Educational attainment Education has been identified as an important determinant of economic growth.


Educational attainment
Education has been identified as an important determinant of economic growth. Higher
levels of educational attainment lead to a more skilled and productive workforce,
producing more efficiently a higher standard of goods and services, which in turn forms
the basis for faster economic growth and rising living standards.
As progress is made towards the goal of universal primary education – stimulated by the Millennium Development Goal and the Education for All initiative led by
UNESCO – demand rises for secondary schooling, including vocational education and
training. Countries in all regions and of all development levels seek to ensure that basic
education is of sufficiently good quality to prepare students adequately for vocational
and further training.5
Data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, assembled by Barro and Lee,
show major progress in educational attainment over time, but also major differences
between countries.

 Average years of schooling for those aged 15–24 years in developing countries rose from 3.15 years in 1950 to over 8.5 years in 2010. Over that same
period, average years of schooling for 15–24 year-olds in industrialized countries rose
from almost seven years to over ten years. In 2010, the average number of years in
school for girls reached 84 per cent of that for boys in developing countries and 98 per
cent in advanced countries.6
Good-quality basic education is closely correlated to economic growth, although
it cannot definitively be stated to follow from it. 

Such education is a foundation for
further skills development in productive employment, both initially and throughout
adult life. Moreover, a wide distribution of educational attainment across society is a
better indicator of likely future economic growth than a high average level. A country’s
capacity to pick up new technologies and turn them to economic advantage is greater
if its education and training system creates a broad base of adequately educated indi5 Comparative data on enrolment in education are published by UNESCO. Measurements of the quality of education are also available, generated by internationally comparable tests of educational achievement. Such measures
include the International Adult Literacy Survey, conducted by Statistics Canada and the OECD; the PISA scores
surveyed by OECD every three years measuring reading, mathematics and science literacy of 15-year-olds; and the
Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, now in its third round (commencing 2003; previous rounds
began in 1995 and 1999), covering 49 countries. Beginning in 2011, the OECD Programme for the International
Assessment of Adults’ Competencies (PIAAC) will build internationally comparable evidence on skills in the adult
workforce and how these skills have been used in the workplace.
6 Robert Barro and Jong-Wha Lee, “A new data set of educational attainment in the world, 1950–2010”, Working
Paper 15902, National Bureau of Economic Research, April 2010

viduals able to continue learning throughout their careers. Literacy rates are a basic
indicator of education coverage and vary widely across G20 countries (table 1). A low
literacy rate signals an education system that is not preparing society as a whole for
further learning and productive work.
It is increasingly acknowledged that training and skills development, whether in
schools or elsewhere, is an essential complement to general education in equipping
people to grasp opportunities in the world of work.

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