Is Education a Major Driver of Positive Peace?

One of the Positive Peace pillars is critically predicated upon the efficacy of a modern education system in the production and distribution of human capital in a society.

A critical insight of the Global Peace Index (GPI) of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) is the dichotomisation of peace into negative Peace and Positive Peace. The IEP framework posits negative peace as the absence of violence, or fear of violence, while Positive Peace identifies the ‘attitudes, institutions and structures’ for creating and perpetuating a peaceful society (pp. 52).

According to the IEP, there are eight major factors, or pillars, of Positive Peace for creating and sustaining an environment for enabling the fruition of human potentials. For the Positive Peace Index (PPI), the IEP has isolated eight domains for determining the ‘effectiveness of a country’s institutions and attitudes to build and maintain peace’. One of the ‘major pillars of Positive Peace’ is critically predicated upon the efficacy of a modern education system in the production and distribution of human capital in a society (IEP, 2016, pp. 52).

A recent book by Bryan Caplan, the Case against Education, argues that the education system in the US, which is often emulated by other nations as a gold-plated system, is close to a ‘waste of money’ (Caplan, 2018). While trying to explain his main thesis Caplan chooses six occupations – bartender, cashier, cook, janitor, security guard, waiter – to opine: ‘no one goes to a four year college to prepare for such jobs’ (Caplan, 2018, pp. 105). If workers of such occupations have high school credentials, then such credentials are nothing but over-qualifications. Such over-qualifications are called a pure case of malemployment. He found employers, even for non-academic occupations, offer wage premiums for their high school and college education. Wage premiums are due to many factors other than malemployment and Caplan failed to bring many finer ingredients to explain the role of education in earnings premiums even for non-academic occupations.

One critical ingredient is motivation and how self-concept can trigger and drive every human endeavour. Motivation is very similar in spirits to the notion of Positive Peace as an enabling environment for achieving human potentials (IEP, 2016, pp. 52). At Western Sydney University our former colleague and emeritus Professor at Oxford University, Herb Marsh, created and led the Self-Concept Enhancement and Learning Facilitation (SELF) Research Centre. The major goal of the SELF Research Centre is to develop and promote strategies to optimise self-concept as a valuable income in itself, and as a means to facilitate the attainment of other valued outcomes such as social development, emotion well-being and improved productivity and job satisfaction.

Marsh is also widely credited for co-creating, articulating and establishing ‘the big-fish-little pond’ and ‘small-fish-big pond’ models, or frame of reference models, of human motivation.  According to the prototype frame of reference model, individuals pit their own self-concept against their peers and that ‘equally capable individuals have higher self-concepts when in a less capable group than in a more capable group’. According to the strand of thoughts on Self-Concept, self-image is a source of all human motivation and the prime mover of all human endeavours. Self-image is one of the oldest and most important constructs of social and behavioural sciences. From Marsh’s work on 45 nations, the boosting of self-image and identity is a ‘major goal in education, child development, health and fitness, social services, management settings and in sport/exercise sciences’.

Perhaps other factors related to qualifications, but not discipline-defined knowledge, that Caplan may have omitted. As an example, people with qualifications, due to their educational experience, are faster and more adaptable learners in general, so their productivity is higher – especially in an ever-changing technology-saturated workplace where learning ‘new systems’ is a regular event. It is also important to highlight that people with qualifications have acquired other kinds of productivity-improving tacit knowledge/skills – say, knowledge of the virtues of a division of labour for team-based activities and the importance of social skills.

Another possibility is that [part of] the explanation of the qualification premium might lie not so much in productivity differences as in subtle differences in roles for what may appear to be basically the same job. It is possible that people with qualifications are given roles that still ostensibly require no qualifications but do have additional ‘responsibility’ attached to them. In that case, in terms of the data [and Caplan’s classifications] they are apparently ‘over-qualified’, in the sense that their official discipline-knowledge is not being utilised, but their remuneration premium is explained by their additional duties like supervisory roles. In call centres, where (i) all jobs essentially require no qualifications, and (ii) on the surface the ‘positions’ all look basically the same – and would be roughly classified statistically as the same job by an online job search engine – workers can/do negotiate higher pay-grades for ‘additional responsibility’ that roughly go to people with higher qualifications.

Since Caplan’s work is missing the transformational role of education in improving workers’ productivity, his findings could mislead. It should be no surprise that in light of the Positive Peace framework that education naturally creates the right “attitudes, institutions and structures” for enabling humans to reach their fullest potentials and, hence, higher wages.

Partha Gangopadhyay and Edward Mariyani-Squire

Professors of Economics

Partha Gangopadhyay is an associate professor, North American equivalent of a full professor in economics, obtained a first class honours degree in economics from Presidency College, India and a PhD in economics from University of Sydney. Partha began his academic career at National Institute of Public Finance & Policy, a leading think-tank from India, and taught at University of Sydney& Griffith University before moving to Western Sydney University. Partha also held chair professorships in Germany and in a multi-country university called the University of the South Pacific; and several visiting professorships at leading North American universities.

Edward Mariyani-Squire is a lecturer, North American equivalent of an assistant professor of economics, read in the areas of economics (social science), psychology and philosophy at the University of Sydney. He holds a first class honours degree in economics (double major in economics and psychology) and the University Medal from University of Sydney.  Edward worked as a tutor in political sociology at the University of NSW before moving to Western Sydney University. Edward won several academic awards including an Excellence in Teaching Award at Western Sydney University in 2005.