State school education lacks the willingness to change. At least, most of the time. Germany is the best example of this. When the first PISA student study was published in 2001 (it compares the competence of 15-year-olds in the areas of math, reading and science), the results sparked a broad debate in this country. Germany was pretty bad compared to other countries. They didn’t want to let that go. The voters put pressure on them, politicians reacted. There was more empiricism, more personnel, more change. The result: school performance improved.
And because the results improved, the PISA topic disappeared from the media. The political pressure on the school system eased. And with it the services. Today the skills of students are worse than in 2001.
What can we learn from the experience?
The state is good at preserving and bad at changing.
Changes in government tasks arise almost exclusively as a result of political pressure. Not from within.
That’s only natural. Inside, the status quo reigns. Those who want everything to stay the way it is dominate. Because that’s exactly why they’re there, have their job, do their job.
This is no different in the state than in any company. Those who are there want to stay there. Change could cost you a task and a job. However, for companies in a market economy, the status quo can be dangerous. If the company is in competition, there is usually pressure to improve. Otherwise, customers will quickly turn to other products if they promise more, better quality or cheaper prices. But then income is lost and your own job is at risk.
Status quo thinking is usually not a good idea in a market economy.
State educational institutions lack such pressure for change. The students are even assigned to schools by summons sent to their parents. No competition. No risk of the “student” customer moving away to the competition. The state offers and the citizens have to follow. School has always been like this. Why should anything change? It would be even nicer.
Anyone who wanted to introduce socialism in Germany would not need to change much about the type of school education.
As I said, the political pressure created by PISA ultimately changed school education. We don’t live under socialism. If the government had remained inactive, the people would have voted them out of office. This is how change came.
That is the advantage of the democratic process.
However, as the Pisa experience in Germany shows, democracy is also susceptible to ad hoc political measures that are not sustainable. So what could be done so that school education does not suffer from this short-sighted policy?
School education would have to be removed from the status quo thinking of state action. The state would still be responsible for providing education and for people to educate themselves, but it would leave the core, education itself, out of competition.
Specifically: Education would be privatized.
Unthinkable, you say? Our education must not be exposed to capital interests! Not the fight for returns! In the end there would be a race for the best students, do you think? The weakest would be left behind!
OK. Criticism has arrived. Counter-question: Would your horror scenario be that much different than the present?
Education is not adequately funded. We are inadequately dealing with the changing realities, which include the fact that more and more people are coming to schools whose native language is not German. When it comes to the digitalization of schools, buildings and equipment in general, we rarely give the impression that the resource “knowledge” is the decisive factor for prosperity in Germany.
This is what the alternative would look like.
Education in a market economy would be a process. The better would be the enemy of the good. And not between students, but between educational institutions. The pressure to provide better education would no longer arise primarily politically (and therefore erratically), but rather through the competition that educational institutions would have to face. And therefore constant and lasting.
What exactly could that look like?
The state would distribute education vouchers to all citizens, which can then be redeemed at educational institutions. The higher the educational effort, the higher the value of the education vouchers would be. Migrants who lack language skills would receive education vouchers with the highest value. For example.
The result: educational institutions suddenly have to make an effort to look after the students. They would court these. With attractive offers. With good education. No one would go to a school they didn’t want to go to anymore. He would have a choice and he would go where it was best for him. The state would simply specify and evaluate standards – and thus create transparency for the emerging customers.
This is what education could be like. The digitalization of education, comparability, knowledge of the value of education – all of this is now so widespread that people could be released from their immaturity. From the pressure of having to attend a certain school, with a certain curriculum, with a certain pedagogy. And it would take away the pressure of having to have good grades because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to attend a desired secondary school. Learning could become the focus.
All this competitive pressure between students! If the only thing that matters is the result, you lose interest in the content, in getting smarter, in the process itself.
So this competition between students for the best grades is a bad one. It arises because the educational offering is not large or good enough. Because good schools are in short supply. Because the students have to fight for the limited places. With market education, this competitive pressure would disappear. Because the offer would be large and diverse.
Competition would instead shift from students to educational institutions. To where he belongs. To the companies, not to the customers. This always suffers when the offer is scarce and compliant, as tends to be the case with school education today.
But every person is different and their needs are different. This does not fit into a one-size-fits-all offer.
A successful educational republic of Germany needs freedom and competition in the right places. Therefore: The state should oblige people to educate themselves. He should provide the money for it. The greater the educational effort, the more. But he shouldn’t take over the education himself. He can’t do that structurally. Education requires adaptation. Constant adjustment. The state is not created for this. If we don’t change this, we will be discussing the next PISA shock in a few years.