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20161015 Does Education Matter?





The simple idea of this book is that there is no clear evidence that growth in formal education has direct positive impact on the economic prosperity and that current massive growth in government expenses on general formal education and workforce training by all countries is not really justified. A very interesting point is also made that when business get involved in government’s educational decision making it does not add value, only when businesses spent their own money on workforce training the results are somewhat positive.


  1. A truly world-beating industry: the growth of formal education

This is mainly statistical chapter showing that education scale grew exponentially all over the world. Here are a couple tables to demonstrate this:


  1. Elixir or snake oil? Can education really deliver growth?

The answer to this question is not unequivocal: it is clearly linked to greater income, lower unemployment, and other good things for individuals, but there is no such clear link for society as whole and this chapter demonstrates why: mainly because there is no demonstrable link between productivity and formal education. It seems to be function of changed occupational structure that actually responsible for income increase:


  1. A great idea for other people’s children: the decline and fall of vocational education

This chapter is about vocational education that politicians and overall elite promote for lower classes, but not for themselves. Author shows that it is normally not working and rational teenager with lower level of cognitive skills is better off getting general education, rather than vocational training.

  1. Does business know best?

This is UK specific discussion about government getting business involved in training in order to make it more relevant to needs of employers. The conclusion is that when big bureaucratic organization of government colludes with big bureaucratic organization of big business the result is use of public money to satisfy needs of bureaucrats in both of these organizations.

  1. Why worry about training

This is about British specific workforce training effort and support for this from government. The point here is that it is too much specific for workplace and too flexible depending on companies and technology so government should stay away from it. Besides there is no evidence except for special case of Germany that apprenticeship really makes big difference in employment and growth.

  1. The tyranny of numbers and the growth of the modem university

This is about massive growth of higher education based mainly on general idea that education is good, which is strongly supported by voters consequently allowing politicians to pump money into it without any serious consideration for cost / benefit evaluation. Here is a nice graph demonstrating growth of participation:


Author makes an interesting point that the main outcome of this is that higher education lost its meaning as indicator of higher cognitive abilities for employers:


Author also demonstrates that higher education still remains highly dependent on economic class of family.

  1. Pyramids and payments: the higher-education market

The last chapter demonstrates that in current winner takes all environment education is retained its selective function, only it is shifted from educational level to specific educational institutions with huge increase in educational expenses supporting this shift: Advantage level of just getting MBA decreed to low significance and now is provided only by MBA from Top institutions only. This is leaving majority of lower income young people at the same relative level, only at much higher cost. Here is table demonstrating it:


  1. Conclusion

Overall conclusion is that education does matter, but it is possible to overdo it and that is what developed countries achieved, so their people are getting less for more during last decades of exponential growth of higher education.


I generally agree with conclusions of this book, but for somewhat different reasons:

  • What is called education in non-technical fields is more often than not is just indoctrination when students do not know elementary facts, but carry very strong opinions based on misrepresentation of reality. Obviously this education has very little value on free market, even if it provides access to relatively small number of government-sponsored positions.
  • The whole notion of education is unreasonably tilted to obtaining some set of knowledge usually meaningless for future activities, rather than concentrating on developing self-education abilities that would allow individual successfully reeducate oneself to whatever requirements are presented by the market and real live demands.

My second point is logically leading to an idea that if main function of education is to teach student to self-educate, then 2 levels education should be supported with first level learning generic minimal skills such as literacy, numeracy, philosophy, sociality, communication skills, and personal psychological, physiological, and financial management. The second level should be self-education under supervision for whatever subset of knowledge individual is interested in at the time, with stress on ability to prepare oneself for market success. After that education should be mainly self-directed and continuing throughout the live, allowing individual to change whatever he or she needs to change, like in my case: country, language, culture, multiple locations, and business activities (professions).

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