“The next society will be a knowledge society. Knowledge will be its key resource, and knowledge workers will be the dominant group in its workforce.”Peter F. Drucker
It has been a commonplace observation for a century or more that brawn is being replaced by brainpower as the basic ingredient of prosperity. But to say that was little more than to say that during the Industrial Revolution, labour was made more valuable by technology and organization. That is what productivity has always been about. Now, however, the point has become much more profound. For as services now far outweigh manufacturing as contributors to economic output, and as the exchange of knowledge has itself become one of the most valuable services, so Peter Drucker’s point, which he first popularized in a book in 1957, has become more and more important.
The main resource of all western countries is now human capital, the quality of which will in turn determine their ability to compete globally, their ability to absorb and exploit technological innovation, and their ability to overcome burdens such as demography through high productivity. In this sense, knowledge has become as distinct from “information” as a Michelin 3-star chef’s signature dish is distinct from the mere raw materials with which it is constituted. But how to measure knowledge? That is more difficult.
More education is not necessarily better education, and nor does it necessarily represent good value for public money unless it brings economic and social benefit. And, although education does have value in itself, its greatest value from a whole country’s point of view comes when it is put to use in productive activities.
So for the Wake Up 2050 Index we have looked for measures that combine the extent of education with its quality, and then that show whether it is being, or can be, deployed. Oft-criticised though they are, the OECD’s “PISA” test scores for literacy, numeracy and science in high-school education offer the best and most comparable guage of basic educational quality. We added to that the share of the age group (25-34) who are in tertiary education on the grounds that that is the group likeliest by the middle of this century to be society’s leaders. Then to get a sense of how well such human capital is being deployed today we have used a measure of productivity. And we added a measure of the freedom of the press, as a gauge of how well information is able to flow and be challenged.
Finally, as a proxy of whether educated people actually are given opportunities to produce and to thrive, we have put in a measure of gender equality. If the more than 50% of the population that is made up of women is not getting a proper chance to use their human capital, there is surely little likelihood that a country is really going to flourish as a knowledge society. After all, female students generally even perform better than males, both at school and at university. And since gender equality is a relatively recent achievement even in the most equal of western societies, this measure can act to some degree as a prediction of how well a country will fare in the future, since recent and current cohorts of well-educated women will be passing through their most productive years during the coming decades.