Business of Education

Education dates back to the very first humans ever to inhabit Earth. Why? To survive, every generation has found it necessary to pass on its accumulated knowledge, skills, values, and traditions to the next generation. How can they do this? Education! Each subsequent generation must be taught these things. Stretching the idea wider, even animals educate their off springs in matters of safety, food-gathering and survival in some ways.

Education is a Human Right and ‘Education in human rights’ is itself a fundamental human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that education is a fundamental human right for everyone and this right was further detailed in the Convention against Discrimination in Education. Right to education entails

  1. Primary education that is free, compulsory and universal
  2. Secondary education, including technical and vocational, that is generally available, accessible to all and progressively free and
  3. Higher education, accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity and progressively free.

The Right to Education Act 2009 describes modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children aged between 6-14 years in India under Article 21 (A) of the Constitution of India. Compulsory means no child can refuse to be educated.

This act has made education a fundamental right for every child. Delivery of Fundamental Rights would not be a business even if the government were to entrust it to any of its instrumentality, agency or authority.

Any business has customers who have the right to accept or reject the products or services offered to them by the business entity. By this definition, at least education for children aged between 6-14 years cannot be a business.

The history of formal education extends at least as far back as the first written records recovered from ancient civilizations. India had the good fortune of having institutions of Higher Education, Takshshila and Nalanda, even before the 5th century B.C. Education in India was always focussed on careers – Scriptures for Brahmins, battle-science and governance for Kshatriyas, and crafts for others. The Muslim invaders and the Christian Missionaries influenced the education system to a large extent, former using force while the latter using demonstration. Macaulay destroyed the system nearly fully though Swamy Dayanand and his contemporaries tried to preserve it.

Horace Mann, credited with creating the foundation of American modern public education system, saw that the industrializing world demanded different skills than its agricultural predecessor. He prioritizes certain aspects over others. For example, lumping students into groups rather than treating them as individuals. This made “education” much easier, even if it did nothing for the individual student who didn’t adapt well to this new system. It’s worth reminding ourselves now about the key characteristics of the industrial era, and how we can see them manifested in the education system that continues to be emulated in India to this day:

  • Schools focus on respecting authority
  • Schools focus on punctuality
  • Schools focus on measurement
  • Schools focus on basic literacy
  • Schools focus on basic arithmetic

Notice how these reinforce each other. You enter the system one way, and are crammed through an extended moulding process. The result? A “good enough” cog to jam into an industrial machine.

The higher education institutions are plagued by the erosion of academic integrity, corrosion of standards in the curriculum, the oversimplification of admission standards without understanding the importance of true preparation for higher education, and the rise of economic self-interest in both institutions and faculty, places the teaching of classes much lower on their priority.

Even the school education is equally diseased. Government schools face a social burden placed on them by poverty and hopelessness. Troubled children carry the ills of their homes and neighbourhoods into their classrooms every day. In many schools, teachers must feed the bodies and souls of their students before they can even begin to feed their minds. These schools face inflexible bureaucracies, inane regulations, and incompetent administrators and their teachers being called upon to run every chore for the government outside the school other than teaching in the school. High school drop-out rates and students whose performance on maths and science tests puts them at or near the very bottom of their cohorts elsewhere in the world.

It is this set of facts that has provided legitimacy to the private enterprise in education and has sparked business-of-education initiatives.

The business-of-education thrives on the logic: If you can compete, you will be hired for a job. If you are hired, your virtuous habits would eventually lead to your promotion. As promotions accumulate, your pay increases and eventually you reach financial comfort. Or perhaps even significant wealth!

Is this logic responsible for accelerating the acceptance of education as business?

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First published 02 Aug 2021

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Published by

Mukul Gupta

*Educator, researcher, author and a friendly contrarian* Professor@MDIGurgaon

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