Recently, the government of the French Community of Belgium (in charge of the French-speaking education) concluded its budget with a decrease of the subsidies for schools. It raised huge outcry from the unions because of less means for a “chronically underfinanced education system” that globally performs below the OECD average in the PISA test. In 2009, the results in reading were 490 compared to 493, in math 488 compared to 496 and in sciences 482 compared to 501 (Desagher, 2010). Meanwhile, the Flemish community obtained scores of 519, 537 and 526. Indignation would be our first reaction but would be unjustified. Indeed, according to study results, the Community spends more for its whole education than the majority of industrialized countries; between 6 and 6,6% of its GDP in 2007, that have to be compared with the average of 5,7% for the OECD (according to data from Deschamps et al. (2008) and CFB (2010)). A real shame when we now that every year about 15% of the students have to repeat their year (La Libre Belgique (2013)). How then could education help the economic system when 30% of the students decide to leave the system before the end of the secondary school (EchecScolaire (2003))?
For the improvement of the education results, the question is then “where” and “how”, rather than “how much” to spend.
About the “how”, a university study comparing the French-speaking and the Dutch-speaking education in Belgium pointed out the autonomy of the school authorities (Hindriks et al. (2009)). Schools are bounded by an increasing amount of decrees and by directives of the administrative bodies. Less bureaucracy and more autonomy would mean decision power on the learning methods, on the rewards and appointments, on the budget allocation and on the evaluation method. Consequently, the director would be able to set its teaching methods, to recruit teachers with the right profile, to reward and incentivize teachers; in fact to build a consistent learning project where every teacher is committed and recognized for its value.
About the “where”, the economic theory says that emphasis should be put on primary education! The model of investment in human capital indicates that the return on investment (through higher wages) depends positively on the resources at school and the initial level of human capital (when the actor decides to study). In practice, the earlier the skills and knowledge are acquired, the more the student will get from schooling and the more productive he will be later. For example, a student leaving the primary education without sufficient language, math, writing and reading will experiment huge trouble in the secondary education to catch up his backwardness and in his social interactions. As for Christian Forestier (2012), a stronger primary education will also correct the family inequalities. The governments should then invest in improving the pedagogic support, looking for new stimulating methods, etc. To strengthen this, a study of Natixis (2012) found a strong correlation between the productivity per capita and the expenditures in primary education.
I would conclude with the dreamy results of an OECD paper. It highlights the importance of increasing the “cognitive skills” as measured by PISA tests (among others, through investing in primary education) for the economic growth. It calculated that, if all the OECD countries committed to increase by 25 points their global results at PISA tests, the OECD GDP would gain “$ 115 trillion over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010” (OECD, 2010).
Guillaume Wenseleers (1842)
Communauté Française de Belgique. (2010). Les indicateurs de l’enseignement. Link : http://www.enseignement.be/index.php?page=26287
Desagher, C. (2010). PISA 2009. Ou le triomphe modeste !?. Les analyses de la FAPEO 2010. Link : http://www.fapeo.be/wp-content/analyses/analyses%202010/PISA_2009.pdf
Deschamps, R. & Schmitz, V. (2008). Financement et dépenses d’enseignement et de recherche fondamentale en Belgique : Evolutions et comparaisons communautaires. Cahier de Recherche : Série Politique et Economique, n°33, 2008/12. Link : https://pure.fundp.ac.be/ws/files/1050632/66500.pdf
EchecScolaire. (2003). L’échec scolaire en Communauté française de Belgique. Source : http://www.echecscolaire.be/files/echec2.pdf
Hindriks, J., Rayp, G., Schoors, K. & Verschelde, M. (2009). Que peut enseigner l’école flamande à l’école francophone ?. Itinera memo, 2009/14. Link : http://www.itinerainstitute.org/upl/1/fr/doc/MEMO%2014_jh.pdf
Institut Montaigne – Christian Forestier. (2012). “Priorité absolue à l’école primaire” par Christian Forestier. Source : http://www.desideespourdemain.fr/index.php/post/2012/06/25/996-priorite-absolue-a-lecole-primaire-par-christian-forestier#.Upc6psR5P-v
La Libre Belgique. (2013). 15 pc des élèves doublent en moyenne chaque année en secondaire. Source : http://www.lalibre.be/actu/belgique/15-pc-des-eleves-doublent-en-moyenne-chaque-annee-en-secondaire-51c3dc273570562eb881d35d
Natixis. (2012). Croissance potentielle, dépenses d’éducation ; performance du système éducatif. Flash Economie : recherche économique, n° 543. Link : http://cib.natixis.com/flushdoc.aspx?id=65471
OECD. (2010). The high cost of low educational performance – The long-run economic impact of improving PISA outcomes. Link: http://www.oecd.org/pisa/44417824.pdf