ISET

ISET Economist Blog

A blog about economics in the South Caucasus.

Education That Matters

Cuba’s Fidel Castro once famously said about his country: “Even our prostitutes have university degrees”. While we don’t know about prostitutes, something similar could be said about Georgia. Virtually all Georgians have university degrees, and, as every frequent user of taxi services knows, there are Georgian taxi drivers who have two of them. Yet Georgia’s permeation with human capital  is even more impressive than in Cuba, because Cubans were sent to schools by government command, while Georgians chose to become so literate just by their own motivation.

Like in Cuba, also in Georgia unemployment is ravaging, despite the abundance of human capital. While in Cuba this is easily explained by a largely dysfunctional economic system, it is more difficult to understand while in Georgia the high average level of education does not translate into employment. This is even more puzzling as it is a consensus among experts that human capital is one of the major building blocks of economic success, in particular for countries that are not richly endowed with natural resources. As the American education economist Eric A. Hanushek summarizes in one of his articles: “Nations that do better at school grow faster than other nations”.

There are three, mutually non-exclusive explanations for the Georgian calamities. Maybe there is simply not enough demand for qualified personnel.  If one adopts this point of view, even better schools and wiser educational choices would not solve the problem. Alternatively, the general demand for people with professional expertise is not the binding constraint, but it is rather a shortage of demand in those areas where job seekers have their skills. This problem is usually called qualification mismatch, the phenomenon that education people obtain does not match with the demands of the economy.  Finally, there is the possibility that human capital in Georgia is of an inferior quality.

Let us dismiss the first explanation. While it receives a lot of attention in the public debate, it fundamentally flawed. Namely, to say that a lack in the demand for skills is caused by a general lack of demand for labor is confusing cause and effect. If the quality is low and there is qualification mismatch, it is likely that the high unemployment rate is a symptom of the problem and not one of its causes.

So, let us discuss the other two possibilities.


CHOOSING THE RIGHT EDUCATION

Making the right educational decisions is difficult for people at a young age. I made my first choice in this regard when I was 16 and decided that I wanted to become a lawyer. After I started studying, I became disenchanted with law, and two years later I switched to economics. This turned out to be the right subject for me, and so – except for a loss of two years – the story had a happy end.

Yet in general, it is a problem that people at the age of 16 are required to make such far-reaching decision about their future. Still being children, they typically do not know their own strengths and weaknesses, nor do they always know their own preferences. Even less are they informed about the current situation in the job market and about relevant long-term economic trends. What is left for guiding their decisions are role-models (“my uncle became a lawyer and I want to be like him”) or opinions of friends and family members who are often equally uninformed.

Two straightforward possibilities to approach this problem would be to have more years of schooling and/or to increase the age at which children enter school. Older school graduates will be less prone to choosing the wrong subjects.

Measures of this kind are about to be enacted in Georgia. The ministry of education and science will adopt a new law according to which the school entry age becomes 6 (it will be forbidden to start education at the age of 5). Also, by reforms made in the years 2008 and 2009, instead of 11 years there are now 12 years of schooling obligatory.

Both laws were hotly debated, and the discussion has not fully ceased. Parents tend to think that when their children know how to read and write and do some mathematical calculations, they are ready for school. This, however, is an erroneous view. In September 2013, almost 130 British educational experts signed a letter that called for school entry ages of later than five. The letter goes so far as to say that early school entry ages can cause “profound damages” to the children. According to a study of the Institute of Social Studies and Analysis (ISSA), children at the age of 5 cannot deal with the psychological pressure school entails. This may cause those children to adopt a profoundly negative attitude towards school that can hardly be corrected in later years, potentially leading to reduced learning performance in the very long run.

Also the transformation to 12 years of schooling has the effect that people are more mature when they make their educational decisions. However, here the issue of quality comes into play. During their last year at school, most pupils prepare themselves for the unified university entry exams by missing school classes and taking private lessons instead. It should be the opposite! The last years of school should be the most relevant for pupils, as they are in an age when they can be exposed to more advanced material that is closer to university level. In the last years of schooling, attending classes should be the best preparation for the admission exams and for the subsequent studies. In Georgia, we are very far from that.

