A nation is usually defined by its shared history, culture, language(s) and sometimes religion. This definition is by the nature of its measures, backwards looking. It defines a nation based on what it has been to give some sense of what it is now and what it might be.
Economic statistics provide another definition of a nation. The level of urban and peri-urban population, GDP per capita, GDP growth rates, population growth rates and unemployment levels are a few of the criteria used to describe a nation. Economic statistics can equally well describe what makes the nation today, how quickly life is changing for better or for worse and with a lower degree of accuracy, what the future will be like.
But what measures the soul of a nation? What of tolerance, equality of opportunity and the sense of a united purpose? These criteria measure the future of a nation as certainly as economic fundamentals and the history of a nation. They describe the capability of a civic nation based on a common identity and loyalty to a set of political ideas and institutions.
To build a nation, therefore one must consider the past to build a common purpose for the future based on today’s capabilities.
Education impacts all three elements of what defines the notion of nation building.
Education of Fiji’s children in its shared history and cultures is significant in developing the tolerance required for Fiji to prosper. A shared understanding of the contributions of all ethnic backgrounds in the development of Fiji aids in the understanding of the benefits to be gained by future co-operation and the reinforcement of the elements of identity which are common.
In my many years of travelling to all corners of the earth, I found a common bond between travellers from all nations, cultures and religions. It was the increased level of tolerance and confidence of travellers over their counterparts who did not travel. My observation was that people who travelled and experienced other’s lives, cultures and customs were more assured of their own identity and less afraid of cultures that were not even encountered yet. In a nation of diverse cultures, education of the population of those cultures and customs can have that same confidence building effect.
A country consisting of people assured of their identity and unafraid of others is already well on the road to building a nation.
The impact of an education on economic growth is well documented. A 2005 report by Access Economics on the study of ?The Economic Benefit of Increased Participation in Education and Training? in Australia concluded that increasing the participation rate in education increased productivity, wage rates and rate of participation in better paid jobs The result being an increase in GDP by 1.1% in a generation by increasing participation by about ten percent.
In a speech in 2004, Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of the USA, commented on the impact of the state of knowledge and skill of a population as an important factor in determining the level of economic growth. ?Generic capabilities in mathematics, writing, and verbal skills are key to the ability to learn and to apply new skills and thus to earn higher real wages over time?, he said.
An IMF study in June 2005 determined that the impact of an increase in spending on education is immediate and lagged. It was found that about two-thirds of the direct affect of investment in education are realized in the first five years, with the remainder realized over the next five years. For example, the direct effect of an increase in education spending of 1 percentage point of GDP is associated with an increase in the composite enrolment rate of 6 percentage points within a five-year period and of another 3 percentage points in the following five-year period.? Support for the notion that education plays a pivotal role not only in the economic development but also in the social of Fiji comes from the top. At the opening of an Asia-Pacific mid-term review of the Commonwealth Education Action Plan organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat in Nadi, Fiji Islands, on 19 April 2005, Fiji Prime Minister, Mr Qarase stated education plays a key role in the economic and further development of a nation. The Prime Minister said people who are deprived of a good education are often disadvantaged throughout their lives and are unable to escape from poverty. A good quality education system with high participation rates clearly has a long term ongoing economic benefit for a nation. The ongoing economic benefits of more highly paid jobs giving an increased ability to compete in a world of ever decreasing barriers to trade is vitally important for Fiji to cope with the impact of a rapid urban drift.
With Fiji’s urban population reported to have climbed from 36.7% of the population in 1975 to 51.7% by 2003 and predicted to rise to 60.1% by 2015 the pressure on increased job availability and job quality will be immense as this rapid urban drift occurs.
Evidence exists to support the notion that education reduces well documented social problems including crime which comes with increased urban drift. In a US study of inmates in three US states by the Correctional Education Association and the Management & Training Corporation, it was found that ?Correctional education participants had statistically significant lower rates of re-arrest, re-conviction and re-incarceration?.
However, the role of education in combating the effects of urban drift is somewhat a double edged sword.
Education clearly is a driver of better productivity giving rise to a higher competitive ability and hence more jobs and higher economic growth rates which enables more money to be invested in, for instance, better education. It is a virtuous circle.
But, if ?better education? is not distributed equally between rural and urban areas then rural and semi-rural parents will continue to send students to urban areas to attend schools which they regard as being able to give their children a better education. After completing school in an urban area and developing friendships and an urban lifestyle, the lure of urban life for many young people is hard to resist.
