The skills of the fathers

The image http://blogs.ft.com/crookblog/files/2008/03/kierkegaard.jpg cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Courtesy of Clive Crook, here’s a fascinating chart on skills development across OECD countries. The graph shows the proportion of the labour force with at least a college degree, by age group, for OECD countries.

The bigger the span of the vertical lines, the more younger generations exceed older generations in their educational qualifications.  The US having led the world thirty years ago is the only country where younger cohorts are less well educated than the older cohort.  In marked contrast to just about everywhere else.

Look at the developmental state of Korea!

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Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
13 years ago

The US having led the world thirty years ago is the only country where younger cohorts are less well educated than the older cohort.

(1) If I’m reading the chart right (the symbols aren’t all that easy to pick out), Germany’s 25-34 year olds are also less educationally qualified that 35-54 year olds, and not much better educated than the 55s and over. Similarly Brazil. Russia at the far right is also backsliding.

(2) Does this graph really tell us anything about skills development (or skills regression in the cases above)? Only if you assume that the more educational credentials people have, the more skilled they are. And that’s only the first of many assumptions that have to be made in reading the chart.

conrad
conrad
13 years ago

Given that the US education levels are quite high despite no increase, I think the more worrying thing is probably a qualitative difference between the value of degrees between the groups, rather than just whether you happen to have one or not — a degree these days certainly isn’t worth what it used to be (let alone what you need for the workforce, which is probably more). It would be interesting to see what the graphs would look like if they could somehow be corrected for that, as the extent of perceived degree devaluation differs across countries. In Germany, for example, I’m led to believe that what is taught in a degree (diplomarbeit) is still very thorough, and this agrees with my rather small sample of Germany students I’ve bumped into, who are certainly far better than the Australian equivalent.

Niall
13 years ago

Define ‘education’ Nicholas. Simply because an ‘older cohort’ don’t – according to statistics – have tertiary degrees doesn’t of necessity make them, or their generations and thereby their demographic, any less intellectual or fit for the modern workplace than generations which come after them.

Life imparts much more than any piece of paper can ever hope to.

Dave Bath
13 years ago

Nicholas “The US having led the world thirty years ago”.

Gummo says “Russia at the far right is also backsliding.”.

Looking at Russia, it seems that (a) Russia was the leader 30 years ago, and (b) it’s hard to go up from a high base

More importantly, does anyone realize what a score above 50% for a proportion of the population actually means? It means that you can get a degree with less than average intelligence, regardless of the means it is measured. (And it’s worse considering that all metrics of mental or physical capacity are skewed down by defects and accidents).

Further, if you can get a degree with less-than-average intelligence, what does that mean about the worth of the degree, and thus the capabilities of others who have passed the same degree (unless its for limbo dancing under the low-set bar!)

Zarquon
Zarquon
13 years ago

if you can get a degree with less-than-average intelligence, what does that mean about the worth of the degree

Absolutely nothing. HTH.

skepticlawyer
13 years ago

I was going to make the same point as Dave about coming from a high base. Unless you know from where all these countries started, then the information isn’t particularly useful – 50 years ago Korea was basically a peasant society.

conrad
conrad
13 years ago

Dave,

I don’t think the problem of low IQ is as bad as you think, since IQ is a conglomerate measure (unless you believe there is a really high g component and that studying won’t change anything). Because of this, if people did what was well suited to them, it should be possible for people to do degrees that are suited to what they are good at. In addition, I doubt many degrees need a high degree of intelligence — a lot of what you do in an undergraduate degree these days in Australia at least is just making up for what you should have learnt in high school but didn’t. That was one of the problems of dumbing down Year 11 and 12. I doubt that employing a lot of rather dull teachers, many of whom probably couldn’t teach any of the hard stuff anyway (often because they had never studied it, like advanced maths or physics), helped either.

Graham Bell
Graham Bell
13 years ago

Conrad [2]:

Thank you! About time somebody told a few home truths. You know, they will hang you for your iconoclastic point of view.

I’m very sceptical indeed of many alleged standards, having seen a little of “graduates” who got their “degrees” because if they didn’t, the academics responsible would then be kept very busy digging ditches and otherwise participating it soul-building physical labour.

It is downright foolish to just look at raw numbers of degrees without taking a good hard look at the comparative quality of the graduates, as well as of the degree programs themselves, across the board.

wilful
wilful
13 years ago

I wonder what Germany’s excuse is? Reunification? Their apprenticeship system?

Thanks Nicholas, I’ve borrowed this for here.

Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
13 years ago

I’m glad that someone finally mentioned Germany’s apprenticeship system. It points to another deficiency of the chart – the focus on tertiary education ignores the areas of trade and industrial skills.

Yobbo
Yobbo
13 years ago

Really, the only degrees measured should be in professional accreditations like Engineering, Medicine and MBA’s. The percentage these figures would be thrown off by the hundreds of thousands of undergraduates in ridiculously irrelevant degrees like business (aka how to use MYOB) or education (Police check said im not a paedophile!)

30 years ago the careers these “tertiary studies” qualified you for were filled by high school graduates instead of university graduates.

Graham Bell
Graham Bell
13 years ago

Yobbo [11]:

Can see your point and generally agree …. however, even in the professional qualification degree programs of some countries, there’s a lot of room for shonkiness and room for political/familial pressure to turn dullards into supposed experts. And if you want to be accused of “racism!!!”[wtf?], just draw attention to the manifest skills and knowledge deficits of an eminemt import. A lot – but certainly NOT all! – migrant professionals do have very high levels of competence.

Gummo Trotsky [10]:

I too am glad someone mentioned Germany’s apprenticeship system. During the Kaiser’s day and during the Weimar Republic the apprenticeship system as well as the military academies, the universities and the theological seminaries were each held in high regard …. whereas here, there was always a tendency to look down apprenticeships as being an inferior type of learning: merely job training for the lower classes; a booby prize for those who didn’t deserve to go to university.

This condescending attitude to apprenticeships has done our economy tremendous damage and is one of the main causes of the current “skills shortage”.

Helen
13 years ago

And if you want to be accused of racism!!![wtf?], just draw attention to the manifest skills and knowledge deficits of an eminemt import.

Where has anyone accused you of racism for pointing out Jayant Patel’s deficits, Graham? (I assume that is who you are talking about.) The deficits of one individual do not point to any “fact” that his or her entire race or gender have those deficits. That’s what racism is. Famously, one of the markers of our effortless privilege as caucasian people is that any failure or bad action on our part is not taken to be symptomatic of our entire race. It’s one of those things we don’t tend to notice, because, as Madge said, we’re soaking in it.

patrickg
13 years ago

e business (aka how to use MYOB) or education (Police check said im not a paedophile!)

I’m the last one to defend business degrees Sam, but as someone who once studied part of one, and with many friends who went through the trenches of an education degree, I have to say you clearly have _no_ knowledge whatsoever of what these courses entail. Business, for all its failings, covers a lot more than myob, as education does, too.

Regarding dumbing down of high school/degrees not meaning anything. I dunno, this seems natural to me. Beyond questioning whether high school has actually been ‘dumbed down’ (how do you asses that Conrad?) as opposed to teaching different things, I would also point out the terrible attendance and drop-out rates in those ‘good old days’. High school, particularly senior high school, was an optional educational component, thus it was really aimed at teaching different things for a select group of people.

With high school attendance through to grade 12 now very much the mean, university is stepping in to be the optional education element. I don’t think it devaules degrees, it simply changes what they mean.

Another thing to take into account, though I’m not sure how, is the simple increase in knowledge in the last century. More education is simply required to dispense it.

conrad
conrad
13 years ago

“how do you asses that Conrad?”

Fairly easily. You can compare what is being taught and the percentage of people taking certain subjects. For some subjects this is very easy (e.g., mathematics, physics), and you can also look at the percentage of students taking these subjects versus the default moron subjects (e.g., business maths versus maths in Victoria, for example). Other subjects require a bit more effort to compare (e.g., literacy, where you can measure multiple components). You could also look at minimum university entry standards to degrees (for example, bridging courses teaching maths and physics for engineering degrees are common now — once they were unheard of), and look at what is being taught in first year too if you wanted. If you wanted really general measures, you could look at things like the Flynn effect, and you would find out the average IQ (well correlated with education levels) is decreasing again (sad but true). Given your statements about the changing demographic going on to Year 12, I doubt there are too many arguments about this in any case.

patrickg
13 years ago

But a lot of those things are not necessarily connected to the classroom/curriculum component of education conrad.

What’s being taught, and ‘hard subjects’ vs ‘dumb subjects’ is more a comment on the number of subjects available, and the fact that education is now for all, not just smart kids.

Literacy rates have improved a lot of the course of the century.

Minimum university entry standards are also a reflection of many factors – not least of which is a) the explosion in university attendance and b) a large number of foreign students from different educational systems entering university.

I think you would be hard pressed to find many degrees *requiring* bridging courses (compared to say, ten years ago). It’s different to require them for people with low marks, or to have them optional.

