An Education System for Sustained Growth and Economic Development

Margarita Gomez

It is with pleasure and honor that I have taken up this challenge to present at this very important conference that focuses on building our nation’s sustainability through education, culture, and technology. In particular, my paper will focus on an education system that develops human capital for sustained economic growth and development. In a time of constant change, where the forces of globalization are increasingly creating new challenges within our economic structure, where there is greater competition for limited resources, and where there is fiercer competition in the business/industry sector caused by the rapid advancement of knowledge, information, and technology, it is imperative that we stop and take a closer look at our education system to see if it possesses the minimum criteria to prepare our country’s human capital that will enable us to compete and remain competitive during the 21st century. This is critical for our survival as a nation as we all know that economic prosperity is achieved through education.

Before I get any further in this presentation, I would like to highlight some key concepts about human capital development through education and their implications for sustained economic growth and development. Understanding these concepts will set us within the frame of mind that will enable us to see the relationship between education and economic development and the effect of education on labour productivity, poverty, trade, technology, and income distribution.

First of all, we need to recognize that education is a fundamental instrument for economic development. Education is the pillar upon which our social well-being is built. As a country, we cannot achieve sustained economic development if we do not invest significantly in our human capital. As stated by Osturk (2001), it is through education that we can increase our economic efficiency and social consistency. Education helps to raise the poor from poverty by adding value and efficiency to their labour. In essence, education increases productivity and enables the intellectual capacity of the labour force to become flexible, thus increasing a country’s competitiveness at the global level.

Secondly, we need to understand the concept of economic development and how this is different from economic growth. Economic development has to do with social and technological progress. Here we are concerned in the way goods and services are produced using new technologies rather than just increasing production using old methods of production on a wider scale. Economic growth, on the other hand, is only concerned with an increase in quantitative output, and does not necessarily involve development. Economic development has to do with the improvement in a variety of indicators such as literacy rates, life expectancy, and poverty rates. It is also important to note that there is a close link between a country’s economic development and its human development, which of course, encompasses among other things, health and education.

We need also to understand that the human capital of any country represents the investment that a country makes in its people aimed at obtaining increase economic productivity. The role of education in this process cannot be overlooked. Several authors have noted that formal education plays an instrumental role in improving the production capacity of a population that ultimately leads to sustained economic growth (Schultz, 1971; Sakamota & Powers, 1995; Psacharopoulos & Woodhall, 1997).

From an economic perspective, education is both a consumer good and capital good. It is a consumer good because consumers can make use of it. At the same time, it is a capital good because it serves as an input for the production of other goods and services. As a capital good, education provides the necessary input to develop the human resources necessary for a country’s economic and social development. When we talk about education as a capital good, we need to make reference to the concept of human capital that emphasizes that skills development is a capital factor in production activities. In our society, we recognize and value education as a means for improving our standard of living because we believe that expanding education promotes economic development. Therefore, we can only aspire for a positive social change in our country if we ensure that all our people are prepared to become productive citizens.

Let us not loose sight that an educated population is a productive population. Many authors have noted that there is a close link between education and the productive capacity of a workforce. They emphasize that education is a productive investment in human capital. According to Bababola (2003), there are three main reasons for investing in human capital. These include:

Our society today is different from what it was in the 20th century. Our world is becoming increasingly diverse, globalized, complex, and multi-media saturated. While we are technically living in the 21st century, our students and our education system are not meeting the diverse needs necessary to survive in the 21st century, much less to achieve economic stability. As educators, our challenge is to reinvent schools for the 21st century designed to truly meet the needs of our present and future students as they prepare for the changing needs, demands, challenges, and opportunities of the world before them.

How can we prepare our students now for the unknown future that they will face? Kindergarteners today will retire around the 2060s. We do not have the slightest idea how the world will look like in five years, much less how it will look like in fifty years. The only thing we know about the future of the world we live in is that it is constantly changing. Therefore, for individuals to cope with the demands of a constantly changing world, the education that they receive should be flexible, creative, challenging, and complex. Such an education should enable the individual to communicate, function, and create changes at the personal, social, political, and economic levels within the local, regional and international arena.

For our country to achieve sustained growth and economic development, every citizen must receive an education that develops the whole person rather than just prepare him or her to be workplace ready. According to Tony Wagner, in order for an individual to survive in the 21st century, he or she must receive an education that promotes problem solving and stimulates critical thinking, curiosity, and imagination. Such an education must be agile and filled with creativity and entrepreneurialism. It should prepare the individual to communicate effectively both orally and written. It should equip the individual to access and analyze information, and above all to establish a climate of collaboration and networks across the globe.

An education for sustained growth and economic development has to be in sink with the country’s economic development priorities. Belize’s economic policy and development priorities rests on the government’s commitment to promoting the kind of socio-economic development that enhances the capacity of its people to cope with challenges and position the country competitively in the global economy, while at the same time improve the general welfare of its citizens. Belize also recognizes that there must be a strong partnership between the public and private sectors to achieve economic growth and further diversification of the Belizean economy. Major interest for development are in the areas of agriculture, agro-business, agro-processing, tourism, mariculture, horticulture, light manufacturing industries, and forestry based industries (Belize Investment Guide). An education system for sustained growth and economic development in Belize, therefore, should encompass the provision of basic competencies in these fields.

It is evident from the literature, that developing nations, like ours, can only achieved sustained growth and economic development through education and training at all levels. For Belize to achieve economic sustainability, it must have a literate work force. Along with this, there must be more skilled artisans, more persons of the learned professions, and more entrepreneurers. According to Eugene Black, education is fundamental for achieving any level of economic development by any nation. This claim is based on the fact, that through education, organizations can become more efficient, competitive, and productive. This is because education makes the work force more flexible and it allows scientific knowledge and technological innovations to permeate through the entire work environment.