In addition, it might be useful to provide qualified consultancy to school graduates. To that end, introductory lectures about the different subjects, their curricula, and the job chances they offer, ought to be delivered in the schools by university professors and professionals in the fields.

Finally, in Georgia there is a somewhat detrimental expectation that young people directly enter university after finishing school. In countries like Israel, most school graduates, regardless of gender, go to the army for some years. Afterwards, most of them do extensive traveling for one or two years. Eventually, many Israelis enter university at an age around 25, but in the meantime they became mature and are more likely to be serious students in the right subjects.


QUALITY PROBLEMS

A school system that is largely abandoned by its pupils in the most important last years of schooling has an obvious quality problem. Some of the flaws are obvious, for example the class size. In classes of Georgian public schools usually sit between 30 and 40 pupils, and due to this huge number teachers cannot stop pupils’ chatting at the back of the classroom and they often fail to motivate the class. Even for those pupils who are really interested to learn something, it becomes impossible to concentrate and follow the lessons under such circumstances. Given the low salaries in the educational sector, it would not cost too much to tackle this problem.

Another obvious issue is the quality of teachers. Enthusiastic and energetic individuals are needed at schools, yet in Georgia, since salaries are so low, anybody with other opportunities will avoid to become a teacher. The table shows average teachers’ salaries in selected countries, and one can see that Georgian teachers earn on average 12 times less than what they make in other countries. Even if one takes into account different general income levels in these countries, a staggering discrepancy remains.

To increase the quality of human capital in Georgia one first of all has to increase teachers’ salaries. Then, in the long run, we can hope for education that matters.


may2-2014-1

Rate this blog entry:
3 Comments

Related Posts

Comments

 
Guest - uli on Saturday, 03 May 2014 03:16

In general I agree with your assessment, but I wonder why you missed some important points concerning university education.
1. You seem to take for granted that universities in Georgia are of the same standard as in western countries. I wonder whether that is realistic. What are the salaries of university professors, what is their teaching load and is their research internationally competitive? My experience from teaching in quite a number of other transition countries does not confirm the questions. It may be that the university system in Georgia needs some upgrading.
2. You mention that high school graduates in Georgia may decide on subjects which are not the best for them. I agree, but I wonder whether there is a screening system at the universities. What percentage of junior students pass the first year and what percentage graduates after the expected number of semesters? Screening helps to direct students to subjects where they may have a comparative advantage.
3. I agree that high school graduates need better information. Universities in some other countries invite high school students to open days at universities and inform students about the content of the subjects, fields of occupation and the job market. There are also brochures which inform high school students about the curricula and job opportunities.
4. It might be advisable to include internships for students of economics and in particular for students of agricultural economics. An internship could be placed prior to the university education or as an interruption of the university training. Internships have some positive effects: Students get acquainted with details of the job market and may get an idea on topics to be selected as a Bachelor or Master thesis. Employers will have lower transaction costs in hiring graduates after the final university exam. Thus, internships could contribute to more intensive cooperation of universities and the private and public sectors which are interested in hiring graduates.

In general I agree with your assessment, but I wonder why you missed some important points concerning university education. 1. You seem to take for granted that universities in Georgia are of the same standard as in western countries. I wonder whether that is realistic. What are the salaries of university professors, what is their teaching load and is their research internationally competitive? My experience from teaching in quite a number of other transition countries does not confirm the questions. It may be that the university system in Georgia needs some upgrading. 2. You mention that high school graduates in Georgia may decide on subjects which are not the best for them. I agree, but I wonder whether there is a screening system at the universities. What percentage of junior students pass the first year and what percentage graduates after the expected number of semesters? Screening helps to direct students to subjects where they may have a comparative advantage. 3. I agree that high school graduates need better information. Universities in some other countries invite high school students to open days at universities and inform students about the content of the subjects, fields of occupation and the job market. There are also brochures which inform high school students about the curricula and job opportunities. 4. It might be advisable to include internships for students of economics and in particular for students of agricultural economics. An internship could be placed prior to the university education or as an interruption of the university training. Internships have some positive effects: Students get acquainted with details of the job market and may get an idea on topics to be selected as a Bachelor or Master thesis. Employers will have lower transaction costs in hiring graduates after the final university exam. Thus, internships could contribute to more intensive cooperation of universities and the private and public sectors which are interested in hiring graduates.
Guest - Tamar Khitarishvili on Monday, 05 May 2014 23:32

