Curing non-existent ailments in Education

Though Education Minister Mr. Kapil Sibal has his intentions right in terms of Education 'reform', his prescription seems to be going awry. His latest suggestion of including XIIth standard marks as part of evaluation criteria for admission to the IITs seems fine, though, on a personal note I don't think it matters one bit. But when he points to the sprouting of IIT coaching institutes as one of the reasons to bring XIIth standard marks in, he's stumbles on economic logic.

In fact, as one of the coaching institute Director pointed out on TV, inclusion of XII standard marks is an added opportunity for coaching institutes to offer coaching classes for XII standard exams. So the new policy, instead of shutting them down, will only help them grow. What defies complete economic logic is the Minister's assumption that a change in the evaluation criteria will arrest the growth of coaching institutes. You don't need to be an economist to figure that the existence and continuance of a business firm solely hinges on one factor. Consumer demand. If there's demand for coaching, institutes will flourish. You want to shut the institute down, curb demand. If you want to curb demand, let kids get into the IITs sans the JEE. Of course, that isn't possible. So institutes will remain. There's nothing anybody can do about it. Not even a minister.

But beyond all of this, there's the all important implication. The supply side scarcity when it comes to education in India. And that scarcity exists because the supply side is still regulated by the government. So education reform shouldn't be about IIT admissions, it should be about letting the private sector participate, unfettered, in offering education services to student consumers.

But then you may ask, what about quality? Fly by night operators? Of course, the Private participatory scene wouldn't be perfect. But it surely will be better than one controlled by the government babu. I know it isn't easy for a populace that's grown up on government services to trust the private sector to do better. But economic logic proves why private sector's always better.

Note Milton Friedman in 'Free to Choose', talking about 'Who protects the Consumer?';

'Ask yourself what products are currently least satisfactory and have shown the least improvement over time. Postal service, elementary and secondary schooling, railroad passenger transport would surely be high on the list. Ask yourself what products are most satisfactory and have improved the most. Household appliances, television and radio sets, hi-fi equipment, computers, and, we would add, supermarkets and shopping centers would surely come high on that list.

The shoddy products are all produced by governments or government-related industries. The outstanding products are all produced by private enterprise with little or no government involvement. Yet the public - or a large part of it - has been persuaded that private enterprises produce shoddy products, that we need ever vigilant government employees to keep business from foisting off unsafe, meretricious products at outrageous prices on ignorant, unsuspecting, vulnerable customers.'

Also watch Milton Friedman discuss Education in the video above.


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