Education spending found lacking
OECD study finds country ranks 33rd out of 34 members
Posted: September 21, 2011
Among highly industrialized countries, the Czech Republic spends the second least amount on educating its youth, according to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Spending accounts for just 4.5 percent of the Czech Republic's GDP compared with the OECD average of 6.1 percent. Of the 34 OECD members, the country ranks 33rd in education spending, outpacing only Slovakia and trailing countries like Portugal, Hungary, Mexico and Turkey.
The results are indicative of a long-term trend for which solutions don't seem imminent, experts said, as the government continues to pursue budget cuts.
The report shows that the dearth of spending pervades the whole system, including notably lower spending on education per student and teacher salaries, as well as fewer university graduates.
Top and bottom countries' spending as percentage of GDP in '08
1. Iceland 7.9
2. Korea 7.5
3. Israel 7.3
4. Norway 7.3
5. United States 7.2
1. Russia 4.7
2. Czech Republic 4.5
3. Slovakia 4.0
4. China 3.3
5. Indonesia 3.3
Source: OECD survey of 42 countries
"The Czech educational system has long been heavily underfunded, which has deepened its problems. Support for education has always been underestimated and almost never accompanied by strong budgetary measures," said Jindřich Kitzberger, a former deputy minister for education and a member of EduIn, an organization dedicated to tracking education in the country.
The OECD report titled "Education at a Glance" analyzed data from 2008. Since 2008, however, Czech education spending has remained fairly steady, at 4.5 percent of GDP in 2009 and 4.4 percent in 2010, according to the Institute for Information on Education.
At present, it's expected funding for the Education Ministry in 2012 will be about 146 million Kč less than this year, a ministry spokesman said, adding that the budget should be finalized in December.
Meanwhile, test scores dropped the most for Czech 15-year-olds on the triennial Program for International Student Assessment administered by the OECD last year, the result of a 10-year decline in math, science and reading knowledge.
The Education Ministry's response to the tumble has been to pursue a contentious reform hinged on a statewide-standardized high-school exit exam with the goal of reducing the number schools, which they say will help improve education quality.
The problem "is the diverse quality of schools and teachers," Kitzberger said, and "large differences" in school equipment, teacher education and staff levels, which is causing the gap between school results to widen. This trend was also noted by the OECD.
Others have also raised questions about a system that forces students to choose one of three paths as they enter secondary school, which influences early on the chances of a student going to university.
"These are complicated questions that many governments grapple with. There may be advantages to kids specializing when they're younger, but it could also limit opportunities if it is poor-quality schooling, and it may conceal their potential to do better," said Steven Rivkin, a professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts, who specializes in education economics. "It has to be a system that allows people to build on their strengths, and be cognizant of the fact that the opportunities of 12- and 13-year-olds are tied with family income. Countries have to find a way to give all kids opportunities at early ages."
The "evidence is strong that education, in terms of years of schooling, has a very large effect on GDP," Rivkin said, as well as on average income levels and standard of living.
In the Czech Republic, during the first quarter of 2011, individuals who finished secondary school but did not take the leaving exam made up more than 50 percent of those unemployed for two to four years, followed by those with only primary education at about 30 percent, while university graduates had the lowest levels of unemployment, according to the Czech Statistical Office.
According to the OECD report, university graduation levels for the population below the age of 35 are 20 percent well below the OECD average of 37 percent. On the bright side, enrollment levels for 15- to 19-year-olds has increased at least 10 percent from 2005 to 2009, and more than 90 percent of the population under the age of 54 have attained secondary education.
Average annual spending per elementary-school student in the Czech Republic is 68,000 Kč, compared with the OECD average of 128,000 Kč, and only 110,000 Kč on secondary-school students compared to 128,000 Kč. Average domestic spending on university students is 149,000 Kč per year, compared with the OECD average of 246,000 Kč per year.
Teachers' salaries remained some of the lowest, at around 24,000 Kč for a primary-school teacher with 15 years' experience, above only Poland, Slovakia and Mexico.
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