Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

private schools in China

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Demand for private schooling is increasing in China, but supply is stagnant. Selection is tighter and the number of disappointed parents and grandparents is increasing. (more…)

for-profit schools in Africa

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

Further to last week’s post on Liberia’s for-profit schools, today’s Financial Times contains a letter to the editor from a British educator working in Uganda. The writer of the letter, Adam Nichols, is a strong proponent of private schooling in Africa. (more…)

schooling in Myanmar (Burma)

Friday, April 28th, 2017

The World Bank gives low marks to schooling in Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country known also as Burma.

Myanmar has suffered from low school enrolment and completion rates (one third of 1.2 million students enrolled in grade 1 made it to grade 11, and only one third of those passed the school leaving exam); poor learning outcomes (9 percent of a third grade class in Yangon [the country’s largest city and former capital city] cannot read a single word); and inequalities in access and quality (net primary enrolment as low as 69 percent in poorer areas compared to 85 percent average nationally). [Emphasis added.]

World Bank, Myanmar: Public Expenditure Review, September 2015, p. 39.

The government of Myanmar provides a different, positive spin on schooling in the country.

Myanmar’s population is highly literate, with relatively high participation in primary schools, but there is a significant drop in participation in education in later school years. Over 95 percent of youth are literate. Only about 20 percent of children participate in pre-primary levels of education, but net attendance at primary school is roughly 90 percent. [p. 27]

Myanmar is piloting a new education stipend with the assistance of the World Bank that is conditioned on enrollment and attendance, and that uses community based targeting mechanisms to identify beneficiaries. [p.42]

Republic Of the Union Of Myanmar, Myanmar National Social Protection Strategic Plan, December 2014.

The focus in the government’s report is entirely on participation in schooling. There is no discussion of quality, nor any need to improve it.

Liberia’s for-profit public schools

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Liberia’s primary and secondary schools are dismal, even by the standards of sub-Saharan Africa. A new education minister in 2015 decided to address the problem by outsourcing education to private, for-profit companies.

FT Africa editor David Pilling visited Liberia, to see how the experiment is progressing, and filed a long report. He found that the results are not very impressive. But perhaps it is too early to judge such revolutionary changes in provision of free, public schooling. (more…)

the Swedish model of school choice

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

Here is the promised TdJ, extracted from my July 2008 essay “Basic education as a human right redux”. (more…)

in defence of school choice

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

University of Michigan economist Susan Dynarski has written an op-ed for the New York Times that questions the value of markets in education, apparently because parents are unable to judge the quality of schooling options offered to their children. I disagree, but stress conditions ignored by Ms Dynarski, but essential to guarantee all participants in the market equal access to public and private schools. (more…)

the value of higher education

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

An increasing number of students are pursuing university degrees. There is a well-known correlation between higher education and earnings, so higher education seems to have value for those who receive it. But is higher education valuable in itself, for what students learn? Or is it merely a screening device?

Tim Harford, the FT’s ‘undercover economist’, has written a column on this subject for today’s newspaper.

A … sceptical view comes from Bryan Caplan, an economics professor who … points out — not unreasonably — that many students seem to learn nothing of any obvious relevance to the workplace but, on graduation, they’re rewarded with much better career prospects than non-graduates. Why?

Caplan’s answer is that education is a signal. If employers have no way to tell who is smart and diligent, a student can prove that she fits into that category by excelling in, say, Latin. The Latin is like a peacock’s tail: costly and useless in its own right but a necessary investment.

To the extent that Caplan is right, undergraduate degrees have no value to society: they enable employers to pay higher wages to smarter workers, but lower wages to everyone else — and in order to enjoy these higher wages, smart people must waste time and money going to the trouble of acquiring a degree. Everyone might be better off if the whole business was abandoned.

Who is right? My heart is with [LSE researchers Anna] Valero and [John] Van Reenen[, who find that universities boost the income of their regional economies]. But Caplan strikes an important note of discord.

Tim Harford, “Are universities worth it?“, Financial Times, 24 August 2016 (metered paywall).

George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan (born 1971) is in drafting The Case Against Education (Princeton University Press, expected in 2017).

Harford’s column has generated many long and thoughtful comments from readers (85 so far). Here are two ‘editor’s picks’. More comments can be accessed at the link above.

My impression is that Europe and the UK benefits from a more consistent level of quality in their universities… Oxford may be more prestigious than some of the “red brick” schools but I get the impression that a student will get a good education at any of them. In the US, the Harvards and Stanfords are world class but there are many schools that are, essentially, defrauding their students in varying degrees… All the way down to the abysmal low of Trump University. (Sorry, couldn’t resist 🙂 [Continues for two more paragraphs.]

