Thursday, 4 February 2016

School Choise: Socialised Education vs School Vouchers

The matter of choice in education involves two moral issues.
  1. Freedom of parents to choose the education they seem fit for their children.
  2. Right of the child to receive an education that would enable them to live a meaningful life they see fit.

FREEDOM OF PARENTS

It has been an established legal concept all over the world that a person below the legal age of consent is incapable of making his own decisions and that authority should be left to the parent/guardian; a main component of which is education. This is regarded as a natural right in most cultures. It is also widely perceived that parents provide the best care for their children. This may be because the evolution into social primates has led to the inculcation of a strong sense of kin preference in humans. It is also the reason for the preference of foster care over institutional care in developed nations. Hence education which is one of the most important part of a child's development is better served if the decision is taken by the parents.

RIGHT OF THE CHILD

The parents rights are only restricted by the natural rights of the child which includes the right to life, dignity, education and the freedom against physical and mental violence. Protection of these rights is the only reason why the government has the moral right to constitute laws that restrict the freedom of parents. Regarding education it would mean legislation requiring the parents to arrange/provide a descent education for enabling the child to lead a meaningful life they see fit.

SOCIALISED EDUCATION

Are governments better at taking decisions in matters relating to the child's education than parents? Let us look at the track record of governments.
  1. Democratic governments are always influenced by some level of tyranny of the majority. They are very likely to bring in the cultural, religious, linguistic, nationalistic, racial or economic ideals of the majority into the educational system under their control. One of the first acts of every tyrannical government invariably has been to take control of the educational system. This has been the rationale for providing constitutional safeguards to minorities for running their own educational institutions without government intervention.
  2. All government programs comes with bureaucracy, red tape, regulations, inefficiency and lack of innovation. This is a fact that is well demonstrated through out history. Government run schools/universities are not free from this fundamental nature of government. Teachers do not have an incentive for better performance. Capable teachers are paid the same as poor performers. The heavy level of unionisation means that the poor performers can never be fired resulting in lower quality of education. It can be seen that the best universities in the world are either private or publicly constituted and autonomously run with little government intervention. Government bureaucrats fixing curriculum and ground rules are simply detrimental for good education.
  3. Lack of innovation inherent in government systems prevents newer trends in education being applied to the classroom. Innovation rarely arise out of the system. Even innovations made outside the system takes years to be implemented.
  4. Socialised education is usually oriented towards mediocrity with the brilliant students restricted by the average level of instruction fixed by the system. Brilliant students need their limits challenged for achieving excellence which they are capable of. This the system is incapable of delivering.

THE VOUCHER SYSTEM

Many economists prescribe a voucher system to utilise the competitive spirit of the free market for ensuring quality education while providing subsidized education for all. Every child will be given a voucher that can be used to pay for education at a school of his choice. Government will pay the schools fixed money for each voucher the schools receives. If a parent admits his child to a school with a higher fee than what the voucher provide, he/she makes good the difference in cash.
Why such a system would be better than the government run public education system?
  1. Firstly there is choice for the parents to select a school of choice for their child. If government run schools are functioning poorly, the parents have the choice to take their child to a private school without any financial implications.
  2. Second thing is that the schools have to compete with each other for students or perish. This will provide incentive for the schools to offer better education and adopt innovative teaching methods to achieve that objective. Poor performing schools are quickly weeded out of the system.
The government run schools should be shifted to the control of local bodies where the local community has more control over the functioning of the school. They should also be made to compete with private schools for students. This would allow the inherent demerits of socialised education to be overcome.

CONCLUSION

Parents are the best authority to take decisions about the education of their child. The authority of government to appropriate this power is justified only when the parent/guardian is not exercising his rightful duty or is incapable of exercising it. Any measure beyond this to encroach upon the this right would constitute tyranny and is to be resisted. I believe that a voucher system is a better model for running the public education system than a socialised system in which freedoms are restricted and quality compromised. Such a system would offer better quality education without encroaching on the rights of the parents.