Investing in people, skills and education for inclusive growth and jobs

by J.D. LaRock
Senior Analyst, Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education
As the spectre of another economic downturn looms large in many countries and is already a reality in others, new data from the 2012 edition of Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators – released today – provides powerful insights into the link between education, economic progress and social mobility around the world.

For example, as detailed in the book’s new indicator on education and economic growth, more than half of the GDP growth in OECD countries over the past decade is related to labour-income growth among workers with higher education.  Indeed, even as GDP across all OECD countries shrank by 3.8% during the global recession year of 2009, growth in labour income among people with higher education contributed nearly 0.4% to the GDP of these countries overall. In contrast, the contraction of labour income that year among people with a medium level of education reduced the GDP by 0.8%, while shrinking incomes among people with lower levels of education trimmed another 0.5% off GDP.

In light of the substantial role education can play in promoting economic growth, countries’ success in assuring that younger people achieve a higher level of education than their parents – what is known as intergenerational mobility in education – is especially important. The new indicator on educational mobility in this year’s Education at a Glance shows that many countries are making good progress in this regard.  On average across all OECD countries, 37% of 25-34 year-old non-students have surpassed their parents’ level of education, while only 13% have achieved a lower level.  Half of younger adults in OECD countries have achieved the same level of education as their parents: 13%, a low level of education; 21%, a medium level, and 16%, a high level.

Meanwhile, as detailed in the new indicator on early childhood education, many OECD countries are working hard to expand schooling opportunities for their youngest children. For example, among OECD countries with data for both years, 81% of four-year-olds were enrolled in early childhood programmes in 2010, up from 77% in 2005.  What’s more, enrolments among three-year-olds rose from 64% to 69% during this same period. Since participation in early childhood education is linked to better performance later on in school, these developments bode well for a future in which improving young people’s skills will be more important than ever.

At the same time, this year’s Education at a Glance also shows that many OECD countries need to address the growing problem of youth who are not in employment, education or training. After several years of decline, the so-called “NEET” population began to rise in 2009 and spiked to nearly 16.0% in 2010 – a sign of the particular hardship young people have borne as a result of the global recession. As such, OECD countries would do well to examine measures that can productively engage people in this crucial age group, such as vocational education and training programmes and opportunities for non-formal education and training.

As always, the 2012 edition of Education at a Glance contains a rich array of indicators on educational attainment, graduation and completion, education financing, enrolment trends and the globalisation of higher education, and schools and teachers. In addition to the data discussed above, this year’s edition contains a number of other new indicators, including information on how the career aspirations of boys and girls compare to the fields young men and women study in higher education ; the factors that influence immigrant students’ performance in school ; who makes key decisions in education systems ; and the pathways and gateways to gain access to secondary and tertiary education.

For more information, and to download a copy of the book, visit the Education at a Glance website at:
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