The entrepreneurial vision for robust, consumer-driven learning: Eustace Davie

In the quest for a robust education system, philosopher Thomas Sowell advocates not just the content taught but the vital skill of self-directed learning. Governments worldwide control education, limiting entrepreneurial innovations. In South Africa and beyond, students are subjected to a curriculum often detached from parental wishes. Imagine an education system shaped by demand, driven by competitive markets, and devoid of entry barriers. Eustace Davie envisions an entrepreneurial society where parental control fosters diverse, joyous learning experiences, urging governments to relinquish their grip on education for a brighter, consumer-driven future.

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.

Education and Entrepreneurship

By Eustace Davie*

It is not simply what education teaches us directly, but how well it prepares us to learn ourselves that is the ultimate measure of its value! Thomas Sowell

Governments around the world have reserved the field of education to themselves. In doing so, they have posted legislated “Keep Out” signs to tell entrepreneurs that they are not welcome. What happens to young people after that is totally dependent on the “luck of the draw” as to whether the young students will receive an education that will stand them in good stead when they step out into the working world. 

As Thomas Sowell described it, “how well the education has prepared us to learn ourselves,” will determine how valuable the education will turn out to be. Sadly, from most accounts, young people in South Africa – in common with a large percentage of young people around the world – are taught what government appointees, aided in some cases by education labour union members, decide what the young people will be taught. The wishes of parents are widely disregarded. 

Bringing the learner and teacher closer together

Imagine how different young people’s education would be if it was driven by demand – if competitive markets in education were allowed to develop. Removing barriers to entry is all that would be necessary to create a market led by innovative entrepreneurs discovering ever-better ways to impart knowledge, methods, skills, paradigms, and principles to young people. 

They may also create ways to make everyday working and living easier and less expensive. If allowed to do, they would make learning the most exciting and inspiring adventure in the life of every young person on earth. A test that would bring teachers and students together could be the “Reverse Option!”. 

Government neutrality in the economy

Economies function best when governments are neutral (impartial), when they do not attempt to force their own views about production and consumption upon the people, or take sides in the process, especially not about who should produce goods and services.

An entrepreneurial society is characterised by a high level of economic freedom and an absence of barriers to entry into the economy. This allows competitors to enter any sphere of economic activity. Citizens are protected by the rule of law, private property rights, and a sound legal system that enforces contracts and punishes those who commit fraud or theft or initiate force against others. In addition, consumers rely on unhindered competition between suppliers of goods and services to provide them with value for money on their purchases. 

In such a society, there is no statutory protection for any firms, including public enterprises.

Enterprises owned or controlled by the state are compelled, just like private businesses, to rely for their survival on their ability to compete effectively for the business of consumers. Poor service or excessively high prices immediately attract alternative providers. Open entry for foreign firms makes markets even more competitive and the benefits to consumers are even greater. In an open economy, consumers have access to a vast array of choices, better services, and lower prices.  

Important characteristic of entrepreneurial societies

There are few consumer paradises like this today because governments have strayed from their proper role, which is to provide the best possible environment for the achievement of peaceful and just societies. They place their role as “owner” of enterprises above the best interests of consumers. But if government were totally neutral, resources would be utilised to serve the best interests of citizens as consumers and would not be diverted to political uses. 

Thus, an important characteristic of entrepreneurial societies is that government involvement in the economy and in the lives of citizens is limited. Taxes are low, and regulation of and interference in business are minimised. Most importantly government do not own enterprises. Having the government own businesses is like having a soccer referee participate in a match that he is supposed to be adjudicating. The result is not good for the players, it does not produce a good product, and the paying spectators do not get value for money. Government must stay out of the hurly-burly of business if it wishes to play its proper role of impartial arbiter. Setting rules that will bring out the best outcomes for the entire population.

Government neutrality in schooling

Government involvement in the schooling business compromises its neutrality in the field of education: the preservation of its own schools becomes a more important priority than the provision of competitive and steadily improving environments for all its young citizens. Teaches in the employ of government schools, and their unions, assume an important dominant role in the formulation of education policy. Their concentrated voting power gives them greater influence than parents and students over what happens in schools. In the process, an administrative bias develops against private schooling, especially when increasing numbers of students opt out of taxpayer funded government schools. 

The time has come for parents to wrest schooling out of the hands of governments. In an entrepreneurial society, parents, and their children – the consumers of children’s education – will be totally in control of the process. They will decide through their purchases, based on their subjective value judgements, what is to be taught and how it is to be taught. They will reward good teachers and decline to employ bad ones. Education entrepreneurs, in their efforts to compete, will offer an 

array of learning experiences that will ensure that every child will have at least one option that will bring joy to his or her heart.

What entrepreneurs are already doing in the diversity of choices they offer in clothing food and entertainment, they can also do in learning experiences and skills development. All they need is the freedom to discover what consumers really want. They can do this efficiently if governments will refrain from scrambling price signals, preventing consumers’ messages from reaching suppliers, or, more seriously, monopolising schooling through exclusionary legislation.

Read also:

*Eustace Davie is a director of the Free Market Foundation and author of Unchain the child. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.