Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Recently, three researchers from Canada published a new study showing that girls have overtaken boys in American high schools. Among other things, their study also shows the importance of ambition. This is in sharp contrast to many political commentators who use every statistical disparity as proof that some people simply cannot make it. Also, the results suggest that good behavior still seems to pay off.

Leaving Boys Behind: Gender Disparities in High Academic Achievement

Our findings show that the predominance of girls at the top of the GPA distribution is rooted in their higher educational expectations, themselves linked to career plans that include a graduate degree.

The second dominant factor accounting for the lower grades of boys is a measure of the frequency of having been set to the office or to detention over the previous year.


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no education

The other day I found some interesting thoughts on educational issues in an 18-year old article by Theodore Dalrymple in the City Journal:

We Don’t Want No Education

Since failure is now regarded as fatally damaging to self-esteem, anyone who actually presents himself at an examination is likely to emerge with a certificate.

Everything is reduced to a mere contest of wills, and so the child learns that all restraint is but an arbitrary imposition from someone or something bigger and stronger than himself. The ground is laid for a bloodyminded intolerance of any authority whatever.

Perhaps the method of teaching by turning everything into a game can work when the teacher is talented and the children are already socialized to learn; but when, as is usually the case, neither of these conditions obtains, the results are disastrous, not just in the short term but probably forever.

The unemployed young person considers the number of jobs in an economy as a fixed quantity. Just as the national income is a cake to be doled out in equal or unequal slices, so the number of jobs in an economy has nothing to do with the conduct of the people who live in it, but is immutably fixed. This is a concept of the way the world works which has been assiduously peddled, not only in schools during “social studies” but in the media of mass communication.

There is one great psychological advantage to the white underclass in their disdain for education: it enables them to maintain the fiction that the society around them is grossly, even grotesquely, unjust, and that they themselves are the victims of this injustice.


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Crowded seminar rooms, lecture halls bursting at the seams, record-high enrollment numbers, and frequent riots among students: all this summarizes observations from various universities across Europe in the past years. In Germany, the total number of students has risen by some 35% in the last ten years alone. The same holds true for Switzerland and other countries. Many universities now have twice as many students enrolled as their capacity would allow.

This gives rise to the question why there are so many young people attending university these days. As far as I can see there are several possible explanations. Let us take a look at each one separately.

First of all, one might argue that structural change has fundamentally changed skill and knowledge requirements in the labor market. Due to technological advancements young people now have to develop more advanced skills. And to acquire them takes several years of studying at the university.

The problem with explanation is that many students nowadays leave the university without being properly prepared for any job in the labor market. In fact, initial salaries after finishing a bachelor’s or master’s program are often lower than after an apprenticeship with some years of work experience. This may be because having a diploma in cultural or media sciences does not increase productivity enough to justify any higher income. Especially when compared with on-the-job training and actual experience in a profession.

A second explanation for record-high enrolment numbers could be the increase in household incomes. Unlike in previous times, today most parents can afford to support their children up to the age of, say, 25. This enables young people to postpone work and spend more time doing what satisfies them. There is no doubt that despite some annoyance due to exams and seminar papers, being a student is far less tedious than having a job in the private economy. This is especially true for all those students in programs of dubious academic quality and challenge. After having fulfilled the duties of school, spending several years dealing with “something interesting” while having a lot of leisure time to meet friends is simply a tempting option. Yes, students live on a small budget but often that budget allows for a decent standard of living which may include iPhones and holidays.

This leads to a third reason for today’s crowded universities: the absence of tuition. While there may be some good arguments to subsidize tertiary education, it ought to be hard to justify a 100 percent subsidy. However, most students in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland hardly pay any tuition or fees. This artificially low price obviously spurs demand. And it does so beyond what would be reasonable. The more university studies are subsidized, the lower the incentive of students to carefully decide whether or not to study, to choose the most suitable program, and to finish studies as successful and early as possible.

An obvious problem with the third argument is that enrolment numbers have increased in countries with high tuition as well. However, it certainly plays some role in those countries with low tuition fees.

A fourth argument that is often put forward is the decline in academic standards. Unless you assume that young people today are way more intelligent than those in previous generations, you will have a hard time to explain why so many teenagers today are able to finish high school, college, and finally get a university degree. In the past, only a small fraction of the population in Germany earned the qualification for university studies. Today that fraction has increased to about fifty percent.

