We are Absolute Autro-Libertarians and as such we believe that everything should be private, this includes education. We have so stated innumerable times, including a longer article (see Education The Absolute Austro-Libertarian Way). Many people oppose private-only education on the basis that only rich people would be able to afford it. The problem with this point of view is that economic means are kept depressed by governments. If governments would step out of economic affairs or simply disappear altogether, education would become affordable because everybody would be much wealthier and the price of education would drop. These are nothing but common effects of free markets.
All this is true and more. But there is one more reason we prefer private over public education: government bureaucracy. In a free market, you either deliver or go broke. This is the best possible motivation teachers and company officials have to be responsive to student needs. In contrast, in a governmental system, there is no such motivation simply because governments cannot perform any economic calculation (see Communists Can't Count). As such, they operate in a vacuum where money is no object (your money, of course).
Today we are going to present you with two true stories of Secondary Education (albeit all names will be changed to protect…ourselves against litigation). Both stories take place in a first-world country with widespread public (and mandatory) education where the operation of private schools is allowed.
THE PRIVATE ON-LINE SCHOOL
This private school is an on-line school. It operates abiding to the same requirements outlined by "brick and mortar" schools by the Ministry of… let's call it Education (or MoE for short). If a student is interested in their courses, all they need to do is to access their website. In a matter of seconds all possible information is available at your fingertips, including fully detailed programs, teachers, contact numbers and methods, subscription methods and forms and even grant applications. Any parent wishing to register a child, could do so right there, on the spot. Furthermore, classes are ongoing throughout the year (no need to wait for fixed dates), completion times are generous (about 1.5 years) and everything is set-up within 24 to 48 hours. In other words, a child can select a course within minutes, the parent or guardian can pay online through a regular credit card and the child can begin the course the day after tomorrow at the latest. The cost of the courses are typically the same and quite affordable.
The courses are not easy by any stretch of the imagination. They are indeed hard. Furthermore, no textbooks are required, since they are all provided online. The courses are much better developed than the ones from "brick and mortar" schools because of inherent communication limitations, but also because of the need to serve customers. In doing so, the company benefits, teachers benefit and kids benefit.
Furthermore, the levels at which people can be contacted is simply massive. You have instantaneous access to any person in the company through multiple means including e-mail, phone, texting, video conferencing and others. If you prefer the traditional way, they will also take snail-mail.
The responsiveness of the company is nothing short of amazing. If you are not satisfied with an initial answer, the next hierarchical level is there to listen; and we mean really listen. When there is a technical problem with the course, it gets fixed, typically overnight. If there is a problem with the course, the teachers will typically fix it within 48 hours. But what it is more astonishing is the level of support and encouragement from the entire staff. They literally take a deep interest in the student. They over communicate. They truly guide students. More astonishing even, when they correct something which was their error they apologize! Profusely! And…hold on to your hats… they request and ask that please, please, please they be let know immediately if any other problem arises! They are begging students and parents to show them their errors and mistakes so that they can fix them!
This is responsiveness. This is true customer care. This is the free market at work.
THE PUBLIC ON-LINE SCHOOL
Let's now contrast this efficiency with the so-called public on-line system. This system was developed not because of the obvious superiority of many courses in their on-line versions, but as a cost-saving exercise. As the educational system in this… let's call it region… is public, this means that it is driven by political considerations. The MoE creates curriculums which are a wet dream for politicians. They are totally, utterly and helplessly vacant of any information that could be remotely detailed. Everything (including grading) is highly subjective and open to widespread interpretation. In other word, there is no way to know what a student will be taught by reading such documents.
Furthermore, for political reasons, the region where the MoE operates is sub-divided in smaller areas. In each of these areas you have an organization that is the supreme overlords of its respective kingdom. Let's call this organization The Committee (TC). Money flows from the MoE to the TC and as such, the TC is supposed to be dependent from the MoE in regulatory as well as financial ways. It is not. They are virtually independent because the MoE chooses not to interfere with TC's for political reasons (do not rock the boat), although it is its theoretical duty to do so. Of course, bureaucracy is bureaucracy and a large number of meaningless decrees and memos and instructions and rules and regulations are routinely passed from the MoE to TC's… which are mostly ignored or rendered irrelevant by the vagueness of their contents.
Because of this political divide, TC's are de-facto the lords of education in their regions. As such, so long as they formally fulfill MoE's curriculum, they can do anything they may want to do. This, of course, includes the development and delivery of on-line systems. But bureaucrats being bureaucrats, they like to keep control in their hands, this ensures their job security. As such, the MeE developed (i.e. purchased) the platform for on-line delivery of courses and made this platform available to all TC's to be managed by them.
Finding a course
All this information that we just provide you, is not, repeat not available from any government organization. It is all a large mystery, particularly when it comes to on-line courses.
Now, let's say that a child would like to find out which on-line courses are available. Well, this can't be done on-line. Not only this can't be done on-line, but it is impossible to find out how to find out this information. That's right! On-line courses are not listed anywhere on-line and there is no information as to who may have this information.
If person calls the MoE, this person will be told to speak with the TC "because they control their courses" and the MoE only "provides the platform". If you call the TC, they will tell you that they do not know, because they are only responsible for "their" courses and that you should speak with the child teacher in the TC area. But typically students do not take on-line courses from the same area where they live, because many TC's have no on-line courses. And so when you ask the TC how to proceed, they will tell you to speak with children's school. And when you ask in the school, they will tell you (after the obligatory run around through 3 or 4 bureaucrats) that you should be speaking with… let's call them Student Advisors (SA) which will promptly inform you that yes indeed they are the ones with access to the on-line system but (there is always a but) they don't actually have access to the system. They need to request access to the TC where the child will be taking an on-line course… which is of course impossible to determine because this information is not publicly available. Kafka would be proud. Full circle. Catch 22. You can have the information only if you have it; if you don't have the information then you cannot have it.
But let's say that you are a masochist and enjoy being punished. Let's say that you pursue this quest for knowledge by leaving no rock un-turned and threatening, cajoling, begging, claiming, as generally stirring up the shit until somebody higher up the school (with some authority in the bureaucracy) decides that you are making more fuzz that it is worth. Then, this person "gets" the information for you… from secret, non-public and unknown internal channels. We suspect that this system was set-up by the Security Services of the country to prevent terrorists from access this vitally important national security information, but of course, we can't prove it.
Then, whit this information at hand, you march back to the SA and ask to see the content of the courses. Well… no. Not possible. You see, the SA does not have access to TC's on-line system and requesting access would take about one month (assuming the TC does not screw-up, which is a large assumption). But let's say that your goal in life (cancelling everything else) is to get this information and so you insist, follow-up, demand, scream, cajole and otherwise become a real pain in the ass. Eventually, the SA will request and get this info. Hurrrray!
Once the SA gets this information, you do not actually have access to the system; they have. Big difference since they are typically not allowed to show you the contents of the system for…err… why not? Who knows. They don't disclose this information either. We suspect that may have to do with bacteriological warfare of perhaps Central Bank machinations but we cannot be sure.
In any case, you can now pester the SA until they provide you with a list of possible courses that may be of interest to the child (in their view) and that may (or may not) be offered in the next educational year, assuming there are seats available (which may not be).
Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.
Continue to A Tale Of Two Schools - Part 2