Most returns for money spent on Grades 1-9?

June 4th, 2007 - Posted By Sujata Gamage

Continuing with the post on “real issue is the pass rate at Grade 9,” I like go further and suggest that at this stage of development we need to spend our tax rupees on those completing Grade 1-9 basic education, and the rest should be asked to pay according to their means. (Yes, this means that all university students should be asked to pay something for their education, if not now, but later as they do with the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) in Australia).

The labor force data for Sri Lanka are most revealing in this regard, particularly when you benchmark against another country. There are 9 major occupational categories. To make the following table I lumped three categories together (proprietors/managers;senior officials or managers; and professionals) for simplicity and then arranged Sri Lanka’s numbers in ascending order. The differences between Sri lanka and Malaysia are striking.

Distribution of the Labour Force by Major Occupational Category, 2005

Sri  Lanka
4.9   Associate Professionals
6.2   Plant and Machine operators
9.1   Service
12.6 Proprietors/managers/senior officials or managers/professionals
15.2 Craft and related
20.5 Skilled Agricultural Fisheries
26.4 Elementary
Malaysia
13.1   Associate Professionals
14.5   Plant and Machine operators
14.3   Service
14.2 Proprietors/managers/senior officials or managers/professionals
11.6 Craft and related
12.6 Skilled Agricultural Fisheries
10.6 Elementary

Difference (Malaysia-Sri Lanka)
+8.2   Associate Professionals
+8.3   Plant and Machine operators
+5.2   Service
+1.6   Proprietors/managers/senior officials or managers/professionals
-3.6  Craft and related
-7.9  Skilled Agricultural Fisheries
-15.8 Elementary

The biggest difference in our much higher of elemaentary workers (15.8% more!). We compare well in the top most categories of professionals and senior professionals but we have more elementary workers, skilled agricultural and fisheries workers and craft and related workers. We are low on associate professionals, plant and machinery operators and service workers.

What this data tell me is that the children of those elementary workers, agricultural and fisheries workers, and craft and related workers (or those at the bottom of the pyramid) have to move on the next levels if we all are to go ahead in the development trajectory. (May be in Sri Lanka we’ll develop to have fewer plant and machinery workers but more service workers than Malaysia, but the upward direction is clear)
Helping a few jump the Grade 5 scholarship hurdle or the GCE hurdles won’t help this bottom of the pyramid. ALL of them need a decent basic education first. The basic education should give them the literacy, numeracy and life skills and attitudes that’ll help them to think about the next stage, after nine years in school.

(To my knowledge, labor market data have not been viewed this way, before. Any labor economists out there wants to do more with this data? Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission report the labour force data for SL in the Labour market bulletin. Perhaps they should start benchmarking against other countries)



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