Your blog raises a lot of interesting points. I would like to address one related to the link between wages and the quality of education:

1. Based on the Georgian household data, low salaries in the education sector (they are about 60% of the wages in the rest of the economy) are a reflection of mainly three things, which are not necessarily unique to the education sector:
a) the education sector is a predominantly state-run sector and, in general, state-sector wages are below private sector wages;
b) the work hours in the education sector are lower than work hours in other sectors of the economy, hence lower monthly wages; and, interestingly,
c) that women comprise more than 80% of workers in the education sector (at all levels of education; at the primary and secondary levels, the proportions are above 90%). This explains a big chunk of the difference since in Georgia, even if a man and a woman share all their characteristics (such as education, age, marital status, etc.), the woman on average earns 20% less than the man (the observed gap without controlling for the characteristics is about 35%).
All this implies that the low salaries in the education are symptomatic of the broader issues beyond the problems of the education sector only.

2. This is not to say that the wages specifically in the education sector should not be raised, under the argument that the “output” of the education sector can have stronger direct and indirect effects on the Georgian economy than the “output” of other sectors. However, this argument still assumes that raising wages by itself will improve the quality of education in Georgia. If the view is long-term in that the increase in wages is aimed at attracting more able, talented and innately motivated individuals to the teaching profession, raising the wage by the amounts that have been realistically discussed (about 100 laris) is not likely to help. This is so because, based on the household data, the highest earning individuals (assuming that they are the kind of motivated and able group that one is trying to attract to the education sector), earn a lot more than these extra 100 laris by choosing to work in other sectors of the economy. We see the same pattern in other countries as well, and their experience shows that it will take not just salaries but other benefits (such as pension and health insurance benefits) in order to attract the most able and motivated candidates to the teaching profession.
Yet, this does not mean that the wage increase will have no effect in the short-run on the motivation of the current pool of teachers. However, the key appears to be to link salary increases to performance measures instead of just the age of teachers or their earned qualifications the way this has been done so far (e.g. is familiarity with computers equivalent to being a good teacher?). Even then, the linkages to the performance measures have to be very carefully designed to avoid the flaws that can result in unintended negative behavior responses, such as condoning cheating in order to achieve a higher score in the classroom and forcing weak students to drop out, as has happened in some countries that have implemented these measures.
The final issue is that we cannot put all the blame for the poor of quality of education on the lack of motivation among the teachers. Carefully thought out curriculum and teaching approaches, along with rigorous teacher training in the curriculum and the teaching approaches, are essential in order to enable the teachers who are motivated by the increased wages to translate their knowledge and newly found motivation into strong learning outcomes among students.

