Friday, 14 April 2017

How We Educate Children Is Going To Radically Change

Education Secretary Justine Greening spent yesterday telling us how the English school system needs to support those who are struggling and not the privileged few. The desired outcome is correct, but her method for getting there is fraught, because the best way to improve the English school system is to drastically reduce the state's involvement in it. The problem with having the state running our education system is that it makes education far more expensive than it needs to be, and it diminishes the quality in doing so. So pupils get a less good but more expensive education than would be the case if more supply-side competition was introduced. 

I'm now going to tell you something that will startle you, or at least many of you. Without the meddling of the state in our education system, the majority of the pupils that go through the school system would get a similar kind of education to the quality that privately educated pupils get.

Let’s do some maths to illustrate this. Last time I checked, there were 9.7 million pupils in education, with approximately 630,000 attending private school. The government’s annual education spending is usually between £85-90 billion. Given that private schools have charitable status, so get no money from the state education budget, that equates to roughly 9 million state-educated pupils costing the government around £90 billion per year.

That works out at a cost of £10,000 per pupil per year. Now according to ISFA the average cost of private school fees is between £10-11,000 per year. It varies for reasons we needn’t go into here, but as you can see, the average cost to educate a pupil through the state system and the average cost to educate a pupil through the private system are very close. For roughly the same cost the government could send every pupil to the educational standard of private schools (excepting perhaps the very high fee-paying schools). That's even more alarming when you consider that currently only 7% of pupils go to private schools.  

Now I'm not denying that that is a deliberately overly-simplistic model of analysis - not least because even if all schools were of a higher quality nationwide there are going to be hundreds of pupils who through all kinds of background disadvantages and bad choices are not up to the standard of a decent education. But if nothing else, the arithmetic above gives a strong indication of how much the state education system fails to give so many of its pupils value for money (approximately 22% of school leavers in the state system leave with the reading, writing and numeracy skills of an 11 year old).

In the most comprehensive study ever conducted, spanning 25 years of international research comparing state-provided education versus market-competitive education Andrew J. Coulson showed in his paper Markets vs. Monopolies in Education just how far state schools fall behind the more highly competitive market-based schools. This is in no small part due to the fact that market-based education has the flexibility both to meet different needs and cater for diverse abilities of the pupils.

I know many in the UK are currently horrified with the idea of anyone but the state providing our education system, but that's mainly because most people are still relatively unapprised of quite how a market system would work. For ease, you have to remember that if you're paying for your child's education in a market-based system you get to keep more of your money, and the money you pay goes more directly in to benefit your child's education. In other words, more money reaches the school children, because under the current bureaucratic system there are more officials employed in the education sector than there are teachers, and in some schools there are more admin staff than there are teachers.

But what about the poorest people in society - isn't it important that the state provides them with an education?

No, it is important that the state provides them with the funds to acquire an education (vouchers sound like a good idea to me), not the education itself - that should be the parents' responsibility (where there are barriers to this happening then the law should become involved). Think of food - that is vitally important, more so than even education, but the state doesn't have a nationalised food policy, it subsidises hungry people with the cash to buy food.
That is what would happen in a market-based school system - the parents that cannot afford to pay for their children's education would receive the funds to pay for their children's education (and any help they needed), but the schools would be run privately, without the layers of state bureaucracy, meaning the money spent on education more directly benefits the children.
Furthermore, the price and quality of education improves significantly thanks to the forces of competition and increased choice on the part of the parents, and increased accountability on the part of the teachers. And remember, in my low tax, small state, market-driven financially autonomous society parents are going to have a lot more disposable income with which to make economic decisions.
Don't forget too that by and large a proper education is limited only to those who voraciously seek knowledge - the rest are just children herded like sheep into a classroom and narrowly shaped to fit into the agendas of the rent-seekers that govern us. One thing is for sure, just like the UK health system, the UK education system simply cannot be sustained with the current model. So, to finish, I'm going to make a twofold prediction about the future of our education system.

A prediction
In the first place, give it a few decades henceforth (maybe six or seven, possibly sooner) and there won't be any state-funded schools at all. There will be a market-based school system where parents shop for education like they shop for everything else, with the people who cannot afford to shop being given the funds with which to choose school places for their children.

In the second place, as the efficiencies of the market-based education system become more and more apparent, the inefficiencies of school buildings - such as the cost of maintaining the buildings and concomitant taxes, time lost travelling to and from school, changing classes during the day, registration and other administrative hold-ups, the sub-optimal class sizes and the numerous other interruptions to learning - will be weeded out by the gradual transition towards more widespread home-schooling.

Once you add to that the prodigious technological capacity we'll have at our disposal in the future, I predict home tutoring in small neighbourhood coalitions of about 4 or 5 families will be the standard way that children are taught (this will ensure social skills are not omitted). In fact, thanks to the advances of future technology, education will probably be so cheap to provide that the poorest people in society will all be able to be educated at a relative price of next to nothing.

And while you're pondering that, and possibly harbouring concerns about how the poor might be helped along under a more market-led system, just look across at how these young people are doing now under a state-run system, and in the case of those who are worst off, think that it couldn't really be much worse for them than it is now. Literally thousands of young people are leaving school lacking the basic skills and requirements necessary to carve out a career for themselves, in a society in which, thanks to political interference, education is not coterminous with the jobs available, and vice-versa. A more market-driven, technologically innovative system cannot do any worse for these young men and women that the current system - quite the opposite.

Think about it, even by today's relatively unevolved standards (relative to 100 years henceforward I mean) even most poor children have their own device with which to access the Internet, which means they literally have access to the entirety of the whole world's knowledge. Imagine how much more sophisticated learning can be in the future with even better technology and better systems to organise it.

These home school coalitions will benefit the pupils no end: they will be less prone to picking up bad behaviour from other children and less susceptible to bullying or scholastic isolation. For all sorts of reasons related to time, money and resources, home schooling is a remarkably proficient method of teaching children - not just with facts to learn but in shaping them with the wisdom of 'how' to think.

There will also be much more diversity in the ranges of learning available, with specialised learning for pupils with particular types of mental and physical abilities, specific types of interests, nuanced barriers to learning, and the multitude of other ways that a localised, consumer choice-driven, trial and error-based system enriches society.

The effect of state-enforced taxation, in most sectors, not just education, is that it reinforces the monopoly of politicians and diminishes the ability of consumers to spend their own money more autonomously. As we continue to evolve and more people begin to understand that most of society's achievements and advances come from the bottom up not the top down, we will begin to redress the problem, diminishing the state's control on our finances and strengthening our own.