Deputy Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD's Secretary General
And yet, the 2014 Global Monitoring Report, the world’s most authoritative source to track progress towards the ‘Education for All’ goals, paints a bleak picture. With the deadline for these goals less than two years away, progress has been insufficient to get close to even a single goal by 2015. To date, just half of young children have access to some form of pre primary education, and in sub-Saharan Africa it is less than one in five. Universal primary education is likely to be missed by a wide margin, with 57 million children still having no access to any schooling. Access is not the only crisis: one third of primary school age children are not learning the basics, whether they have been to school or not, and even those who eventually graduate may not find jobs because their education hasn't been in sync with the skills that societies need.
It would be a grave mistake to consider this exclusively or even largely an issue for conflict zones or the developing world, even if that's where those issues are most visible. When it comes to education, the world is no longer divided between rich and well-educated nations and poor and badly educated ones. Similarly, the challenge of poor schooling is not just about poor kids in poor neighbourhoods, but about many kids in many neighbourhoods. Last year, OECD countries invested over USD 230 billion into teaching children math in the industrialised world, but 23% of their 15-year-old students performed below the baseline Level 2 on the PISA 2012 mathematics assessment, showing that these students can barely use basic mathematical procedures and conventions to solve problems involving whole numbers. Worryingly, that proportion is exactly where it stood a decade earlier.
Those numbers matter, for the life chances of individuals, and for the growth prospects of nations. If all students attained at least Level 2 in the PISA mathematics assessment, the combined economic output of OECD countries could be boosted by USD 200 trillion. So the cost of low educational performance is far higher than any conceivable investment in improvement.
The Global Monitoring Report also shows how many adolescents lack essential foundation skills and adult literacy has hardly improved since 2000. Here too, the OECD’s Survey of Adult Skills finds that poor skills severely limit people’s access to better-paying and more-rewarding jobs and, at the aggregate level, inequality in the distribution of skills closely relates to how wealth is shared within nations. People with better skills are also more likely to volunteer, see themselves as actors rather than as objects of political processes, and are more likely to trust others. As the Global Monitoring Report notes, educated people are more likely to start a business, and their businesses are likely to be more profitable. In Uganda, owners of household enterprises with a primary education earned 36% more than those with no education; those with a lower secondary education earned 56% more. In short, fairness, integrity and inclusiveness in public policy thus all hinge on the skills of citizens.
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