David Kiss, Ph.D. in economics, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, works at the Institute of Labor Economics in the University of Hannover, Germany. He specializes in education topics and came to the UM in October to do research with other economists and teach in the Business and Economics faculty. “I chose UM as they have an English-speaking working environment and an international approach”, he told.
Why did you come to UM?
Currently I have the opportunity to go abroad as I have no teaching obligations. Alejandro Cid, Jose María Cabrera and Ana Balsa work on education topics, just as I do. We also use the same analytical methods. An additional reason was my wish to come and live in South America for some time. I chose UM as they have an English-speaking working environment and an international approach.
You are working with investigators of the UM, what is your research about?
We try to see how several regulations that are changing over time —for example, requirements for students to pass exams and things like these— are affecting student outcomes. Our goal is to identify regulations that help students to better succeed in their studies.
You may know that Uruguay is having some problems in primary and secondary education, which do you think is the way to start solving them?
I think it is good to look and learn from countries that do well in education, like Finland for example. One key factor are teachers. Because the respect for a profession is also reflected by its compensation, I think that reductions in employment protection for teachers plus large increases in their salaries would help a lot. If teacher’s jobs are well paid, good people will come in.
You don’t need computers or other expensive gadgets; you need teachers who are inspiring to students. This can only be done by well-trained people who love their profession. However, even the best teachers’ impact is limited if students are not sufficiently supported at home by their parents.
In addition to that, it is good to increase the accountability of schools, and to allow parents to choose between different schools.
Do you have any project in mind know?
At younger ages, students tend to underinvest in their education and I would like to look at ways to improve that. The general problem is that putting in effort or doing homework is both immediate and unpleasant: the effort must be done immediately but the benefits lie far in the future. If you work hard now, you will get a better job and have more opportunities in life, but the problem is that people tend to undervalue future benefits which causes them to put in too little effort during school.
I would like to study whether more immediate feedback of teachers on their students’ performance could motivate students to take school more seriously. This type of research lies in the field of “Behavioral Economics”.
Do you like Uruguay?
Yes, a lot! Look, right now I´m drinking mate. Soy uruguayo. People are very nice here, they are friendly and very social. They are not so distant so you don´t feel lonely. I don’t speak well Spanish but Uruguayans always try to help and understand.
Do you find it very different from Germany?
Not so much. Most people here are descendants of Spanish or Italians so it´s easy to adapt. Going to China or some African country would be really different, but here I didn´t have misunderstandings with people.