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Education is critical for our futures


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We often hear from politicians and others that education is important. Most would agree that if the country’s competitiveness is to be increased and the national wealth increased that a well educated work force is a prerequisite.

Earlier this year the PM pointed out that many left school in NZ with poor skills. This does not bode well for the future.

Adam was surprised therefore when he came across this item on Clive Crook’s blog at the Financial Times, on the state of the US educational system:-

A startling and profoundly important fact about the US economy has received surprisingly little attention. The educational quality of the country’s workers is starting to decline – not just relatively (because other countries are catching up and moving ahead) but also, for the first time, in absolute terms. Over the coming years, baby-boomers departing from the labour force will have better educational qualifications than the younger workers replacing them. If the ultimate source of an economy’s ability to grow and prosper is its human capital, the US is in trouble.

Now if what has been the world’s most innovative and leading economy is likely to suffer in this respect, what are we going to do here in NZ when the USA and other countries ramp up the price they are willing to pay for competent people to move to those countries? Where is NZ going to access it’s human capital? What are we going to do to increase the capability of our people? A major challenge for any incoming government is going to be improving the education system. Radical action may well be needed, especially given the old fashioned ideas of some in the teaching unions. Further, we need to root out the attitude that condemns success and competition so prevalent in many schools.

The development of people at all levels has to be a major pre-occupation of any government. To this writer’s way of thinking the current government has failed to grasp the nettle. Consequently we slip further behind.

Note:Clive Crook’s entire piece is worth reading


  1. 08/07/2008 12:28

    I suspect there’s a disconnect between education way back and as it is now.

    Back then, most of us seemed to have a broad idea of what we wanted to do in life and concenytated on the things and subjects that would help us get there. If we wanted to go farming we had to be good enough in reading and writing through secondary school and pick up the rest on the farm. If you wanted to be a public servant you needed good “character” and good enough results at secondary school and then get trained on the job.

    Now I sense that education is a “good” in it’s own right and more about life skills than a vehicle to a particular job. I think a lot of kids have no particular job goal for the future beyond having a look round once they finish school and are quite happy to just wander in and out of different jobs until they find something they quite like or responsibilities catch up with them.

    Way back, I think teachers were more proactive in steering pupils of different abilities into suitable jobs. I can recall the old post Master at Masterton telling me he often got rung by teachers who would give an honest assessment of a slow pupil but say he was dead honest and could deliver mail or somesuch… perhaps a reflection of smaller schools and more interaction with the local community.



  2. adamsmith1922 permalink*
    08/07/2008 10:44

    I am not sure that immigration is necessarily the cause, I seem to recall reading somewhere that Hispanics and Asians tend to do relatively better than other ethnicities.

    I cannot find the material, but from somewhere I seem to remember poor whites and blacks are the worst affected, but I may well be wrong.

    Part of the problem may lie also in how schools are funded, primarily through property taxes, I think. This coupled with for example in New York City a teachers union where promotion and pay are dependent on years of service leads to considerable difficulties in the public school system.

    In fact at the end of the day, it may well be surprising that children come out of the system as well as they do in many cases.


  3. 08/07/2008 10:31

    First, the declining high school graduation rate is a cause for concern, not a cause. When looking for causes, I suspect that immigration plays a role, the large numbers of “illegals” not being well qualified on the whole. But the attacks on the state over the past thirty or more years have also starved the public schools of much needed funding. California is a good example, starting in the late 1970s.

    Remember, there are an awful lot of poor people in the US, where the real wages of the majority have only risen for a few years since the oil shocks of the mid-1970s (under Clinton). These people are struggling, and increasingly not well served by the public school system.

    “Too much free market” was indeed a glib remark designed to provoke, but it was designed to provoke a thoughtful response.


  4. adamsmith1922 permalink*
    07/07/2008 22:34


    I think ‘too much free market’ is a pat remark, which is perhaps unworthy of you. I suspect the reasons are more complex.


  5. adamsmith1922 permalink*
    07/07/2008 22:33

    Crook notes this as a possible reason:-

    Yet one key indicator suggests real cause for concern: the declining high school graduation rate, which affects the supply of those seeking to go to college. This too has been a bitterly contested statistic in the US. The country’s highly decentralised education system causes a proliferation of conflicting data sources and definitions. But a recent careful study by Nobel laureate James Heckman and Paul LaFontaine found that the high school graduation rate “has been falling for 40 years” and that this “explains part of the recent slowdown in college attendance”

    It would be interesting to know what has happened in NZ over the same period?


  6. 07/07/2008 20:07

    Great post. Thanks for drawing this to our attention. An absolute decline in education?!

    Have you any ideas why this is happening in the world’s most powerful economy, and the bastion of free market thinking to boot? Wait, could that be it? Too much free market? Taxes cut too much? There’s something to think about!


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