Fiji’s investment in education has increased from 4.7% of GDP in 1990 to 5.6% of GDP in 2000-2002. The average spend on education of 5.2% of GDP in the decade from 1990 to 1999 place Fiji 31st out 130 countries The increase of 19% of GDP from 1990 to 2002 being spent on education is necessary for Fiji to compete in the global market for better jobs through greater productivity.
The challenge for Fiji is to ensure that the investment provided gives equal opportunity to all Fiji students. In a paper by the Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning in 2003 determined that there was a direct negative correlation between education inequality and social cohesion. It concluded, ?Creating a more cohesive society is likely to require policies that are also designed to increase equality through narrowing educational outcomes.? Support for this notion is again evident in the Prime Minister’s remarks on this subject. Mr Qarase said ?Teach students from racially disparate countries like Fiji how to live together at school with respect and understanding and you bridge the differences which make divisions. Instil in them the right values and you fortify the foundations of society.” Also, there is much more to a ?quality education? than the level of investment. The quality of both the investment and other drivers of the development of qualitative skills other than just formal schooling, including family input, cultural norms, health and the use of technology are equally, if not more important. Also, although human capital is important, it is not the only thing that governs the functioning of an economy. Basic features such as a developed system of property rights, limits on the amount of governmental intrusion through taxes and regulations, and the openness of labour and product markets have an enormous impact. Pushing more school attainment on an economy unable to use it productively is unlikely to have positive effects. A statistical study by Eric A. Hanushek and Dennis Kimko comparing growth rates against test scores in science and maths showed a positive correlation between growth and scores; ?one standard deviation difference on test performance was related to a 1 percent difference in annual per capita GDP growth rates?. Unfortunately, that study and studies like it did not find singular causal links between school activities and test scores.
In a research paper investigating ?The Quality of Learning and Teaching in Developing Countries: Assessing Literacy and Numeracy in Malawi and Sri Lanka? in 2000, UK Department for International development researchers concluded from their literature search that a definition of ?quality education? should also take into account the determinant factors such as the provision of teachers, buildings, equipment, curriculum and so on.
As such, they concluded that the general concept of quality of education is made up of three interrelated dimensions. These were: the quality of human and material resources available for teaching (inputs), the quality of teaching practices (process) and the quality of results (outputs and outcomes).
In any organisation it is imperative to measure inputs, process and outputs to understand not only whether the organisation is making progress towards its goals, but to also understand what elements of the organisation are working well or not so well, to achieve those goals. This is not new or exceedingly difficult. However, it is complex.
The complexity that arises is the range of organisations and individuals that contribute to a ?Quality Education?. Any system of measurement needs to include students, teachers, parents, School Associations and Government Ministries of Education, Finance and Sport as stakeholders and measure indicators of elements such as competence, availability and use of technology, availability and use of textbooks, instructional design of teaching interventions, attendance and results.
Further complexity arises at a national level in the number of preschool, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions involved in providing education. Nonetheless, measurement must be carried out to not only understand what ?quality? of education is being received but to also better understand what the appropriate measures to characterise ?quality? are.
Measures of output are readily available and tend to have clear definitions. For example, pass rates for specific subjects with a set curriculum and common exams are a good measure of the ability of students to learn what they have been taught. However, this is insufficient to understand whether a quality education is being made available and in particular, one that builds a nation.
If the curriculum itself is not measured against the national interest, then the education system may well be producing great measures, a high pass rate, of an output which does little to build a nation by virtue of the skills being unusable.
It is clear that education quantity and quality have a distinct impact on the economic progress of a nation by improving productivity and competitiveness. It is clear that using education as a means of fostering understanding of cultures increases the level of tolerance in communities as diverse as Fiji.
It is clear that the economic progress that a quality education brings, delivers better jobs and more jobs which in turn offer the citizens of a country more choice in what they do with their lives and indeed the lives of their children. It is also clear to me that the belief that we have choices in our lives builds contentment.
Quality Education is an important precursor to Nation Building. It is clear in Fiji, that government support through investment and Prime Ministerial support exists. To make the intentions of government a reality though requires parents, teachers and government to work together to build a quality approach to quality education.
The goal must be clear, the inputs, processes and outputs measured and individual and collective accountability taken to deliver education which is of a quality and quantity that builds the Fiji we want to live and work in.