I’m tied up with other commitments today, but I happened to notice this chart from the OECD.
Since today is also the day the primary/intermediate teachers’ strike hits Wellington, it seemed timely.
In some ways, it is quite a striking chart. New Zealand devotes the second largest share of GDP to education of any OECD country, exceeded only by super-rich Norway (as far as I can see this is an estimate of total public and private spending).
And yet, once one looks even a bit more closer it is less interesting than it might have seen. For example, at the other end of the chart both Ireland and Luxembourg have GDPs that are flattered by unusual effects – in Ireland’s case, the impact of their corporate tax system (which ends up exaggerating the true economic value occurring in Ireland, and does not reflect value accruing to the Irish), and in Luxembourg’s case, the fact that a lot of the GDP arises from people who work in tiny (financial centre) Luxembourg but live across the border in various neighbouring countries (their kids won’t be using Luxembourg’s schools).
And in our case, who uses schools and universities? Mostly children and young people, and if you don’t have many children you’ll need to spend less (as a share of GDP) on education. As this chart shows, of the OECD countries only Turkey, Mexico and Israel have a higher total fertility rate at present than New Zealand does. Our TFR this particular year was 1.9 (births per woman) while that for, say, Japan was about 1.4. That makes a big difference to how much needs to be spent on schools (all else equal about a third more). Iceland spends as much on schools as we do, but with quite a bit smaller a birth rate.
Total fertility rate (2016)
And the other thing that marks us out relative to most OECD countries, although not all, is a high rate of immigration. Not all migrants, by any means, have children with them when they move here (temporarily or permanently) but some do. It all adds to the amount (share of GDP) needing to be spent on education.
Both birth rates and migration rates are just one of those things that people doing education budgets just have to take as given. The other thing that you’d expect to influence education spending quite substantially is class sizes – even at tertiary level the old Oxford/Cambridge tutorial system is a lot more resource intensive than, say, stage 1 lectures with 350 young people with largish tutorials run by honours students. But there tends to be more of a focus on school class sizes. Unfortunately, the charts in the OECD Education at a Glance publications don’t have New Zealand data for pupil/teacher ratios, but here is the chart.
|Average class size in primary education, by type of institutions (2016)|
What I found striking is how wide the range of practices is. It isn’t just that richer countries have smaller class sizes – Chile is at one end and Costa Ricas at the other – even though my understanding of the educational research is that smaller class sizes is mostly just a luxury item, with little or no impact on educational outcomes. Shifting from one end to the other is likely to have significant implications for the cost of primary school education. I have no idea where New Zealand would sit on the chart: I’m always a bit surprised how small my children’s class sizes have been, but that probably just marks me out as an old fogey, recalling classes in the mid-high 30s back in the early 1970s.
I don’t have any particular conclusion to this post, other than the caution that a high share of GDP devoted to schooling sheds – on its own – precisely no light on the reasonableness, or otherwise, of the teachers’ claims, and their strike. Having said that, I’d have preferred my daughter’s Principal not to have been using public resources to email us all urging parents to support the industrial action, join the protest rally etc.