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Producing superstars for the economic mundial: the Mexican predicament with quality of education

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The question of how to build the capabilities to both initiate a resurgence of growth and facilitate Mexico’s transition into a broader set of growth enhancing industries and activities is pressing. In this regard it seems important to understand the quality of the skills of the labor force. Moreover, in increasingly knowledge based economies it is not just the skills of the typical worker than matter, but also the skills of the most highly skilled. While everyone is aware of the lagging performance of Mexico on internationally comparable examinations like the PISA, what has been less explored is the consequence of that for the absolute number of very highly skilled. We examine how many students Mexico produces per year above the “high international benchmark” of the PISA in mathematics. While the calculations are somewhat crude and only indicative, our estimates are that Mexico produces only between 3,500 and 6,000 students per year above the high international benchmark (of a cohort of roughly 2 million). In spite of educational performance that is widely lamented within the USA, it produces a quarter of a million, Korea 125,000 and even India, who in general has much worse performance on average, produces over 100,000 high performance in math students per year. The issue is not about math per se, this is just an illustration and we feel similar findings would hold in other domains. The consequences of the dearth of globally competitive human capital are explored, with an emphasis on the rise of super star phenomena in labor markets (best documented in the USA). Finally, we explore the educational policies that one might consider to focus on the upper tail of performance, which are at odds with much of the “quality” focus of typical educational policies which are often remedial and focused on the lower, not upper tail of performance.

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