Level of education in developed countries weakens

In early February, UNESCO announced next rating of the index of development of education in 129 countries, including Azerbaijan. As a result of monitoring in education sphere on such parameters as the scope of elementary education, the level of the literacy of population, gender index, Kazakhstan became the leader in this sphere.

In the rating of UNESCO, Azerbaijan ranked the 58th, whereas amongst the post-Soviet countries, Estonia ranks 25th, Kyrgyzstan - 32, Latvia - 36, Lithuania - 39, Georgia - 40, Belarus - 41, Armenia - 43, Moldova - 57. This rating makes it necessary to become thoughtful and to recognize the fact that the education sector in Azerbaijan survives not good time.

The education in Azerbaijan now expects a new law, which must replace the current law adopted in 1992. The reforms delaying in discussions in the parliament transmitted to the nation-wide debate. This is absolutely normal process. Indeed, the education sphere is not industry, not agriculture and not trade. This is the sphere, which reflects the special, intellectual side of society. In that case, it needs to approach the education system very attentively and attitude towards this system must be very sensitive.

In spite of topping the UNESCO ranking, Western countries seem to lose their main advantage - human capital measured by knowledge. The point is that education requires constant investments and Europe cannot find funds on the backdrop of the ongoing crisis. Moreover, number of illiterate people in developed countries is constantly growing. According to the U.S. Education Department, 14 percent of the U.S. population lack basic skills of reading and writing.

A similar situation is observed in several EU countries. Illiteracy hit 10 percent of the total population there. Only in France, not less than 9 percent of the population is illiterate.

The number of illiterate people in these countries is constantly increasing. They are unable to fill in a simple questionnaire at recruitment. Every year, the U.S. companies lose up to $60 billion because of workers' illiteracy. The number of illiterate Europeans can seriously increase in the nearest future. According to European Commission 2008 report, roughly 25 percent of schoolchildren in the EU countries are experiencing serious difficulties with reading and writing, while in 2000 their number did not exceed 18 percent. According to ProLiteracy, a total of 774 million people in the world are illiterate, with two thirds of them women.

For a normal literacy rate countries should pay particular attention to education and invest significant funds in the sector. For example, investments in education in Kazakhstan (tops UNESCO literacy rating) hit $360 per person, while in Azerbaijan the figure barely reaches $150. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) specialists said that rising education level raises GDP, economic performance, life expectancy and health. They say that increasing educating duration by one will improve GDP by 3-6 percent.

Many developing countries are increasing their education expenditures. Graduates of developing countries' universities often decently rival with graduates of Western schools.

Azerbaijan's education system ceased to feel a lack of funding in recent years. Education expenditures are rising every year.

In the state budget of Azerbaijan for 2009, education expenditures are laid down at 1.352 billion manat, a 21.2-percent rise from 2008. Thus, the country will increase the share of education in country's GDP and will raise the figure to the level of developed countries, where 4-6 percent of GDP is spent for education.

The issue on the quality of education in different countries is still unsolved. There is doubt that developed countries will be able to maintain preference for a long period. The practice shows not only the number of schools and universities per capita, but the volume of public funding to the educational system does not affect the quality of knowledge. For example, the quality of education in Germany, which invests in the education system most among other European countries, is not so high. OECD found that German students rank 11 in Europe due to the level of mathematical knowledge and skills to analyze written texts (the Finns rank first, although the level of budget funding for a student is the same as in Germany). The Germans rank 19 in mathematics and 22 - for reading.

Another challenge is due to the quality of education in Europe and in Azerbaijan should be mentioned. Today young people are choosing social sciences, economics and jurisprudence majors. In OECD countries these majors are popular. Third of the adult population obtains these majors. However, these majors 3.5 times higher among 25-35-year-old professionals than among 55-64 aged people. Almost the same (3:1) ratio is observed in the natural sciences sphere. The engineering majors among persons aged 25 to 34 years are less almost by half compared to older generation. Labor markets in Denmark, Germany, Hungary and Norway suffer a shortage of qualified engineers.

In Azerbaijan, despite the fairly large number of vacancies, these majors are unused. Our citizens, especially young people wish to work exclusively on acquainted specialty. However, the number of candidates prevail vacancies.

This is because universities work not for a society to meet its needs for specialists, but for themselves trying to recruit more people to more popular majors among students. As a result only 5-7 percent of graduators are provided with jobs.

Every developed country has at least one vivid advantage. This is the accumulation of physical capital, i.e. buildings and equipment needed for progress in science, as well as for production. Thus, the difference between developed and developing economies is not in the level of education, but in the material and technical equipment.

The challenge is whether developed countries have and will continue to have a more skilled workforce, and will be able to maintain its comparative advantage in producing goods and services with high cost of human capital?  

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