The Center for Universal Education at Brookings (Washington, DC)

Liberia: Economic Transformation Can't Happen Without Quality Education

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Discussion points for input into the High-Level Panel Meeting (Monrovia, Liberia, 2013)

In our knowledge-based world, e conomic development and poverty reduction depend upon an educated and skilled workforce . For instance, in developing countries, one additional year of education adds about 10 percent to a person’s earnings. [1]  However, it is the cognitive or learning skills of a population, and not simply the number of years in school, which is correlated to individual earning and economic growth. [2]

Social development is also dependent on education to empower learners and to maximize their capacities, resources and opportunities to fully participate in society . E ducation is critical to environmental protection through teaching and learning environmental stewardship. This includes environmental and climate change education, which promotes new attitudes and skills for environmental protection and diversity and also helps people change consumption and production patterns. [3] Access to quality, relevant education that empowers all, including the marginalized, to utilize environmental resources sustainably is essential to equitable social development and a necessary foundation for sustainable development. Achieving this quality education for all remains a pivotal goal for global development. While there has been considerable progress in increasing primary school enrollment around the world over the last decade – due in large part to the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals on educational access and equality – children too often leave primary and even secondary school without acquiring the basic knowledge, skills, and competencies needed to grow into healthy adults and lead safe, productive and sustainable lives. In short, there is a global learning crisis underfoot, which affects children and youth who are out of school with limited learning opportunities and also those who are in school but not learning the skills needed for their future. Marginalized groups like girls from poor, rural households and children and youth living in conflict-affected areas are particularly missing out.

The quality of education has powerful effects on individual earnings, distribution of income, and economic growth. For every dollar invested in education, there is an estimated fifteen fold increase in economic growth . [4] UNESCO notes that the Republic of Korea went from being poor to wealthy in just thirty years, in part by planning for skills development and achieving universal primary and secondary education. [5] Moreover, countries which have increased literacy rates by 20-30% have seen simultaneous increases in GDP of between 8-16%. [6] A relevant, quality education also is the best way to ensure that a rising youth population can secure meaningful employment. [7]

A quality, relevant education is also the surest path to economic productivity and self-sufficiency. Quality education equips people with the knowledge, skills and self-reliance they need to increase income and expand opportunities for employment. [8] 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty if all students in low income countries left school with basic reading skills – the equivalent of a 12% drop in world poverty. [9] A good quality education that fosters learning and imparts 21 st century skills gives youth an opportunity to find employment, contribute to their communities and societies, and fulfill their potential.

Education as a national building block for sustained prosperity is critical to include in the post-2015 agenda . E very child must have an opportunity to develop the competencies and skills they need to become active and engaged citizens, to secure a job, to contribute to economic growth and job creation, and to build shared prosperity in their nations.

Many of the statistics in this memo are taken from the recent Basic Education Coalition report “ Each Child Learning, Every Student a Graduate: A Bold Vision for Lifelong Learning Beyond 2015.”



[1] G. Psacharopoulos and H. A. Patrinos, Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 2881, World Bank, 2002.

[2] E. Hanushek and L. Woessmann, The Role of Education Quality in Economic Growth, World Bank, 2007. See also: IBS International, Pathways to Learning in the 21st Century: Toward a Strategic Vision for USAID Assistance in Education, USAID Educational Strategies Research Paper 2, US Government Printing Office, 2009; E. Jamison et al., The Effects of Education Quality on Income Growth and Mortality Decline, National Bureau of Economic Research, 2006.

[3] A. Anderson, Combating Climate Change through Quality Education, Center for Universal Education, The Brookings Institution, 2010.

[4] EFA Global Monitoring Report, UNESCO, 2012, page 18. Quoted in Basic Education Coalition, Each Child Learning, Every Student a Graduate: A Bold Vision for Lifelong Learning Beyond 2015 . Washington, DC: Basic Education Coalition, 2013., page 3.

[5] Ibid.

[6] E. Fiske, Basic Education: Building Blocks for Global Development. AED, 1993. Page 13. Quoted in Basic Education Coalition, Each Child Learning, Every Student a Graduate: A Bold Vision for Lifelong Learning Beyond 2015 . Washington, DC: Basic Education Coalition, 2013, page 3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Basic Education Coalition, Each Child Learning, Every Student a Graduate: A Bold Vision for Lifelong Learning Beyond 2015 . Washington, DC: Basic Education Coalition, 2013.

[8] Basic Education Coalition, page 10.

[9] Basic Education Coalition, page 10.

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