Quality Education and Economic Growth – Lessons for Africa

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A building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin

Quality Education is essential for Economic Growth

Bold statement? Well, no, not really, how about ordinary and ignored statement. At least in most parts of Africa?

Okay, so this is one of the topics I’m most passionate about for reasons which are somewhat obvious, but which our leaders in Africa are yet to realise, that is if they haven’t realised already.

You can’t have development, especially sustainable development if your educational system is crap. Period. Soon enough something will have to give. Also, when building a house, you don’t start with the roof, before the foundation has been laid, conventionally anyway (and wisely I’d think) you don’t do that. The foundation must be laid first, and the structure built, then you can start fumbling around with the roof…unless ofcourse yours is a futuristic / modern design that defies convention? ūüôā

Anyhow, I have compiled a number of articles that support the view that a high quality education is essential for sustainable economic growth.

While there may be numerous assumptions to make before such a hypothesis is held true, generally it holds true. Specifically, while there may be a need for defining precisely what is meant by “quality education” (which may differ depending on who you speak to, and which may limit scope or leave out an education system that is better than others, but couldn’t be described as ‘quality’) there is quite a bit of substance to the above view.

Further, there are exceptions, for example why certain countries with high mineral resources¬† experience fast economic growth rates –¬† a feature that occurs when the leaders in such countries invest the proceeds from those resources responsibly and strategically – even in the absence of a quality education system.

Thankfully, a few clever people have helpfully explained why education is important for economic growth:

1. Education and Economic Growth  РEric A. Hanushek (Standford University), Ludger Woessmann (University of Munich)  via Education Next . According to one of the authors:

This article reviews the role of education in promoting economic growth, with a particular focus on the role of educational quality. It concludes that there is strong evidence that the cognitive skills of the population ‚Äď rather than mere school attainment ‚Äď are powerfully related to long-run economic growth. The relationship between skills and growth proves extremely robust in empirical applications. The effect of skills is complementary to the quality of economic institutions. Growth simulations reveal that the long-run rewards to educational quality are large but also require patience.

2. Education and Economic Growth: From the 19th to the 21st Century, Riel Miller (www.rielmiller.com),  commissioned by CISCO

3. Education and economic growth -Schooling quantity and educational quality effect on GDP level and economic growth,  Liang Zhai, Wenjun Zhao, Bachelor Thesis in Economics, Mälardalen University.

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The relationship between Human Safety and security (Physical security) and Economic Development

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When I was searching for articles that had been written and other research undertaken about the above topic, I hit two small obstacles:-
1. The first is that it seems Google prefers to highlight material on ‘food security‘ or ‘ social security’ and economic growth more than that on ‘human safety and public security’ (or physical security) and economic growth. So I had to sift through quite a lot of stuff to get the references below… which wasn’t much fun!
2. Secondly, there seems to be two major and opposing schools of thought within the research on the issue of safety and economic development. The first group believes that when seeking to improve physical security or public safety of a population, more emphasis should be placed on how the peoples’ lives can be improved, and not on economic outcomes or developmental agendas. And the second group seems to think that economic progress or development is inexplicably linked to human safety and security. That it is impossible to achieve economic development without physical security or public safety, which if you think about it, sounds like a sensible enough hypothesis. Both groups may be right.

However, after considering what has been written, I’m more inclined to side with the second group, in that while the first group has a point in stating that Human Security must be addressed for security’s sake alone, in most parts of Africa, we are quite interested in the security of our people for more than just one reason. And that may be because we have experienced first hand the devastation insufficient security can have (Kidnappings; and the fear it causes, the effect it has on tourism –Somalia, Kenya etc; underinvestment — ask any well seasoned investor what ‘political stability’ means;). In fact if some of the articles below are to go by, I suspect it is truly the case that Economic Development of any serious sort is extremely difficult, or unachievable unless an acceptable level of public safety and security is firmly in place in the country (or possibly even the region) in which such development is to occur. This also suggests that the more secure a place is, the more likely that it will be a favourable place to invest or do business in, although I’m not entirely sure of this second part. My guess is that it is probably a hyperbolic relationship that levels off slightly after acertain point (that point is not fixed and varies from one jurisdiction to the next).

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And there are other inter-relationships. For example the ease of dealing with government officials, or the confidence which people have in the court system ( i.e. if people have no confidence over the competence of the court system, few investors will leap to invest in such an environment.); the level of corruption (recently a public official I’m acquainted with suggested that one of the reasons as to why the British closed their embassy in Malawi, was because of the level of corruption in Malawi)….but if there is insufficient security from the start, the insufficient security alone can negatively affect other areas of a society.

fearA survey carried out by Gallup Inc. in 2012 suggested that Freedom from fear of bodily harm is vital not just for economic growth and development, but more fundamentally for the wellbeing of a populace. In that study, Malawi features 30th out of 134 on where less than 50% of people felt safe walking in their neighborhoods at night. Surely that couldn’t be a good thing. The government and the people ought to work together to ensure that criminality, and thuggery are curbed, and that safety is significantly increased.

Among the stories from my childhood, one in particular stands out. When I was younger, I was told by my eldest sister that before I was born, my father never used to lock his car.¬† He would park it on the driveway, unlocked, and would even go as far as leaving the keys within the ignition slot, It was normal back then. Over the years, even though I’m aware that there were fewer licensed drivers then than is the case now,¬† I’ve come to appreciate what a great deal this level of personal security was. That in barely 30 years, the security Malawi used to enjoy has deteriorated so much, such that simple acts of confidence of the people would today be considered foolhardy.

Speaking at the 41st Munich Security Conference on ‚ÄúEconomic Development and Security‚ÄĚ in February 2005 , the German President Horst K√∂hler said that “…Unless we tackle global poverty, long-term security will remain elusive. A strategy for development is by far the best form of conflict prevention!¬† Those words are true today as they were then. But in whose best interest is this long-term security? Should Europeans and Americans really continue to take a leading role in combatting Africa’s problems? It may seem like a small adjustment, but in the current financial climate of cuts and receding budgets, why can’t resources be diverted from salary increases or lavish motor vehicle expenses to increased spending on security?

And this idea that security is linked to economic growth is not new, but has been around for years. 18 years ago, in November 1995, Stephen Knack and Philip Keefer published a paper titled Institutions and Economic Performance: Cross-Country Tests Using Alternative Institutional Indicators that found that the quality of institutions, operationalised as the security of property rights and the level of contract enforcement, is crucial to growth and investment.(see more here)

Historically, a desire for national security has had a profound effect on developmental strides in countries across the world. For example, in Japan, it is said that the automotive industry has its origins in the demand for trucks for the Imperial Army (Odigari and Gota 1993).

It all points to the same thing, get your security in place (be it ensuring that goods sent in from abroad get to their destination safe and untempered with, or whether it’s reducing the prevalence of burglaries, or increasing the numbers of policemen on the street) and economic development has a much greater chance of happening and growth thriving!

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