IQ shouldn’t even be dignified with an examination. The fact the people are no longer as good at taking iq tests as they once is neither here nor there. The whole concept of IQ is worthless imho.

Yobbo
Yobbo
13 years ago

Im the last one to defend business degrees Sam, but as someone who once studied part of one, and with many friends who went through the trenches of an education degree, I have to say you clearly have _no_ knowledge whatsoever of what these courses entail.

Actually Patrick, I was studying a business degree and dropped out of it because, 2 years into the degree, that was all I had learned (apart from a lot of economics stuff which was revision from high school). (Edith Cowan University in WA if anyone wants to know a degree factory to avoid).

A lot of the things “taught” in these degrees can be learned just as effectively by reading a book in your own time. I taught myself HTML, SQL, PHP and Cold Fusion that way.

And then of course there’s the obvious point that none of the things that would be taught in these degrees are required knowledge for the jobs they would gain you in any case.

People don’t hire people with a bachelor degree as Economists or even accountants, you need additional qualifications for it (like an MBA or a CPA accreditation), and those additional accreditations don’t contain any assumed knowledge before you start. Any promotions subsequently would be given on the basis of previous experience, not what degree you did.

So in effect the only point of a business degree is to sort out those who had the patience and resources to spend an extra 3 years post high-school sitting around with their thumb in their arse, because the only job you can get with a business degree is one that doesn’t require you to know anything except how to do simple mathematical work.

And then there are the positions advertised that search for a graduate in anything.

http://yobbo.wordpress.com/2004/03/30/australia-under-attack-worthless-credentials-needed/

Which is just ridiculous. What possible job would require someone with a degree in Accounting, but also be just as happy with someone with a degree in Agriculture? It makes zero sense and reveals just how little employers value the substance of most bachelor degrees these days.

The only purpose they seem to serve is to prove that graduating high school wasn’t a fluke.

conrad
conrad
13 years ago

“I think you would be hard pressed to find many degrees *requiring* bridging courses”

I imagine students doing these courses account now for perhaps the majority of engineering students at some places, although I don’t have the figures. Of course, when they get into the majority, it makes sense for the courses to be made easier to accomodate them, so its generally transitory anyway.

“the fact that education is now for all, not just smart kids.”

That’s true, but the problem is most courses have to target the lowest common denominator (it would be unethical to accept large numbers of students who you knew you were going to fail, after all), which means education for all often means poor quality education for all, especially when the game is taking as many students as possible (which it is in universities). This inevitably means the standards are dropped for the better end of the distribution.

“a large number of foreign students from different educational systems”

You shouldn’t think of these guys as negative (and not just because their money keeps many universities running). There is a big upside to these students — many of them have far higher levels of mathematics than the Aus equivalent. Some courses wouldn’t even exist without them (check out any elec. engineering course, for example, and play spot the Aussie).

NPOV
NPOV
13 years ago

Yobbo, re: “What possible job would require someone with a degree in Accounting, but also be just as happy with someone with a degree in Agriculture?”

My Dad, who built a couple of successful IT firms from the ground up, made a point of pretty much only ever hiring people with tertiary degrees, but never particularly cared which degree. He hired people with Physics degrees to do sales, and Arts graduates to manage Novell networks etc. etc. His basic philosophy was that pretty much any decent tertiary degree has the same effect: boosting your self-reliance, ability to learn, interact with others etc. etc.
Given most high schools (private ones especially) mollycoddle their students so much, a few years in Uni is arguably what’s really needed to prove you’re worth your academic credentials.

patrickg
13 years ago

Conrad, it sounds like we agree backwards, if that makes sense! I’m certainly not deriding foreign students, our poor bloody university system would have collapsed if not for them.

Dave Bath
13 years ago

Conrad:
I didn’t mention “IQ” – indeed, I said “intelligence, however you measure it”. And anyway, “nature” rather than “nurture” allows comparison of education results across age cohorts.

You say: “In addition, I doubt many degrees need a high degree of intelligence a lot of what you do in an undergraduate degree these days in Australia at least is just making up for what you should have learnt in high school but didnt.”

Yep.

Very high graduation rates (at any level), by looking good for politicians of unquestioning populations, merely encourage politicians to lower the bar. (Imagine a graph of percentage (in different age cohorts) of a particular capability or study of a particular fundamental topic – say “elementary calculus”, which USED to be year 10 in the 1940s (so almost every male school leaver did in), year 11 from the 60s, and now not covered at all in some year 12 maths syllabi.

You could do the same for artsy subjects by saying “how many can read a foreign language newspaper” (Le Monde, Der Spiegel, etc) – although I’m out because they stopped publishing in Latin a while back.