Back to school 2019

Tue Sep 03 11:28:00 UTC 2019

September 2019, a new academic year

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A new academic year generally starts with a sense of optimism - the hope that teachers and students return to their studies refreshed and reinvigorated for the challenges ahead.  Since 1966, 8 September has been International Literacy Day so this is clearly a time of year when the thoughts of many people focus on education although it is perhaps worth pointing out that not all countries start their new school year in August/September.  Many countries in the southern hemisphere start in January/February.  Japan starts in April.

Education is so important to peoples’ lives.  It allows them to apply for paid employment, to become engaged citizens, to develop their capabilities and knowledge, to travel and to participate in different forms of leisure activity.

Education is also key to economic development and governments recognise that developing their country’s human capital can make a significant contribution to national welfare. Poor educational standards make it harder to attract foreign investment and also make it less likely that domestic businesses will invest. This link between education and business investment features in section 4 of our GCE Business specification and of our IAL Business specification.

The United Nations Human Development Index includes two educational measures: expected years of schooling for children and average adult years of schooling.  The literacy rate used to be part of the HDI but is no longer.  The figures in the last column come from the World Bank.

Country HDI Rank (2018) Expected years of schooling Mean years of schooling Adult literacy rate
Norway 1 17.9 12.6  
Australia 3 22.9 12.9  
United Kingdom 14 17.4 12.9  
China 86 13.8 7.8 95% (2010)
Vietnam 116 12.7 8.2 94% (2009)
India 130 12.3 6.4 69% (2011)
Nigeria 157 10.0 6.2 51% (2008)
Ivory Coast 170 9.0 5.2 44% (2014)
Niger 189 5.4 2.0 31% (2012)

Since 1990 mean years of schooling for adults globally has risen from 5.8 to 8.4 and the world’s school children are in school for an extra 3.4 years.  The table above does however serve as a reminder of the wide disparities between countries.  Pupil teacher ratios tend to be much higher in low human development countries and the proportion of teachers who are trained to teach much lower.  UNESCO estimates that an extra 60 million teachers need to be recruited worldwide. Clearly, poorer countries are likely to have fewer resources which can be devoted to education and this in turn limits their ability to lift their populations out of poverty.

In spite of the progress made since 1990, UNESCO has warned that there might still be over 200 million children not in school in 2030 which would slow down progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Of the $4.7tn spent each year on education worldwide, $3tn, or 65 per cent, is spent in high-income countries. Aid for education projects has not increased during the last decade and many young people still lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. Participation rates for girls is much lower than for boys. In low-income countries just over half of secondary schools have electricity and access to drinking water and only just over a third have access to the internet.

So at the start of this new academic year the UN’s HDI and the warnings from UNESCO serve as a timely reminder of what still needs to be done to try and reduce the number of children not in school and to increase the amount of time they spend there.

Sources: 2018 Human Development Report, FT, 8 July 2019

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Colin Leith

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Colin Leith, Business and Economics subject advisor
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