There is an old saying – A rising river covers many rocks and a drying river uncover them. The downturn in global economic growth had led to many social issues raise their heads again. The education system is one of them. There are many issues relating to the current education system – poor standards of public education, falling education standards, rising cost of professional courses, a decrease in relevance among industries and more. The decade old question which is a common factor for all these problems is – “Role of governments in the education system”. The question is as old as the education system itself. To answer this question, first, we need to understand the purpose of the education system.
Purpose of Education
Education is an investment in human capital. And as continuous investment in physical capital is required for economic growth, increase in human capital is also required for economic & also social growth. Apart from providing economic gains education also serves society. For a society to be stable & Democratic it needs to have some basic common set of values along with a minimum level of literacy. Secondly, for a society to be progressive it needs innovative, diverse & free thoughts.
Education can serve both these purposes but do so under different environments. Though it is very difficult to classify the level of education which will bifurcate for these two reasons & there is no clear answer for this. But what is clear that same set of environment cannot meet both objectives mentioned above.
Returns on some basic education to meet the first point might be low at individual’s level but not at the societal level due to neighborhood effect. Also, opportunities to get this minimum education are not same for all. Under these circumstances, the government intervention is a must to provide this minimum education for all. Since this education must have a common set of values it needs government regulation in course curriculum and administration. The basic education can’t be set free. If allowed free, the teachings, practices of different systems, region, religion might contradict each other. For example, teachings of different religious schools, interpretation of history at different schools can be different & of opposing nature. That is why; the basic common education system should include the only fact based teaching, social rights & wrongs and introduce a practical way of life.
Restrictive or conclusive education to children limits his view, it will not allow him to become a rational person. He will not be able to accept other different thoughts or views, thus making him biased or extremist in extreme case. Interpretation & more in depth study can be left for higher studies when an individual is ready to accept different thoughts & views and has the ability to develop his own reasoning.
On the other hand, for education to be innovative, diverse it had to be freed from regulations & must be competitive. Higher returns on higher education attract individuals with greater force. But there are possible reasons for which a competent individual seeker for higher education might not avail it. For these reasons, higher education needs government financial support. But no regulations in curriculum or administration; controlled higher education system will not be able to match the pace of industrial & social changes. The social fabric of nation or composition of demand for human capital changes often and so should be higher teachings. To solve ever changing social problems or to produce technologies required by industry – thinkers, reformers, researchers should have free competitive learning that matches such changes.
A regulated higher education system might lead to citizens who lack the ability to challenge or question the state functioning. There can be cases where states actions are not justifiable or need corrections. Under such circumstances, active citizens play a crucial role.
There are two major assumptions here – Governments are efficient & individuals without common values will have conflicts with each other. Though, both these assumptions are questionable. First, Governments are never efficient & tend to have their own agendas. Governments often try to use the education system to serve themselves instead of society. To have continued power they might enforce their own interests/ideology into the education system. Thereby ensuring the loyalty of public towards the government. Second, it might be possible that peoples with different education system instead of fighting with each other make learning. Apart from these assumptions, the common values which should be imparted to citizens are also questionable. What are these common Values? How & who will define them?
Therefore it is not easy to define the role of government in education system once and for all. It needs scrutiny from time to time. The government should not have a complete autonomy in the education system, not even in the basic education system. And should have enough control on higher or private institutions to stop them from becoming a monopoly or lead to exploitation in any form. A nation needs an overall education system which holds its peoples together & also forms a progressive society and makes its citizen capable to make a government which will serve the society and not individuals or certain specific groups and opposes the government if required.