While coming back from Globelics Academy 2012 conference, I read article on Finnish science magazine (Tiede) on how school mates improve the learning performance in primary and secondary schools. The message is simple:

“It is better to buy a worst house in best neighbourhood than best house in poor neighbourhood”

There are two reasons why private elite schools are bad for developing knowledge economy and increasing national intellectual capacity; (1) weak performers will not become more intelligent if they spend their schooling time with other weak performers; (2) many initially well performers become weaker performers among other well performers. The reasons for these observations are multiple.

First, weak performers normally come from families with lower levels of education meaning that their initial educational levels are weaker than the average. Families with weaker education levels come normally from lower income classes. When student with weaker learning capacity spends time with other students with weaker learning capacity the results indicate that aggregate level of learning decreases among the whole group of students. However, when weak performer is located with better performers, the learning capacity shows clear increase already in one year of time according to empirical research. In addition, if there are only few well performers among weak performers, the social pressure might decrease initially well performers’ opportunities and capacity to learn. Well performers coming from low income families is normally associated to motivated parents who are willing to invest in learning environment at home. This investment is many times wasted because of unequal social system. This means that for example Brazil should not only increase the level of public education, but also find ways to provide interactions between students coming from low income and high income families.

Second, high performers normally come from higher classes where the education levels of parents are higher. These students in developing and emerging countries normally go to private elite schools based on their family income levels. However, the elite schools are not always the best places for well-educated students. The self-esteem of good performers might go down when they need to compete with other high performers. In mixed schools where there is right kind of mix of good and bad performers, many good performers’ self-esteem increases as they can shine compared to bad performers.

To conclude, private elite schools are not supporting the development of knowledge economy. For example in Brazil in general only students that have graduated from private elite primary and secondary schools manage to get in to best universities in Brazil.

“There are 99 federal institutions in Brazil, enrolling about 940,000 students, and also 108 state institutions, enrolling 600,000 students. The private sector is much larger, with 2,100 institutions and 4.8 million students enrolled.”

In Brazil best universities are public such as USP (which is raked among top 200 universities in the world). On the other hand, the ones who are not the top performers in private elite school normally choose private universities which are not conducting academic research to connect their learning to global knowledge production. The people coming from poorer families are left out of professional education or are forced to pay from low quality higher education.

Source: Kuiru et. al. (2012) Best friends in adolescence show similar educational careers in early adulthood. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

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