Education is like vaccination: the more Australians who have it the better

The title of this, the first post, stems from an article located at The Guardian online.  The article discusses the findings of a Skills Australia report titled Skills in Australia 2012: Five years of performance.

The article has as a by-line (I think that’s what it’s called): “The more educated you are, the more employable you are; the more educated our entire workforce is, the more competitive Australia can be.”  For me this is a big call, but I will come to that with my questions for you.

The Skills Australia report referenced highlights that:

  • In 2011, 54.2% of working age people (20-64 years) hold a qualification of Certificate III or higher; with 1 in 4 have a bachelor degree (p. 8)
  • In 2011, approximately 11% (or 1.3 million) working age people are studying for a qualification (p. 8)

The interesting point for me is that despite the high number of qualifications held, Australians of working age still have low literacy and numeracy rates to operate in the modern economy.  According to the report, 12.4% have level 1 literacy levels, and 19.9% level 1 numeracy levels.  (See the end of the post for descriptors of Level 1 literacy and numeracy).

In what appears to contradict the title of the article, the report in 2012 only 63.8% of Vocational Education and Training (VET) graduates reported that their employment status improved (p. 9).  This is a decrease from the 2006 level of 68.7% (p. 10).  While in 2011, only 30% of those enrolled in a VET-based course completed their course.

Now, back to the article; the author states

education is like vaccination – not only is it good for you personally, but the more people in your country who are educated the better the nation is as a whole. The more educated you are, the more employable you are; the more educated our entire workforce is, the more competitive Australia can be.

My first question for you, is this an accurate statement given that the article also highlights that the difference men with a tertiary education and those below upper secondary is 2.5 and 5.9 (I assume % but it is not listed) respectively?  By my figuring, this is not a great difference – is it?  If we accept the statement above, what is the hope for the future when the current rate of 15-19 year olds “flat lined… while for other countries in the OECD it has been steadily increasing”.

Finally, the author writes, “Education is no guarantee of a job, nor does it prevent losing industries to foreign competitors, but without it our economy is more likely to catch a cold when the world economy sneezes.”  Huh?  Didn’t he say in the article stating that education is good for us, it makes us more employable – I am confused?

So, my other questions for you are:

  1. Does education make us more employable?
  2. Does education make the nation more competitive, given that our manufacturing and associated industries are leaving for foreign shores, not – as I understand – because of education of costs?  Does a more educated workforce equal more costs?
  3. Despite an increase in qualifications, Australia still has a workforce that has people functioning at Level 1 literacy and numeracy.  Therefore, are we become a more credentialed society, but this does not correlate with being more educated?

I look forward to your replies.


At Literacy Level 1, adults can read relatively short digital or print continuous, non-continuous, or mixed texts to locate a single piece of information, which is identical to or synonymous with the information given in the question or directive. These texts contain little competing information. Adults performing at this level can complete simple forms, understand basic vocabulary, determine the meaning of sentences, and read continuous texts with a degree of fluency (p. 72).

At Numeracy Level 1, Adults can complete tasks involving basic mathematical processes in common, concrete contexts where the mathematical content is explicit with little text and minimal distractors. They can perform one-step or simple processes involving counting, sorting, basic arithmetic operations, understanding simple percents, and locating and identifying elements of simple or common graphical or spatial representations (p. 72).


2 thoughts on “Education is like vaccination: the more Australians who have it the better

  1. The problem in literacy and numeracy can, I’m afraid, be laid at the feet of the school-level education system. Frankly it doesn’t cater for those who are struggling and hence they leave school with barely Level 1 in LitNum.
    As for the economy. Yes, the link between a well-educated population and a strong economy is tenuous at best. It is a necessity but it’s not causative.

    • I agree with your assessment. I have just had to upgrade my Certificate IV in TAE to include LLN. Schools push people through, and they teachh them how to pass the test and not to learn. This is why “learning to learn” has become a new movement – see here and here. Although I find it interesting how they link it to critical thinking, the topic of my ongoing doctoral research.

      I also agree about an educated society. I was giving this some thought as my state (Victoria) is going to election at the end of the month. One of the parties has avowed to return technical schools. This made me think about where the money lies in occupations. I known many tradies that make a lot of money, at times more than their university educated peers. Funny how things have turned.

      Thanks for popping in, please keep coming back.

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