We all know that more education is a Good Thing, especially for our economic futures. This is why many countries, particularly in Europe, have numerical targets driving their education policies: 50% participation in post-secondary education in the UK or Sweden, for example, or 80% to baccalaureate level in France. Chancellor Schroeder’s big idea for solving Germany’s economic problems is, of course, education: including yet more undergraduates in a system struggling to cope with those it has.
Governments see their main job as delivering economic prosperity, and they view education as a necessary and reliable tool for achieving that end. But is it?
We are told that in a “knowledge economy,” a country needs ever more graduates and formal qualifications to stay competitive. But education simply does not deliver economic growth the way our politicians – and businessmen – believe: more education in does not mean more growth out. Worse, the education policies that follow from current beliefs have serious negative consequences for opportunities for young people and the quality of education itself.
The argument that education matters for the economy is plausible because, at one level, it is obviously right. A modern society does need educated people: not just engineers, chemists, and doctors, but millions of people who can write coherent letters, fill in complicated forms, explain insurance policies, and interpret statistical data from machines on factory floors. Some of these skills can be learned only in universities; others can (and should) be mastered in primary and secondary schools.