What it Means to Take Japan Seriously
Chapter 17: The importance of educational traditions: Japan and elsewhere*
It is some time now since the economists decided that education was too important to be left to the educationalists. Numerous studies of the rate of return to educational investment have been published in the last decade and a half, mostly concerned to demonstrate - with increasing technical sophistication, introducing time lags and discount rates and shadow prices - that investment in education by the individual pays off in enhanced lifetime earnings, and investment in education by society pays off in enhanced rates of economic growth. The chief thing wrong with all this literature is that it suffers from the sin of misplaced aggregation. To an economist one pupil-year of education is a pupil-year, is a pupil-year. It is the numbers that count, because it is only the numbers that can be counted. It is always mildly flattering to see oneself quoted, but nowadays, when I pick up a book on education and development and take that furtive look at the bibliography to make sure the author has shown due awareness of my own modest contribution to the field, I do so more with apprehension than with pleasurable anticipation. As like as not, a book I once wrote on education in Tokugawa Japan will be quoted for one thing and one thing only: R. Dore estimates (or sometimes calculates; or sometimes, baldly, ‘states’) that in 1870, 40 to 50 per cent of Japanese boys and 10 to 15 per cent of girls were attending school. Apart from the fact that...
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