Your blog raises a lot of interesting points. I would like to address one related to the link between wages and the quality of education: 1. Based on the Georgian household data, low salaries in the education sector (they are about 60% of the wages in the rest of the economy) are a reflection of mainly three things, which are not necessarily unique to the education sector: a) the education sector is a predominantly state-run sector and, in general, state-sector wages are below private sector wages; b) the work hours in the education sector are lower than work hours in other sectors of the economy, hence lower monthly wages; and, interestingly, c) that women comprise more than 80% of workers in the education sector (at all levels of education; at the primary and secondary levels, the proportions are above 90%). This explains a big chunk of the difference since in Georgia, even if a man and a woman share all their characteristics (such as education, age, marital status, etc.), the woman on average earns 20% less than the man (the observed gap without controlling for the characteristics is about 35%). All this implies that the low salaries in the education are symptomatic of the broader issues beyond the problems of the education sector only. 2. This is not to say that the wages specifically in the education sector should not be raised, under the argument that the “output” of the education sector can have stronger direct and indirect effects on the Georgian economy than the “output” of other sectors. However, this argument still assumes that raising wages by itself will improve the quality of education in Georgia. If the view is long-term in that the increase in wages is aimed at attracting more able, talented and innately motivated individuals to the teaching profession, raising the wage by the amounts that have been realistically discussed (about 100 laris) is not likely to help. This is so because, based on the household data, the highest earning individuals (assuming that they are the kind of motivated and able group that one is trying to attract to the education sector), earn a lot more than these extra 100 laris by choosing to work in other sectors of the economy. We see the same pattern in other countries as well, and their experience shows that it will take not just salaries but other benefits (such as pension and health insurance benefits) in order to attract the most able and motivated candidates to the teaching profession. Yet, this does not mean that the wage increase will have no effect in the short-run on the motivation of the current pool of teachers. However, the key appears to be to link salary increases to performance measures instead of just the age of teachers or their earned qualifications the way this has been done so far (e.g. is familiarity with computers equivalent to being a good teacher?). Even then, the linkages to the performance measures have to be very carefully designed to avoid the flaws that can result in unintended negative behavior responses, such as condoning cheating in order to achieve a higher score in the classroom and forcing weak students to drop out, as has happened in some countries that have implemented these measures. The final issue is that we cannot put all the blame for the poor of quality of education on the lack of motivation among the teachers. Carefully thought out curriculum and teaching approaches, along with rigorous teacher training in the curriculum and the teaching approaches, are essential in order to enable the teachers who are motivated by the increased wages to translate their knowledge and newly found motivation into strong learning outcomes among students.
Guest - Eric Livny on Friday, 09 May 2014 21:03

Dear Tamar, many thanks for your very thoughtful comments. I very much agree with the main thrust of your argument, namely, that Georgia has to find the policy mechanisms and the financial means to recruit a new cohort of university graduates to go into the teaching profession. One hundred lari will not make any difference. The government will pay more for the same product.

So, is there any feasible alternative? In my view, there is. The simplest way to get new blood into the system is to require some of the best university graduates whose studies have been financed by the government to serve one, two or three years as teachers in Georgia's provincial schools. Intensive pedagogical training could be provided during the summer to prepare these youngsters for the job.

Of course, not all these young men (yes, also men!) and women would like to stay in the teaching profession, but some would. The next challenge would be to provide them with respectable remuneration. One possibility would be to use scarce public resources (a few hundred lari for teaching in a remote location).

Another, much more promising possibility is to encourage large and medium size companies operating in Georgia's regions (in such sectors as agriculture, tourism, energy, construction, etc.) to focus their CSR contributions not on the construction and renovation of churches (a very common CSR target nowadays) but on topping up the salaries of young talented teachers to be placed by the Ministry of Education in the local schools.

I am absolutely confident that many of these businesses, if approached in a coordinated fashion, would love to make a contribution to this noble objective. One teacher may cost them 12,000 lari a year, with a huge multiplication effect and a lot of gratitude from the kids, their families and the entire local community.

Dear Tamar, many thanks for your very thoughtful comments. I very much agree with the main thrust of your argument, namely, that Georgia has to find the policy mechanisms and the financial means to recruit a new cohort of university graduates to go into the teaching profession. One hundred lari will not make any difference. The government will pay more for the same product. So, is there any feasible alternative? In my view, there is. The simplest way to get new blood into the system is to require some of the best university graduates whose studies have been financed by the government to serve one, two or three years as teachers in Georgia's provincial schools. Intensive pedagogical training could be provided during the summer to prepare these youngsters for the job. Of course, not all these young men (yes, also men!) and women would like to stay in the teaching profession, but some would. The next challenge would be to provide them with respectable remuneration. One possibility would be to use scarce public resources (a few hundred lari for teaching in a remote location). Another, much more promising possibility is to encourage large and medium size companies operating in Georgia's regions (in such sectors as agriculture, tourism, energy, construction, etc.) to focus their CSR contributions not on the construction and renovation of churches (a very common CSR target nowadays) but on topping up the salaries of young talented teachers to be placed by the Ministry of Education in the local schools. I am absolutely confident that many of these businesses, if approached in a coordinated fashion, would love to make a contribution to this noble objective. One teacher may cost them 12,000 lari a year, with a huge multiplication effect and a lot of gratitude from the kids, their families and the entire local community.
Already Registered? Login Here
Register
Guest
Thursday, 09 April 2020

Captcha Image

Our Partners