My qualifications, BSc(Eng), PhD in engineering and an MBA, couldn’t be much more practical. However I have come to realise that a great, and rare skill, is the ability to take a subject, learn about it, understand it and to make sensible proposals on what to do about it.  You can learn that skill by studying just about anything from medieval Italian poetry to quantum physics and for non-vocational subjects. That is the real value of a degree.

perverse effects of education

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

I have completed McCloskey’s remarkable book, and will continue to post short excerpts that caught my attention. Here is the first of several to follow.

Each of the book’s short chapters made me think, and some made me wish that I had written the words, or at least something similar. This excerpt is from chapter 43, the only chapter of the book that contains a formal model of economic growth. As McCloskey explains, on p. 411, “The ‘mathematics’ is merely a metaphorical language that economists understand, and which allows me to chat with them … without excessive confusion.”

[The effect of education] can be and often has been perverse, corrupting good bourgeois boys by educating them to believe that the bourgeoisie have no dignity at all, or corrupting good bourgeois girls to become state bureaucrats devoted to believing that bourgeois liberty is to be stamped out. Marx took a PhD degree in philosophy at Jena in 1841. The leader of the Shining Path Marxists in Peru was a professor of philosophy. A high percentage of the officers in Hitler’s SS had advanced degrees in the humanities. German engineers built the gas chambers. Excellent computer engineers enforce the Chinese censorship of the Internet.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (University of Chicago Press, 2010), p. 417.

I encourage you to visit Professor McCloskey’s web page, where you can download many of her diverse writings (though not this book!).

McCloskey on Cuba and education

Friday, June 24th, 2016

I am reading a fascinating book that covers a wealth of economic history. It is a delightful book, very much in the tradition of Adam Smith. I want to share with you two paragraphs on Cuba, because of my interest in education in general, and that country in particular.

[E]ducation by itself does not yield much. Cubans nowadays go to school, as they did before the Revolution, if now strictly limited in what they are permitted to read …. Yet the Cubans at some points (Fidel repeatedly changed the laws) could not start a restaurant or take their farm produce to markets (Raul has somewhat relented), and so they remain to this day cripplingly poor, disabled from exercising bourgeois virtues–in sharp contrast to their cousins in Miami. Cuba’s income per head in 2001, despite all its alleged investment in human capital, was still about what it had been in 1958, while all around it since the Cuban Revolution income per head had almost doubled. In 2009 the country was malnourished. The cousins in Miami, by contrast, whether much educated or not, were doing a lot better, because they lived in a bourgeois society. And they could read what they wanted.

You will say if you are on the left, “But Cubans as you admit are educated and well cared for in their hospitals,” …. Yet so were they before 1958 well educated and well cared for, by the standards of the day. That’s why Cuba in 1958 was such a promising country, though ruled by a different gang of thugs from the present one. Yet after 1959 the Cubans fled from the workers’ paradise, just as the skilled are fleeing from Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, to places where economic opportunities are better than at home. A democratic social scientist should be inclined to put weight on how people vote, with their feet, or their boats.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (University of Chicago Press, 2010), pp. 164-165.

This is the second volume of six that economic historian Deirdre McCloskey (born Donald McCloskey in 1942) is writing on The Bourgeois Era. The first volume was The Bourgeois Virtues (University of Chicago Press, 2007). The third is Bourgeois Equality (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

When I finish this volume, I will read volume 1, then volume 3.

the need for language skills

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

English is so widely spoken that anglophones often believe there is no point in them learning a foreign language. FT columnist Michael Skapinker disagrees. So do I.

You can get away with speaking English if you make occasional visits to a country or if you meet people at international conferences.

But if you live in a place, as a diplomat or business person [and, I would add, teacher, researcher], you need to speak the language. You cannot understand the country and its people if you don’t. You may think you can, speaking to locals in English, but when you have learnt enough to talk to them in their own language you realise that they are deeper, funnier and more rounded.

Michael Skapinker, “How to achieve language skills for a local television grilling“, Financial Times, 19 May 2016 (metered paywall).

Mr Skapinker provides readers with five learning tips, in addition to formal lessons. Here is the first:

Immerse yourself in local media. It used to be easy to avoid English language news. When I spent a month in deepest Provence in the early 1990s, there was, apart from the BBC World Service, no alternative to buying French newspapers and watching and listening to local television and radio. ….

Today, English is everywhere, from your television screen to your phone. So you have to make an effort. Watch or listen to a local news bulletin at least once a day. Read at least one full news article a day in the language of the country.

Years ago, I was able to attain fluency first in Spanish (living in Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico), then in Portuguese (living in Brazil), with almost no access to English language newspapers, radio or TV. The communications revolution has changed that. I used to blame old age and an English-speaking work environment for my slow progress many years later in learning German. I now believe that access to English programmes on cable TV and English language newspapers on the internet was a more important obstacle – or at least a contributing factor. What is that old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention”? So true, in so many ways.