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Quality of Education and Quality of Life in Latin America and the Caribbean


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Title: Quality of Education and Quality of Life in Latin America and the Caribbean

Quality of Education and Quality of Life in Latin
America and the Caribbean
  • An exploration
  • Juan Carlos Navarro

Definitions of education quality
  1. As test scores in a few subjects or overall
    cognitive measurements (linked or not to some
    notion of compliance with standards)
  2. As value added (mostly, ability to compensate
    exogenous disadvantages)
  3. As labor-market relevant
  4. As customer (parent, student, employer)
  5. As a key source of numerous and highly valued
    externalities (civic values, caring environments
    for children, common culture, social cohesion).

1.Quality as test scores
PISA Scores on the Reading Scale
OECD Program for International Student Assessment
Persistent low quality
Distribution of students by level of proficiency
in reading
Quality and Quantity
of young people lacking education
Source authors estimates using Pritchets lack
of education indicator
What we know
  • LAC severely and consistently underperforms,
    relative to OECD and Asian countries.
  • LACs performance is lower than what could be
    expected given GDP per capita and education
    spending measurements
  • Given demonstrated influence of quality as
    measured by test scores on growth, low quality of
    education is an outstanding force undermining
    growth in the region
  • At the individual level, one standard deviation
    in math scores is associated with 10 percent
    income variations over time.

We need to take a closer look
Source The following analysis follows OECD and
UIS standard analysis of PISA results. See in
particular Willms (2006)
Gradient analysis
  • The level of the gradient tells us that the
    average score in PISA for Argentinian students is
    lower accross all levels of SES (socioeconomic
    status) when compared to OECDs average.
  • The slope of the gradient suggests that the
    effect of SES on scores is not unlike the average
    effect in OECD countries (the expected reading
    performance increases by 42.6 points for one
    St.deviation increase in SES).
  • The length or the gradient lines indicate the
    range within which 90 percent of students lie. In
    Argentina this range is 2.72 to 1.33, while for
    the OECD the corresponding range is 1.71 to 1.55.

School profile analysis
  • More than half of schools in the Argentinian
    sample are below the bottom 20 of OECD SES scale
  • Above that point, the range from the lowest to
    the poorest performing schools is about 80
    points, similar to OECD variation.
  • Below, variation in scores spans over 300 points,
    with the majority with very low performance
  • For 15 year-old students performance increases 70
    points by each one unit increase in school mean
  • An implication is that in LAC students from low
    SES background tend to be disadvantaged, but that
    disadvantage is compounded by the fact that they
    tend to be highly concentrated into low SES, low
    performance, schools

What we know
  • For PISA, only 7.4 of the variation in reading
    performance is due to variation among countries.
    The rest is distributed between differences among
    children, their background and the
    characteristics of the schools they attend.
  • The fact that so many low income children are
    concentrated in a large number of schools is
    clearly affecting average measurements of quality
    of education in the region.
  • Given extreme income inequality in Latin America,
    education systems have a special role in
    equalizing social and economic opportunities,
    presumably a major issue in terms of quality of
    life two societies with the same income
    distribution feel very differently depending upon
    whether winners and losers are always the same or
    can be expected to rotate according to some kind
    of meritocratic principle.

What we know
  • Since gradients tend to remain parallel along the
    SES range, even priviledged children in
    developing countries seem to have a poorer
    performance than their peers in developed
    economies. This suggest either measurement issues
    or systemic quality issues beyond the impact of
    SES on individual performance.
  • PISA tests children at 15. By then the
    differences in skills between a child in a poor
    school and one in a good school, at a given SES
    level, could be as large as 4 grade levels. There
    are indications (from PIRLS), that these
    differences are well under way at grade 4.

Average Years of Education by Income level
2.Quality as value added
What we know
  • Schools do have the potential for offsetting
    socio-economic disadvantage, to a large extent.
    For a student of a given SES, the difference
    between being in a good school as opposed to
    being in a bad school can be in the order of 4
    grade levels.
  • The distribution of schools able to do this
    effectively is not clearly correlated with either
    the private-public dimension, nor with any other
    easily observable characteristic of the school.
  • Given the widespread variation in school
    performance in the region, even within the same
    SES level, luck with respect to the particular
    school a child ends up attending is a serious
    determinant of skill acquisition and individual
    earning potential over the life time of

3.Quality as education that is labor
Skill-biased economic change
Economy-wide measures of routine and non-routine
task input (US 1959-1998)
Source Murnane and Levy, 2001
Education and labor markets in the knowledge

ICT Internet Users per 100 Inhabitants
ICT Personal Computers per 100 Inhabitants
Computers at home and PISA scores
Source OCDE, 2003
What we know
  • Workers with better quality skills are not
    necessarily able to get and hold jobs or better
    jobs (the ability of a society to use the human
    capital it has created is the final arbiter of
    whether investments in human capital are not
  • Although skilled workers seem less likely to
    suffer prolonged unemployment (not being
    unemployed tends to be considered a major
    determinant of personal welfare and happiness).
  • Skill premiums are growing Accelerated and
    technology-led economic change is rapidly
    changing the skill set which can be called
    relevant for workers in the world, LAC included.
  • The ways to acquire such skill set are also
    changing and are heavily dependent on access to
    information technology, connectivity and digital
    media, areas in which the region lags severely
  • Schools and formal education institutions have a
    hard time adapting to this relevant learning
    could be becoming less dependent from the school
    systems as we know them. The real action in terms
    of education may be moving somewhere else.

4.Quality as costumer satisfaction
What we know
  • Parents in LAC tend to have a good opinion of the
    schools their children attend.
  • High school students tend to dislike the schools
    they are enrolled in. They are bored and leave
    even when they find no employment. More recently,
    they have become more vocal about it (see Chiles
    uprising earlier this year).
  • Employers tend to have low expectations regarding
    the graduates of the mainstream school system. To
    a significant extent, they take for granted that
    the firms will have to re-train them anyway.

Just to make things complicated
  • Education quality, whatever the definition, is
    not easily perceived.
  • Education is a multidimensional product (parents
    may be looking for something other than good test
    scores discipline, warm school climate, safety,
    social relationships)
  • There are reasons to believe that education -and
    education quality- is not equally valued across
    different national economies and cultures.

5.Education quality and externalities
What we know
Education quality is a major determinant of
  • Health outcomes (through fertility, mother-child
  • Population growth
  • Political participation
  • Migration
  • Overall participation in civil life

A word on universities
Region Top 20 Top 100 Top 500
North America 17 52 197
Europe 2 37 209
Asia/Pacific 1 8 89
Latin America 0 3 7
TOTAL 20 100 500
Source Liu and Yeng, 2005.
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