One-size-fits-all education stifles enterprise – Eustace Davie

For my generation, Pink Floyd and Paul Simon perhaps epitomised the sentiment expressed here about the robotic, lowest-common-denominator ‘thought control’ education inflicted on our children. First the rebellious 1979 ‘We don’t need no education” lyrics from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, left many lazier types eschewing learning. Although their lack of education hasn’t hurt them none, Simon’s “crap” he learnt in high school left him wondering how he could think at all. So it is that Eustace Davie, a director of the Free Market Foundation and author of Unchain the child, proposes an entirely different competitive education system, one that allows the best to emerge in teachers and attracts the right children to the right subjects and schools. Centralist socialist planners aim at the mythical ‘average’ student, and like everything else they do, impugn our futures by dumbing things down and stifling creativity and enterprise. Look around you at adults who attended non-traditional schools and see how they’ve done … I’m willing to bet it illustrates the point. This article was first published in Afrikaans on – Chris Bateman

Education entrepreneurs should educate and train young people

By Eustace Davie* 

Economist Thomas Sowell said: “It is not what education teaches us directly, but how well it prepares us to learn ourselves that is the ultimate measure of its value.”

Eustace Davie

The current one-size-fits-all schooling places major limitations on the ability and incentives of teachers to use their knowledge and abilities to provide high-quality education and training that prepares young people for taking on the challenges of adulthood, especially their working lives. The curricula imposed on teachers and their students do not leave space or time for teachers to allow students to “learn themselves” as described by Thomas Sowell as being the most valuable form of learning.

Imagine how different the skills and knowledge-gathering offerings would be if education and training were demand driven; if competitive markets in education could develop freely, taking their cue totally from the demands of students and their parents. Only those establishments that wished to use the current government prescriptions, such as the compulsory curriculum, would retain them.

Central planning for the implementation of successful education and training is impossible because no single mind has the knowledge to carry it out. Socialist-style attempts at the planning of any form of economic activity inevitably fails because central planners will not and cannot have the information necessary to successfully conduct the task.

Compulsory schooling inevitably results in standardised curricula, predictably aimed at the mythical ‘average’ student. There is no such person. All students are individuals who have a vast variety of differing innate abilities and characteristics. They deserve to have their wishes and aspirations respected. They need to be free to choose their most preferred option from an array of available educational and training offerings.

There will be individuals among the current government-school teachers who would be interested in running a school along entrepreneurial lines. People with specialised knowledge and abilities could decide to pass on their knowledge and skills to the next generation but the current system would not allow space for specialised training of young people. Finance for entrepreneurial-style schools could come from the current schooling budgets through “the money following the student” but there is no latitude for out-of-the-box skills training of young people. Other students in such schools could either be privately sponsored, or fully parent funded.

If the money followed the student in government schools, competition for student customers will inevitably drive up the quality of teaching. The attitudes of teachers would change dramatically in the fully government-managed schools if they had to compete with other government schools for students and the taxpayer’s money that follows them. Losing students would put pressure on all schools to improve the quality of service they provide to their student customers.

A free and competitive learning environment would offer an immense variety of choices and teaching methods. Education entrepreneurs would be seeking to fill every imaginable market demand. Educational supply would vary from facilities run by one person to large organisations catering for thousands of students. Young artists, musicians, engineers, chefs, film producers, athletes, writers and every other conceivable skill and talent would be catered for somewhere.

Forcing young people to sit through years of boring standardised ‘subjects’ and ‘curricula’ chosen by a centralised decision-making body wishing to stamp its own vision on unfortunate young people, is nothing short of a crime against humanity. It is time to allow young people and their parents to make those decisions, which are currently made for them by the people who believe, incorrectly, that they have the right to do so.

Breaking free has become a popular term, used to describe momentous occasions when people throw off the constraints of circumstances that have kept them in an untenable situation for far too long. The chains of such circumstances have trapped the world’s children for more than a century. They cannot break free on their own. They need the assistance of adults, especially their parents, to break free from the monotony imposed on them.

Albert Einstein said of government-imposed schooling: “It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet strangled the holy curiosity of enquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mostly in need of freedom; without this it goes to ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.”

  • Eustace Davie is a director of the Free Market Foundation and author of Unchain the child.

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Comment from BizNews community member John Stegmann:

Eustace Davie (BizNews 11 April ‘One-size-education stifels enterprise’) appeals for schooling here to encourage diversity and invention rather than conformity. A similar criticism of our schooling has been that it rewards the ability to recall what was taught, rather that the ability to comment constructively on what is being taught. I see my crusade to develop the ability to reason as being in line with both sentiments.

Numeracy – essentially the ability to reason – is possible the most unsuccessful school subject. My focus is on helping parents and carers of toddlers to commence with numeracy from the time a toddler begins to talk, and not to wait for numeracy to be introduced in Grade R.

Our incredibly rapid population growth over the past century has been a major challenge to quality education. The overall problem of managing all levels of education in this country is compounded by stresses linked to rapid population growth. Now add losing 600 schools in the recent KZN floods. The Dept of Basic Education can’t deal with another call for help. Corresponding with DBE is near impossible. That means going it alone.

I’m reminded of a guest speaker at a local Rotary meeting in Cape Town decades ago asking for assistance for Community Chest. The argument he put forward was the work being done by volunteers is essential and without public support the Chest will close. Government will then have to do the job, and that will be done with less compassion and cost you a lot more.

The early years are hugely important for every individual. Parents, typically and ideally, are every newborn’s first and most influential teachers. Every home is therefore a mini-DBE requiring the same range of resources. Diversity here is the reason why some kids are ready for school and others not. My plan is to provide a resource to parents and carers of toddlers to improve their ability to teach language and numeracy fundamentals – particularly numeracy.

This is patently not the one cure-all, nor is it an easily-funded get-rich-quick scheme. But it is a viable long-term venture because babies born into poor or rich circumstances all come with the same potential; so there’s a wide range of parents or carers who might welcome some assistance. And there are private undertakings keen to help who will welcome a product to use.

One such undertaking is willing to order a batch that will enable manufacture to commence soon. As a start up we can sell competitively in volume directly to end users. And as we get into volume production we should be able to supply competitively to retailers.