Lars Sondergaard, World Bank Senior Economist and lead author of the report presented the key findings. "One reason we know that the skill gaps exist in Armenia is that firms report not being able to find skilled workers. Specifically, when surveyed in 2008, 54% of Armenia's firms reported that "skills" is a constraint to their growth, and 23% of the firms reported that it was a major or severe constraint," said Sondergaard speaking to journalists on the day of the report launch. "This is based on the results of a 2008 survey conducted for more than 10,000 firms in the countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in which almost 400 firms in Armenia were surveyed about the constraints they face."
Like many countries in the region, Armenia faces the challenges of shrinking workforce and student population due to demographic factors, and firms increasingly complain about not finding workers with the skills they need. With fewer workers, each worker needs better - and different - skills and knowledge than what was needed in the past. "Throughout the world, there has been an increase in the demand for skilled labor for the global knowledge economy. The traditional concept of "manpower" made a transition to "mind-power." The world's economy has also moved from industrial to knowledge economy where productivity gains are driven by innovation and information and communication technology," said Jean-Michel Happi, World Bank Armenia Country Manager, in his opening remarks.
Questions and comments from the audience included the following: the need to establish a sustainable and effective system of internship and on-the-job training for beginner teachers at schools; how the World Bank can help Armenia participate in the OECD's Program for International Students Assessment (PISA); whether emerging economies need to perform and score as highly in international tests as developed countries, given that the requirements of their job markets and expectations of firms are different; and the acknowledgement of the difficulty in addressing the efficiency dilemma of the country's small schools in remote areas.
Twenty years ago, countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, including Armenia, prided themselves on providing high quality and universal education. But most countries in the region have seen a decline in quality ever since. International test results show that many students - outside of a handful of countries - fail to acquire more than the most basic literacy and numeracy skills. Evidence also suggests that the rapid expansion in higher education has led to a decline in the quality and relevance of education provided. Armenia is one of the countries where visible quality improvement at the general education level has been observed in recent years, but little is known about Armenian students' skills beyond the 8th grade.
The "Skills, Not Just Diplomas" report is ECA's new beat on the education system reforms in the region. It is the major regional publication on education for the last several years, and gives us insights about how to improve education based on the recent experience of the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.