The Reform of Slovakian Education Reforms

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Experts ring the alarm on Slovak education as it is forfeited in comparison to other countries, and even those ranking high are not satisfied with their performance in public education.

A reform of education of some kind is a subject of ongoing debates almost all over the word. However, the voters are not paying too much attention to this problem. Subsequently, the politicians are taking a similar approach to this. They will put the effort into declarations about the importance of education and how much we need a change. However, putting words into action is not their priority.

The apathy of voters and politicians towards education is not a fault, but a characteristic feature of the system which is responsible for providing it. The voters are rationally only interested in topics that concern them personally. As a consumer, the same person can spend hours selecting a toaster, but still remain in a state of ignorance about everything that concerns the Ministry of Education.

Goals Too Distant

Yet, consumers behave rationally. When it comes to choosing household appliances, the choice is binding. If one selects wrong, the dinner will taste badly. In contrast, despite a great effort one makes to analyse the variety of education systems or assess the work of our politicians, it does not seem to bring any visible benefits. It still makes a voter look like a grain of sand in the desert.

Similarly, politicians tend to ignore the topics which are not pertinent to their own re-election or personal benefit. An education reform, unlike social topics or Christmas bonuses, is far behind the horizon of the four year election cycle.

This conclusion, however, does not negate the argument that education really needs to be reformed. It is, indeed, inefficient in its present form and the schools provide such education which did not respond to the demand yesterday already, and tomorrow it will be even further off.

Let’s Make This an Opportunity for Free Market

The solution can be something that we could call “the reform of reforms” – i.e. setting the institutional relations between the actors in education in a way that there will be a continuous number of parallel reforms. That way the decision about the form of education will move from voters to consumers, from the dormant politicians to the wary entrepreneurs. In other words, we should let the market into the education.

Unfortunately, many experts on education techniques are unaware of the fact that no one actually knows what a ‘proper’ education looks like. Just like no one knows what a ‘proper’ car, laptop or English course looks like. These questions ought to be answered during the exploration process of the free market, where profits and losses are constantly testing the procedures and pinpoint the wrong ones. Rather than reform proposals, these experts in education techniques submit business plans. We do not need a reform that will conserve a particular idea of proper education, but a reform which allows them to get their ideas across.

Trial and Error

The institutionalized method of trial and error is the key mechanism in the operation of any system. To try in education means that there should not be any facility determining what, who, how, or when can be taught, but there should exist freedom to try to fulfil the demand for education as such. That would be the exact opposite of what is happening now.

‘Error’ is perhaps even more pivotal. Without errors and their careful selection, the whole process of innovation and progress will be full of futile attempts, making it impossible to move on. This element is missing in today’s education system. How many language schools in your area had failed and eventually had to leave the market? And how many regular primary schools befell a similar fate?

Slovak education needs a consumer-selected group of people and schools that do not wish to offer quality education, and rather just teach the same curriculum year after another, not considering the well-being of children. Many people will have to leave the field of education and a lot of old structures will have to disintegrate. The recovery process cannot be replaced by any reform from top-down – it has to be done gradually and organically from down-up.

The Best of the 18th Century

On top of that, the free market allows implementing hundreds or thousands parallel processes of decentralized reform in different places, at the same time. In contrast, the current system can run only one reform at a time, uniformly for large areas and vast number of schools.

Another key factor is the time required for design, implementation and evaluation of the reforms. In a system controlled from top, this timespan can increase to years or even decades (as we can see in Slovakia). In contrast, in free markets this can be measured in the span of weeks to months. In a functioning market, there is always the mechanism in form of profit vs. loss. Another disadvantage of the current mechanism is the uniformity of solutions for sensitive and religious and/or ethical questions. Market does not enforce this artificial uniformity – it allows a high diversity.

Vladimir Burjan, the founder of magazine The Good School, once said: “We have the best schools, which people in the 18th century can imagine”. And this is exactly the problem. Public education set in the system of control from the ministry is unable to respond to the ever-changing conditions. An important characteristic of the current world is the unprecedented frequency of these changes.

Translated by Róbert Škultéty

Robert Chovanculiak
INESS