Developing countries are rapidly increasing the number and quality of college graduates, generating a sea change in the relative education advantage that advanced countries have enjoyed over literally hundreds of years, according to an analysis released by The Conference Board, the global research and business membership organization.
Access rates to education are rapidly equalizing for primary and secondary education in developing countries and literacy rates are rapidly approaching advanced country standards.
The UN Classification for less developed regions includes Africa, Asia (excluding Japan), and Latin America and countries such as Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Guinea, Haiti, Samoa, Senegal and Yemen.
“Given recent trends in primary education, the world economy may achieve near universal literacy within a generation,” says Gail D. Fosler, executive vice president and chief economist of The Conference Board. Her analysis appears in StraightTalk, a newsletter designed exclusively for members of The Conference Board’s global business network.
“The expansion in education opportunities and capacities extends to higher education. The sea change is well recognized in math, science, and engineering capacities, but the simple fact is that emerging markets will generate increasingly large numbers of college graduates in all fields.”
Along with the huge and growing size of these populations relative to the developed world and the tendency of these populations to live longer, form families, and become active workers, the educational landscape is transforming.
By 2035, the emerging world may have almost 100 percent literacy and is likely to increase tremendously their number of college graduates even though the proportion of the potential college student population actually in college will still be much smaller. These education trends bode well for the development process and these countries’ ability to initiate institutional change consistent with their own cultures and economic values, but it also suggests that the competition that workers feel in advanced countries today from the unleashing of this new economic energy is likely to increase exponentially.
“Education does not automatically equal literacy,” says Fosler. “Although literacy rates have improved along with education participation, there still are substantial gaps among countries according to their relative income level and between the sexes.”
These gaps appear to be associated — although it is not clear how directly — with the gaps in access to secondary education. High-income countries enjoy literacy rates approaching 100 percent and middle-income countries are fast approaching these levels. Literacy rates average about 60 percent in low-income countries and less than 50 percent for women in these countries.
Gaps in education are huge at the college level. In both middle- and low-income countries, less than 22 percent of the college-eligible population actually goes to college. The corresponding share in high-income countries is more than 65 percent. But access to college is changing rapidly. During the next 25 years, these rates could move up to close to 55 percent for middle-income countries.
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