Sunday, July 31, 2005

Education policy

There are two main arguments in education policy
1) The right (national act) see schools as no longer having competitive systems that encourage achievement and that trying to improve the system without addressing this is futile. Education is generally seen as a means to an ends (work).
2) The left sees schools as having large numbers of people who cannot achieve because they are disadvantaged. They see these people as needing a hand up and see raw competition as something that will just make it more difficult for these people furthermore that it is a public good and not a means to an end.

Both are correct. Competition is one method of encouraging people to achieve and education should be widely available and seen as a public good.

In this area I probably most closely resemble the conservatives. I believe that things that are not given clear guidance become guided by things such as internal politics instead.

There must be some aims that we wish to achieve in our education system and we must create incentives for everyone to work towards those aims. Personally I think the main aim is return on investment - we want the students to be educated enough that they will be able to pay taxes that can be used to educate the next generation.
Therefore, the teachers and lecturers must be measures in some manner that encourages them to educate students in this way. A teacher that is able to get students better marks in external exams should thus be paid more a teacher that cannot improve their marks should be fired or moved to another area. Furthermore teaching is a very important job in society - sufficient money must be allocated in order to attract the right people.
The case is even worse in tertiary education than secondary where lecturers design and mark their own courses - teach what they want and then are hired or fired on the totally unrelated ability to publish articles.

But not all of this is related to the teachers. There is a fundamental problem in our schools related to streaming and the ability of students to choose.

First we encourage students to do science and so forth during school all the way up to 7th form BUT what if the person already knows they will be a plumber? There is nothing wrong with being a plumber you may well make twice as much as the biologist but you may still find yourself pushed into biology classes that will go to waste. So for one policy they should stream education as early as possible.

Second students are not particularly great at making economically rational choices. For example students vastly overestimate the value of degrees and you may be surprised to know many higher degrees actually reduce your lifetime earnings (because you have to spend some years studying of them). Worse yet many short degrees such as tourism and broadcasting are also outright wastes of money for almost all participants since they teach very little that is required for the industry.

In order to address these problems the government should be selective in regard to where it provides funding. Courses such as engineering that it knows will pay for they many times over in taxes later on can be fully funded. Courses like ancient history? Well if you have reason to believe it won’t pay for itself then the students should have to pay. This will help students to see clearly what courses will help them get good jobs and further encourage lecturers to design good courses.

A final problem is the foreign student issue. More foreign student’s good right? Well yes in the long run but in the short run it can cause universities to do stupid things. For example let’s see a uni can have 300 engineering students per year and the country needs 300 per year then 200 foreign students come in - they take 200 places (pushed by their parents possibly). The uni now considers making the school bigger - but it can’t do that immediately it has to buy land hire staff go through bureaucracy. Net outcome? Less engineers in NZ when the foreign students go home.

I dont trust any political party to do this right but national is most likely to start to adress the problem.


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