Schooling and higher education

  • School tracking and intergenerational social mobility

    Postponing school tracking can increase social mobility without significant adverse effects on educational achievement

    Tuomas Pekkarinen, December 2018
    The goal of school tracking (assigning students to different types of school by ability) is to increase educational efficiency by creating more homogeneous groups of students that are easier to teach. However, there are concerns that, if begun too early in the schooling process, tracking may improve educational attainment at the cost of reduced intergenerational social mobility. Recent empirical evidence finds no evidence of an efficiency–equality trade-off when tracking is postponed.
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  • Do higher levels of education and skills in an area benefit wider society?

    Education benefits individuals, but the societal benefits are likely even greater

    John V. Winters, December 2018
    Formal schooling increases earnings and provides other individual benefits. However, societal benefits of education may exceed individual benefits. Research finds that higher average education levels in an area are correlated with higher earnings, even for local residents with minimal education. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates appear to generate especially strong external effects, due to their role in stimulating innovation and economic growth. Several strategies to test for causality find human capital externalities do exist.
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  • The role of cognitive and socio-emotional skills in labor markets

    Cognitive skills are more relevant in explaining earnings, socio-emotional skills in determining labor supply and schooling

    Pablo AcostaNoël Muller, October 2018
    Common proxies, such as years of education, have been shown to be ineffective at capturing cross-country differences in skills acquisition, as well as the role they play in the labor market. A large body of research shows that direct measures of skills, in particular cognitive and socio-emotional ones, provide more adequate estimations of individuals’ differences in potential productive capacity than the quantity of education they receive. Evidence shows that cognitive skills in particular are quite relevant to explain wages, while socio-emotional skills are more associated with labor force and education participation decisions.
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  • Do social interactions in the classroom improve academic attainment?

    Student sorting into classes complicates policies that utilize peer effects to optimize educational outcomes

    Shqiponja Telhaj, June 2018
    The role of social interactions in modifying individual behavior is central to many fields of social science. In education, one essential aspect is that “good” peers can potentially improve students’ academic achievement, career choices, or labor market outcomes later in life. Indeed, evidence suggests that good peers are important in raising student attainment, both in compulsory schooling and university. Interventions that change the ability group composition in ways that improve student educational outcomes without exacerbating inequality therefore offer a promising basis for education policies.
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  • Central exit exams improve student outcomes

    External school leaving exams raise student achievement and improve how grades are understood in the labor market

    Ludger Woessmann, January 2018
    Reaching the policy goal of improving student achieve­ment by adding resources to the school system has often proven elusive. By contrast, ample evidence indicates that central exit exams constitute an important feature of a school system’s institutional framework, which can hold students, teachers, schools, and administrators accountable for student outcomes. While critics point to issues such as teaching test-only skills, which may leave students ill-prepared for the real world, the evidence does not bear this out. Overall, central exams are related to better student achievement, favorable labor market outcomes, and higher economic growth.
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  • Fighting employment informality with schooling

    Labor force composition is critical for understanding employment informality in developing countries

    Developing countries have long been struggling to fight informality, focusing on instruments such as labor legislation enforcement, temporary contracts, and changes in taxes imposed on small firms. However, improvements in the labor force’s schooling and skill level may be more effective in reducing informality in the long term. Higher-skilled workers are typically employed by larger firms that use more capital, and that are more likely to be formal. Additionally, when skilled and unskilled workers are complementary in production, unskilled workers’ wages tend to increase, adding yet another force toward reducing informality.
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  • Adult literacy programs in developing countries

    While mostly missing their primary objectives, adult literacy programs can still improve key socio-economic outcomes

    Niels-Hugo Blunch, July 2017
    In addition to the traditional education system targeting children and youth, one potentially important vehicle to improve literacy and numeracy skills is adult literacy programs (ALPs). In many developing countries, however, these programs do not seem to achieve these hoped for, ex ante, objectives and have therefore received less attention, if not been largely abandoned, in recent years. But, evidence shows that ALPs do affect other important socio-economic outcomes such as health, household income, and labor market participation by enhancing participants’ health knowledge and income-generating activities.
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  • Does education strengthen the life skills of adolescents?

    Secondary and higher education are windows of opportunity for boosting students’ life skills

    Stefanie Schurer, June 2017
    Life skills, sometimes referred to as noncognitive skills or personality traits (e.g. conscientiousness or locus of control—the belief to influence events and their outcomes), affect labor market productivity. Policymakers and academics are thus exploring whether such skills should be taught at the high school or college level. A small portfolio of recent studies shows encouraging evidence that education could strengthen life skills in adolescence. However, as no uniform approach exists on which life skills are most important and how to best measure them, many important questions must be answered before life skill development can become an integral part of school curricula.
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  • Is teacher certification an effective tool for developing countries?

    Increasing teacher certification in developing countries is widely believed to improve student performance; yet the evidence suggests otherwise

    Todd Pugatch, April 2017
    Teachers are perhaps the most important determinant of education quality. But what makes a teacher effective? Developing countries expend substantial resources on certifying teachers and retaining those who become certified; moreover, policymakers and aid donors prioritize increasing the prevalence of certified teachers. Yet there is little evidence that certification improves student outcomes. In fact, augmenting a school's teaching corps with contract teachers hired outside the civil service and without formal qualifications may be more effective in boosting student performance.
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  • How effective is compulsory schooling as a policy instrument?

    Changes in compulsory schooling laws have significant effects on certain population groups, but are costly to implement

    Colm P. Harmon, March 2017
    Compulsory schooling laws are a common policy tool to achieve greater participation in education, particularly from marginalized groups. Raising the compulsory schooling requirement forces students to remain in school which, on balance, is good for them in terms of labor market outcomes such as earnings. But the usefulness of this approach rests with how the laws affect the distribution of years of schooling, and the wider benefits of the increase in schooling. There is also evidence that such a policy has an intergenerational impact, which can help address persistence in poverty across generations.
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