Education is a basic human right and considered by many as the key tool for national development. It is assumed that the most successful economies in the world are those that invest the most in its human resources. Understandably the world’s large wealthiest and most successful national economies share all of the following characteristics:
- Excellent education systems
- High levels of investment in research and development
- Strong links between industry and educational institutions
- Ability to translate research into products and services that sell
All of the above require an educated and trained citizenry.
Regionally Trinidad and Tobago continues to have one of the largest GDP’s in the Caribbean. The rich petrochemical – based economy is globally renowned for its skills and expertise in the energy sector. Although T&T has always been blessed with hydrocarbons, the ability to transform a once “plantation economy” – predominantly run on sugar and cocoa – to an exporting industrialized-nation, is primarily owed to its (relatively) high educated population. Today, Trinidad and Tobago boasts of having the largest GDP in the English speaking Caribbean with a nominal per capita GDP of over US 15,000. The relationship between education and sustainable development is sometimes complex. Generally, research shows that basic education is paramount to a nation’s ability to develop and achieve economic and sustainability targets. Once targets are identified, a country will need to reexamine its education curricula at all levels, that is, pre-school to tertiary education. Higher education then connects workforce development to economic development by matching instructional programmes to the needs of a country. In determining which education systems and programmes to implement, Government and industry stakeholders must work together to identify specific needs and hence provide work-based learning opportunities such as apprenticeship in fields identified to drive economic development.
With the world leaning more and more on knowledge-based economies, comparative advantages among nations are being derived less from natural resources or cheap labour and more from technical innovations and the competitive use of knowledge. According to the United Nations, studies also link education to economic growth as education contributes to improved productivity (which in theory should lead to higher income and economic performances). Additionally, the socio-economic factors in economic transformation cannot be ignored. Education contributes significantly to the establishment of the socio-economic prerequisites for democracy. Thus, investment in education can tremendously influence democracy and the development of a civil society.
While Japan has no natural resources, it stands as the world’s third largest economy. In contrast, a resource rich country such as Nigeria suffers from high illiteracy rates which results in the high poverty levels experienced by that country. The low literacy rates in the country have been blamed on the severe decline of the oil market in the early eighties, combined with Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) which led to drastic reductions in spending on education. The results were unpaid teachers’ salaries, degradation of education facilities at all levels and strikes in universities and schools. The end result has been declined literacy rates in the country. The above is comparable to what is published in a World Bank report which notes that, “between 60 and 90 per cent of the growth achieved in Japan and other East Asian industrialized countries is explained by human capital rather than financial means or natural resources. An overall higher level of primary education was found to be the single most important factor accounting for the differences in growth rates between East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Studies also show that farmers and labourers with better education adjust more rapidly to technological and societal changes and are ultimately more likely to increase their productivity at the individual, communal and national levels.”
According to “Education at a Glance 2011,“ a recently published report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the ten (10) most educated countries in the world (from highest to lowest) are :
- United States
- New Zealand
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
Not surprising, these countries are identified as the ones that aggressively invest in education and have some of the largest GDPs in the world. Without a doubt it is the most knowledge-based countries that have seen the most amount of economic transformation, confirming and emphasizing that education is indeed the main driver of sustainable economic growth and development. Maybe the famous philosopher, Aristotle, knew this centuries ago when he said “the fate of empires depend on the education of youth.”