But the progress towards the Dakar goals is far too slow to meet the 2015 targets. One of the main reasons for the slow progress is the large investment gaps estimated at $16 billion per year.

The main issues in education are the gaps in coverage, quality, funds:

There are approximately 75 million children of primary-school age around the world not enrolled in schools right now. And 56.8% of them are girls. Fifty six million are still expected to be out-of-school by the year 2015. The Sub-Saharan Africa have the highest proportion of these out-of-school children (30%). Twelve millions girls in that region are expected never to enrol in schools. The secondary education enrolment is also low and is a concern. Having said that, the Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia regions, have made the most progress in primary school coverage since 1999.
The gaps in the school attendance are strongly income related with the enrollment the lowest among the poor and rural population. Cost of going to school involves books, education materials, uniforms, meals, transport, fees etc. Other costs include the opportunity costs in the form of the fore gone earnings or contribution to the household income or production. Eighty one percent of the out-of-school children are not enrolled due to school costs. And three fourth of the 7 to 12 year old girls who are not enrolled belong to socially excluded groups.
Although global adult literacy grew by 10% between 2000 and 2007 (now 84% overall), 759 million adults lack the basic reading, writing and numerical skills needed for everyday life. We are still way off the Dakar goal of 50% improvement in adult literacy. It is estimated that 710 million adults will still lack literacy skills by the year 2015.

Quality of Education:
The core purpose of education is to ensure that children acquire the skills that shape their future life chances. School attendance may be a pre-requisite for learning and its economic benefits, but it does not guarantee those outcomes. Poor quality education in childhood has a major bearing on adult literacy, and the learning achievement has a substantial and positive effect on the earnings of individuals. And although coverage is a big issue in the developing (poor) countries, the gaps in learning achievement between the rich and the poor countries is even greater. Hence it is critical to not only provide education to everyone, but to provide good-quality education.
Studies suggest that learning achievement is also related to household income, with children from a high-income family is more likely to perform better in school someone coming from a low-income background. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, the parents in high-income households tend to be more educated and hence more capable of guiding / supporting their children. The second reason being that the teachers of the low-income kids are less qualified, the schools they go to less equipped, and their home and community environment less likely to provide the resources and stimuli to support effective learning.
In many poorest countries, the problem involves low teacher numbers and poor teacher morale. Teacher absenteeism is also a huge issue and a major contributor to the poor quality of education. The student – teacher ratio is also a important factor. In northern Uganda, there are 90 students per teacher, which is double the national average. Poor quality of education leads to higher repetition rates which results in less opportunities for new students to enroll and added strain on classroom capacities. Poor quality of education is one of the main reasons why children drop out of school.

Lack of Funds:
The financing gap for basic education is around $16 billion annually. And the Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 2/3rd of this financing gap ($10.3 billion). Finance remains a major barrier 10 years after the Dakar agreement. The teacher salaries are typically the single biggest component in the education budgets of the poor / developing countries. Having said that, there is a heavy shortage of teachers for basic education. Secondary education is needed for teacher training programs, and due to the lack of investment in secondary education, there aren’t enough qualified applicants for becoming a teacher, which has further added to the teacher shortage. To meet the “Education For All” (EFA) goals, the current spending on education has to be doubled, and an additional 1.9 million teachers need to be recruited.
School availability is a constraint – in the poorest countries, basic education is constrained by inadequate classroom capacity. It is estimated that 6.2 million additional classrooms will be needed, to reach the “Universal Primary Education by 2015” goal. Hence, investment in education cannot be delayed, and the role of the donors is critical because the governments in the poor countries lack the resources to close the EFA financing gap.

Conclusions and Some Recommendations:
Although education is crucial for the economic growth of a country, and has tremendous social and other benefits, there are not many ways to measure or quantify these benefits. Hence, investment in education has always been a weak argument. Donors have invested more in other sectors like healthcare, where impact and benefits are much more easier to measure.

It is clear that some of the major issues in education are coverage, quality of education and lack of investment. But just the act of spending money on education system does not, and will not solve all issues, and it definitely does not assure higher learning outcomes (example – Qatar). Money must be spent intelligently if it is to raise the learning achievement, and it must address all the constraints.

Here are some of the recommendations for improving the effectiveness of education investments:
– Making schools more affordable is crucial to increasing the enrollment rates. Interventions like suspension of school fees (example Kenya, Uganda), conditional cash transfers to poor parents (example Brazil, Mexico), scholarships for girls (example Bangladesh), and free school uniforms / meals (example Sub-Saharan Africa), have proven to be successful in raising school enrollment.

– Investment in school infrastructure should be accompanied by investment in teachers, teaching materials and other key education inputs. Building more schools is not always the solution for incomplete basic education coverage. Provision of water, sanitation facilities, perimeter walls and security, helps raise school attendance especially girls. Location of school is also important – most rural parents are unwilling to send their girls to school outside their villages.

– The key constraint of lack of accountability of teachers and schools needs to be addressed. Teacher effectiveness is one of the most important determinant of learning achievement. The key factors affecting teaching effectiveness are choice and competition among schools, decentralization and autonomy of school management, accountability of teachers and schools for learning outcomes. The role of institutions is crucial in providing incentives to teachers and holding them accountable. Also, increased involvement of all members of the community in monitoring school performance, and community-monitored information on enrollment and attendance will also help in creating the accountability framework. Although the parent / community involvement is necessary, it is important that the teachers have professional autonomy and non-interference in that regard. Organizations like the teacher’s unions will play a huge part in improving the quality of education and in creating teacher accountability. They can be used to organize teacher input on technical issues of educational reform, such as assessment, classroom autonomy, student discipline, and teacher training. If unions refuse to take on that role, preferring to concentrate on wages and working conditions, then it will be very difficult to reform the education system.

– The allocation of school budgets should be based on which expenditures are likely to expand school enrollments and improve the learning outcomes.

It is time that we realize the importance of education and its positive impact on humanity, make universal and good quality education a priority, and start investing in it.


About pritamkabe

Originally from Bombay, India. Relocated to the United States in 1997 for attending graduate school at The University of Texas. Completed my Masters in Electrical Engineering in 1999 and then worked in the Hi-Tech industry for the next 11 years in Austin, Texas. I have a passion for travelling, meeting new people, and experiencing new cultures...and i've been very fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to travel quite a bit. Sports and food are my other big passions in life. Some life-changing experiences in my life a years ago changed my perspective of life, after which, just have an engineering job was not meaningful to me anymore. Hence i quit my engineering career, and I'm now motivated to give back to society and make a positive impact in some way. To get started on that journey, i went back in graduate school, and recently graduated as a "Mid-Career Fellow in Foreign Service", from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, at Georgetown University, Washington DC. Currently in New Delhi, India, on a research fellowship, to learn about the educational issues in India, and brainstorm my ideas about technological interventions for resolving those issues.
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