Educational Opportunities, or Lack Thereof, Across the Globe

January 8th, 2014 at 9:07 am

You never want to make too much out of one poll, and the sample size for individual countries are pretty small in this one, but still, I was struck by some of the results in this international poll of 11 and 12 year-olds, feature in this AM’s KidsPost (frequent breakfast reading in our house).  Particularly notable are what the kids from different countries said about the importance of education.

Economists trying to understand the factors behind rising inequality in advanced economies often argue about the role of education.  I cover the debate here, citing numerous economists, including mainstreamers, who agree with the view I’ve had for years: educational differences are unable to explain recent trends in US inequality, especially the historically high concentration of income at the very top of the scale.

This being a debate (and a town, ie DC) that doesn’t do nuance, that view sometimes gets conflated with, “you don’t care about education policy!”  To the contrary, my inequality work has focused extensively on the lack of quality educational opportunities for kids in less advantaged families, based on the thesis that one of the most pernicious effects of higher inequality is the raising of ever-higher opportunity barriers.

But what do the kids themselves think about all this?

According to the poll, which asked kids about what was important to them, education ranked high in lots of categories, with interesting differences between advanced and developing economies.  EG, from the WaPo’s summary:

“What makes you feel safe and happy?” Overall, 56 percent of kids answered “being with family.” But a majority of kids in such places as Mozambique, a country in southeast Africa, and Cambodia, a country in Southeast Asia, said education made them feel safe and happy. In the United States, only 2 percent of kids answered “education,” while 4 percent of U.S. kids said their dog made them feel safe and happy.

Among all the developing countries, 25% of kids answered “education” to this question; in developed countries, 5%.

Obviously, kids here take education for granted, but I thought the extent to which children with fewer such opportunities themselves recognized its importance was notable.

Another notable response here: ‘In war-torn Afghanistan, 27 percent of kids answered “peace” and “no more war.”’

At any rate, access to decent education, starting with preschool, remains a significant challenge even here in wealthy America, and of course far more so in less developed countries.  Many of the world’s kids will apparently tell you so.

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7 comments in reply to "Educational Opportunities, or Lack Thereof, Across the Globe"

  1. Linda Nazareth says:

    I retweeted this because I found it a mix of funny and appalling. Have a feeling where I live (in Canada) kids would answer their dogs make them feel safe as well Sad – in a I-can’t-bear-to-think-what-this-means-for-future-productivity kind of way.

    Follow me on twitter @relentlesseco

    ps tried to email you using the ‘info’ address provided and it got bounced back…

  2. PeonInChief says:

    I’m not at all surprised. In one of our local school district, the heating systems in several schools have not worked for months. Students have taken to wearing snugglies or covering themselves with blankets while attending class. Were I in that position, being with my pets (in our case, cats) would make me happier too.

    Teachers in that district have taken to photographing the thermostats in their classrooms and sending pictures of the temperature to their union reps.

    • Jared Bernstein says:

      That’s a great advertisement for FAST!, an idea introduced on this very blog:

      • PeonInChief says:

        In fact, I thought of you when I read the articles.. It would be amazing to me that they can’t fix the friggin’ boiler had I not also read that the damn thing is fifty years old and they can’t get parts for it. At another school they need to redo the roof, because the present one won’t hold the additional weight of a new system. And then there’s the energy inefficiency of a fifty-year-old system…

  3. jeff says:

    Frankly, most American kids don’t take advantage of the opportunities they have in school. This may just be human nature, though, you don’t appreciate what you have.

    Even most of the toughest and poorest U.S. high schools have Calculus classes, I know, I’ve taught them. It’s just only a small number of students can cut it. The opportunity is there in one sense. But you can’t separate a school from its social context, what the students live eat and breath.

  4. Terran Perry says:

    What a wonderful post. Thanks for providing the tips for retaining the educators. I really like it. I would like to share with my friends. It is also a great blog.