It seems that a simple confusion of correlation and causality might have something to do with that increase. Politicians have long seen the unemployment statistics which show that those with more years of schooling are doing much better in the labor market. The straightforward (and naïve) conclusion has been that more young people must stay in school for 12 or 13 years and ideally acquire a university degree afterwards. But since neither the quality of teaching nor the intelligence of students has increased much, only a lowering of standards could enable more students to accomplish that goal.

It is no wonder that any lowering of standards also lowers the value of academic degrees. As a result employers will ask applicants for ever higher degrees. Today it takes 13 years of schooling to be able to start an apprenticeship at a local savings bank in Germany. In the past, ten years were sufficient. This is not because the job or its requirements have changed. It is just because banks take into account the lower standards in schools.

Going back to the initial question why enrolment numbers have increased so dramatically, I would argue that it is the result of several well-intentioned but ultimately flawed policies. Studying at a university is artificially cheap, universities offer a whole array of programs that meet students’ interests but have dubious value in the labor market, and academic degrees have lost much of their past-time reputation as a result of lowered standards.

Today it takes only a 15-minute walk across almost any campus to see that something is wrong with tertiary education. A university ought to be a place of higher academic work where people focus on learning and doing research. Having a look at posters, leaflets, and students these days, universities more and more seem to be a place where young people gather around to enjoy their time.

I could be totally fine with that. But I cannot since the same people later on complain about dismal job opportunities, because they disturb and distract those students who do want to learn and study, and because of the high subsidies for tertiary education.

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The other day I came across a 14-year old article written by the former Harvard professor Robert Nozick for the Cato Policy Report. It attempts to give a simple explanation for why many intellectuals oppose capitalism:

Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism

Intellectuals feel they are the most valuable people, the ones with the highest merit, and that society should reward people in accordance with their value and merit. But a capitalist society does not satisfy the principle of distribution “to each according to his merit or value.”

The intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large, to be like the environment where he did so well and was so well appreciated. By incorporating standards of reward that are different from the wider society, the schools guarantee that some will experience downward mobility later.

Those at the top of the school’s hierarchy will feel entitled to a top position, not only in that micro-society but in the wider one, a society whose system they will resent when it fails to treat them according to their self-prescribed wants and entitlements. The school system thereby produces anti-capitalist feeling among intellectuals.

The article is much in line with some of my previous posts on Thomas Sowell’s discussion of intellectuals or of elitist thinking.

They have every incentive to believe they are brighter than other people, and know more than other people because they have been told that all their lives.

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One of the many reasons for the decline in the educational system in several Western countries might be nice teachers, as Thomas Sowell points out:
(text to be found here)

After a couple of decades of treating children as if they were as fragile as tissue paper, the net result is that Johnny can’t read and can’t think but often has a presumptuousness that deep thinkers call maturity.

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Two of the most harmful arrangements in Western countries today are school monopoly and third party decision making. Both are brilliantly exposed by the following video:

It is hard for me to understand what harm is going to be done by allowing parents to have a choice as compared to having self-interested bureaucrats to have a monopoly.

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For the National Review Online, James C. Capretta takes a look at President Obama’s economic policies as well as his plans for a second term:

The President’s Incoherent Economic ‘Philosophy’

The federal government has steadily become more and more involved in elementary and secondary education since 1965. There’s not a shred of evidence that it has helped raise educational performance by students. On the contrary, the steady encroachment of federal regulations and spending in education has coincided with an erosion of the nation’s standing relative to that of our peers around the world.

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Yesterday, ReasonTV shed some light on what is probably the most overlooked issue in libertarian thinking: the ability of parents to freely choose what school their children should attend. Fortunately, Friedman’s idea of educational vouchers is gaining more and more traction. An article by the Wall Street Journal, for instance, called 2011 the Year of School Choice. Also on my blog, there has been a nice comparison of schools and supermarkets.

We are only asking that the public school system should compete, should be open to competition. If it is really as good as you people make it out to be, it has nothing to worry about.


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The other day, Justin Wolfers posted an interesting figure on the returns to education:

Employment and earnings by education level

What would happen if we put this poster in every classroom?

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the size of africa

In addition to the well known social issues of illiteracy and innumeracy, Kai Krause argues there should also be such a concept as immappancy, meaning insufficient geographical knowledge.

By means of a brilliant new map (high resolution), the author highlights the true size of Africa:

"True Size of Africa" by Kai Krause

This single image tries to embody the massive scale, which is larger than the USA, China, India, Japan and all of Europe…combined!

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