Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Educational Access: Worldwide Convergence Boosts Learning Opportunities In Developing Countries

Developing countries are rapidly increasing the number and quality of college graduates, generating a sea change in the relative education advantage that advanced countries have enjoyed over literally hundreds of years, according to an analysis recently released by The Conference Board, the global business network.

Photo credit: Vanessa Zanini Fernandes

Access rates to education are rapidly equalizing for primary and secondary education in developing countries and literacy rates are rapidly approaching advanced country standards.

The UN Classification for less developed regions includes Africa, Asia (excluding Japan), and Latin America and countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Guinea, Haiti, Samoa, Senegal, and Yemen.

"Given recent trends in primary education, the world economy may achieve near universal literacy within a generation," says Gail D. Fosler, Executive Vice President and Chief Economist of The Conference Board.



Her analysis appears in StraightTalk, a newsletter designed exclusively for members of The Conference Board's global business network.

"The expansion in education opportunities and capacities extends to higher education. The sea change is well recognized in math, science, and engineering capacities, but the simple fact is that emerging markets will generate increasingly large numbers of college graduates in all fields."

Along with the huge and growing size of these populations relative to the developed world and the tendency of these populations to live longer, form families, and become active workers, the educational landscape is transforming.

100 Percent Literacy

By 2035, the emerging world may have almost 100 percent literacy and is likely to increase tremendously their number of college graduates even though the proportion of the potential college student population actually in college will still be much smaller. These education trends bode well for the development process and these countries' ability to initiate institutional change consistent with their own cultures and economic values, but it also suggests that the competition that workers feel in advanced countries today from the unleashing of this new economic energy is likely to increase exponentially.

Among low-income countries, primary school enrollment rates, while improving, still lag. Primary gross school enrollment rates for low-income countries have risen from about 65 percent in 1970 to about 94 percent in 2001.

"The data on secondary education suggest that much more work needs to be done," says Fosler. "In contrast to high-income countries, where virtually all young people are enrolled in secondary education, only about two-thirds of the potential high school population in middle-income countries and less than 50 percent of the low-income countries' potential students receive a high school education. But in the 1990s, the pace of improved access to secondary education has accelerated. If these trends persist, much of the gap in secondary education access between high- and middle-income countries will vanish in 2014, when virtually all of the middle-income countries' students and about 60 percent of low-income countries should be receiving a high-school education."

But Does Education Equal Literacy?

"Education does not automatically equal literacy," says Fosler. "Although literacy rates have improved along with education participation, there still are substantial gaps among countries according to their relative income level and between the sexes."

These gaps appear to be associated - although it is not clear how directly - with the gaps in access to secondary education.

High-income countries enjoy literacy rates approaching 100 percent and middle-income countries are fast approaching these levels. Literacy rates average about 60 percent in low-income countries and less than 50 percent for women in these countries.

Gaps in education are huge at the college level. In both middle- and low-income countries, less than 22 percent of the college-eligible population actually goes to college. The corresponding share in high-income countries is more than 65 percent.

But access to college is changing rapidly. During the next 25 years, these rates could move up to close to 55 percent for middle-income countries.

"The gradual, but striking, convergence in educational access around the globe indicates that the huge gaps in the quality of the workforce between advanced economies and emerging markets are beginning to close," says Fosler. "What has been an enormous advantage in terms of organizational skill, problem solving, technology development, literary expression and creative arts - just to mention a few key areas - is fading. Not only can work be done in all parts of the world through the use of information and communication technology, but during the next 10 to 20 years it is as likely that it will be initiated in the developing world as it is in advanced economies."

originally published on Nov. 1st 2005 as
Advanced Economies Losing Lead in Education
by Gail Fosler, Vol. 16, #9, The Conference Board

Gail Fosler -
Reference: Conference Board [ Read more ]
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posted by Chiara Moriconi on Saturday, November 12 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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