It is important to note that an educated work force readily adapts to changes in comparison to a non or less educated work force. An educated work force is better able to communicate and thereby import new technologies that enable it to increase productivity. Education directly affects behavioral benefits such as a reduction in fertility rate, incidence in communicable diseases, infant and child mortality, and promoting tolerance and democracy (Hassan & Ahmed, n.d.).

From a personal perspective, education provides the individual with a number of benefits. It enables the individual to acquire skills that will enable him or her to earn higher wages. An educated individual can perform more complicated tasks than usual standard tasks, they can adopt to latest technologies and production practices as well as become more mobile and entrepreneurial. Education can also impact the individual’s saving capacity and reduces the dependency syndrome of a given population. Education also promotes productivity as it greatly enhances greater physical investment. From a national perspective, an educated population is more likely to attract foreign investment.

Given the above, it is very clear that the education provisions within a country represent one of the main determinants of the country’s growth and economic development. Every level of the education system, i.e. primary, secondary, and tertiary education, all raise the productive capacity of workers, both in rural and urban areas. Every level of the education system provide individuals with an opportunity to learn, realize their fullest potential, and to contribute positively to the development of the nation.

Primary education provides individuals with the basic foundations necessary upon which further knowledge, skills, and attitudes can be acquired by the individual. Primary education underpins the success of a society. Every year of primary education that an individual receives increases that person’s productive capacity and reduces his/her dependency on social resources. A study from the World Bank reveals that every extra year of primary education that a person receives increases his/her productivity by 20-30%.

The question is what kind of primary education should individuals receive that will effectively prepare them to eventually participate in the social and economic development of the nation?

Quality primary education is dependent upon the local educational context. Independent of its local context, quality primary education should promote quality learning. Quality learning should encompass quality learning environments, service delivery, and quality content. Primary education should provide students with the starting point for the development of basic knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will enable them to understand the world in which they live and the people with whom they interact on a daily basis. Basic primary education should include life skills and peace education. Basic life skills should encompass interpersonal skills, skills for building self-awareness, critical and creative thinking skills as well as coping and stress management skills.

The quality outcome of primary education should include learning what they need to learn for learning throughout life. At the primary level, student should be given the opportunity to become aware of their rights and to realize them. Primary education should empower students to participate in decisions that affect them. At the primary level, students should be taught to respect diversity, practice equality, and resolve differences in a peaceful manner. The content of primary education should focus on basic literacy, numeracy, life skills, relevant knowledge on gender equity, HIV/AIDS, health nutrition, and peace.

Secondary education also contributes significantly in preparing individuals to participate in the social and economic development of a nation. According to UNESCO, 2005, secondary education should empower students to “develop into productive, responsible personalities well equipped for life and work in today’s technology-based knowledge society” For individuals to cope and compete in this rapidly changing world, they must continue to build upon the basic life skills acquired at the primary level. Among others, these should include analytic and problem solving skills, creativity, flexibility, mobility, and entrepreneurship.

Secondary education further contributes to the holistic development of the individual. It consolidates the values and skills that an individual acquires at the primary level along with the acquisition of knowledge and skills. At the secondary level, there should be a strong convergence of general secondary education with technical and vocational education. This is important because many students do not further their education, but go out seeking employment after completing secondary education. With basic training in a specific technical area, students are better equipped to go into the world of work and thereby contribute to the sustained growth and development of the country. General secondary education should provide them with the skills to cope in a changing world while skills in the vocational technical area should provide them with relevant technical skills necessary to function in a technology-based economy.

In a similar fashion, tertiary education consolidates what the individual has acquired at the primary and secondary level. Tertiary education must promote scientific knowledge and technical skills development. The local adoption and development of technologies must form an integral component of tertiary education as these should be relevant and directly linked to the economic needs of the country. Tertiary education should provide the current and potential working class with training opportunities to upgrade and or acquire new skills consistent with the demands of the workplace. They should be linked to the economic sectors and activities of the country. The higher the level of education that an individual has, the higher will be his or her productivity (Lucas, 1998). This is because the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to innovate. The literature widely acknowledges the contribution of tertiary education to a country’s productivity, competitiveness, and economic growth (Ozturk, 2001). This is achieved primarily through production and diffusion of knowledge. Tertiary education has also been recognized as being a major contributor for increasing tax revenues, savings, investment and entrepreneurial development.

In concluding, I would like to emphasize that a focused, quality system of education, as a holistic entity that encompasses primary, secondary, and tertiary education, is necessary to stimulate growth and economic development. Such an education system must embrace globalization and its implied competitiveness and productivity.


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Black, E. President of the World Bank, 1942-62, An address to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, 1960.

Hassan, S. & Ahmed, H. (n.d.). Education’s contribution to the economic growth of Sub-Saharan Africa. Southwestern Economic Review 175-190.

Lucas, R. (1998). On the mechanics of economic develpment. Journal of monetary economics. 22 (1): 3-42.

Mincer, Jacob, (1994). Schooling, earnings, and experience. N.Y.: Columbia University Press.

Ozturk, I. (2001). The role of education in economic development: a theoretical perspective. Retrieved from

Psacharopoulos, G and Woodhall, M. (1997) Education for Development: An Analysis of Investment Choice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sakamota, A. and Powers, P.A. (1995) Education and the dual labour market for Japanaese men. American Sociological Review. 60 (2): 222-246.

Schultz, T.W. (1971) Investment in Human Capital. New York: The Free Press.

© Margarita Gomez

HTML last revised 22nd October, 2011.

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