IDS working papers;23

General Versus Vocational Secondary Education in Developing Countries: A Review of the Rates of Return Evidence

Published on 1 January 1995

The purpose o f this short article is to examine critically the current orthodoxy concerning
social rates o f returns to general and vocational secondary education in developing countries.
Since George Psacharopoulos has been the prime mover in establishing this orthodoxy, we
shall focus in particular on the rates o f return (henceforth ROR) evidence that he has brought
to bear in support o f the basic proposition that the social profitability o f vocational secondary
education is generally lower than for general secondary education. In addition, however, the
evaluations o f Zymelman and Tilak will also be scrutinised (in chronological order) as well
other, generally more recent comparative ROR studies that either were not or could not have
been included in these three evaluations.
It must be emphasised at the outset that the main objective o f this paper is to review research
that makes explicit comparisons between the costs and benefits o f (specialist) vocational and
general secondary education in any one country. There are many other studies o f school-based
vocational education in its wide variety o f forms in developing countries which do not,
however, attempt to compare in a systematic and rigorous manner the relative social
profitability o f general and vocational secondary education. Thus, while some o f these studies
do derive social and/or private RORs to specialist vocational secondary education (see, for
example, Bennell, 1993 (Zimbabwe); Grootaert, 1988 (Cote d’Ivoire); Paul, 1990 (Togo and
Cameroon); IBRD, 1990 (Bangladesh)), no equivalent RORs to general secondary education
are presented. As will be discussed in more detail below, it is methodologically incorrect to
use these ROR estimates in any comparative overview.

Publication details

published by
Benell, Paul


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