Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Taking free education forward - Part 2

In my last post (almost a month back :(); I concluded that contributing factors for better standards in an educational institute are the financial capital, expectations of students and parents, and the commitment of faculty staff and the management.

So what do we need in the system to make things right? What can the government do? What are the successes and failures of other countries?

Government, no doubt, can put in a little more money. But is that money going to be enough? How much money do you think is required to take Moratuwa University to the level of Chicago State University? And what would be the cost of staffing and maintaining? If the government could put the 2008 war budget (166 billion rupees) to education, may be it would be sufficient to build one or two universities and few schools. But that’s not going to improve things immensely, would it? And could the country afford to allocate such funds every year on education?

What’s wrong with vice chancellors, professors, lecturers etc.? What’s wrong with principals and teachers? To start with, I think they aren’t being paid enough. Then, there aren’t any strong enough consequences for their actions; they can choose to work or idle. Thirdly, it seems they set their own standards, and have no competition.

Most parents, put aside students, don’t know what they are entitled to and what they should expect from an educational institute. They just go with the flow. Those few, who actually do care about the quality of education, don’t have much choice or voice to change things around.

How can we improve all this?

First of all, we need to bring in money to the system. Government can invest a large capital to uplift the standards for couple of years. But the running costs should be covered up within the system itself. There are enough people in Sri Lanka who can and will pay for quality education. And, if the university students had to pay for their education themselves, may be they would be more serious about it than now. So I think it is certainly an option for the government to start charging for the education - at all levels.

For primary and secondary education, the government could provide scholarships for the economically challenged families. But there’s no reason why university students can’t earn for their education themselves.

The second option is to bring private investors in to establish educational institutes and utilize the tax money on government schools and universities. There are private schools in existence even now but I don’t think they are generating enough revenue to fund government schools. Judging by that, establishing private universities - even though is a good step towards expanding capacity and creating competition - would not provide enough revenue to fund government universities.

So I believe, in order to provide quality education, we should provide it free only to those who actually deserve free education.

With money in the system and faculty staff being well paid, it is only a matter of setting up standards, regulations and strict discipline in place that is required to get the management right. With private schools and universities competing with government institutes for better educational facilities and lower course fees students would receive greater benefits.