It seems people occasionally forget the strength and power of the economic benefits reaped from investing in education, especially the benefits to children and mothers.
The arguments for investing in education are old and strong
Even Adam Smith thought and wrote extensively supporting investing in education as a way to help secure long-term sustainable growth and development. But it seems people occasionally forget these arguments, especially during economic times such as the one we are experiencing now.
We economists (and Ministries of Finance) are often accused of not understanding that education is an investment, and thus being too tight with the money. But, to most economists, this seems strange or silly. Economists might not agree on a lot of stuff, but one of the things they agree on is the importance of education, and how investing in education is indeed a good investment, at least potentially. Truth is, there is such a consensus on this issue and we get irritated when asked for the proof supporting investing in education, because, to us, the proof seems so clear. So when my colleagues asked me to help make the case I sort of grumbled. Really? Again?
So it seems good, every now and then, to refresh the case and clear up what I think are some myths. In a paper of mine I provide evidence of why education matters and why investing in education is important. This background document contains some in depth analysis and discussion of how children, mothers and countries benefit from investments in education, providing the academic support to our replenishment business case.
I think my Global Partnership for Education colleagues are happy with the paper. It is up-to-date, it uses the latest data, and it summarizes the key documents in one single place. It uses a fresh database from which we can crank out cool graphs and it allowed me to make sure the data were still showing the same things. It makes a strong and clear case for investing in education. Yet, despite all of this, the premise of proving why investing in education is important is not that original (remember Adam Smith?).
So, what does the data show? Education matters a lot, a whole lot
Education helps reduce teenage pregnancies. It lowers how many children families have, allowing them (and their governments) to invest in the quality, instead of quantity, of their education, because the money does not have to be spread as thin. Education lowers child deaths. In fact, education seems to be more powerful of a determinant of health outcomes, such as maternal mortality, than health expenditure. That is what the data says, clear and loud. I did not have to torture the data to get the data to talk. The data did the equivalent of yelling from the treetops.
Education also increases people’s productivity and employability and wealth. The way in which all this works is important, and I sort it out in the paper using the case of mother deaths as an example; it is not magic, the path and the intermediate steps are logical.
But money invested in education must be well managed
But the data doesn’t show that money is a sure-fire way to improve education. There is a case for investment, but the investment has to be well managed if it is to result in more education. Education systems do waste money, and thus the money spent does not always buy more enrollment or more learning. That is why the Global Partnership for Education mantra has been to invest in countries that come up with good, solid education plans, and begin to provide evidence of good management. So we have a strong case for investment. But we also have a case for managing the money well, as if it really is an investment, a sacred trust. That’s been our mantra since Day 1. It continues to be our mantra today.