The Marketisation of Education | When Unruly Students Turn into Demanding Customers

Unlike many other industries, which can either be state-owned or privatised, the education industry is an integral part of every nation’s government sector. It is classified as a public good and the primary responsibility of a good education is usually assigned to the State. The State is expected to directly provide or finance educational opportunities–particularly for the duration of compulsory education.

In developed countries, basic schooling is a free and universally available service provided by the State. Many nations even wield out severe penalties for parents who fail to send their children to school. While alternative models of education do exist, the State’s role as being a primary provider of compulsory education is the best model we have–so far.

Many have debated the validity and applicability of the concept of considering education as a public good–usually with conflicting visions and approaches. The primary issue is related to whether or not the state is justified in intervening in the early education years. In some cases, the answer is yes. In other cases, the answer is no.

In every developed economy, the State has played a significant role in the development of public education systems–and this function has been seen as one of the so-called main rationales for the existence of the State; in addition to healthcare, employment and housing. The discussion, however, embarks on a different trajectory when considering post-compulsory levels of education–especially at the tertiary and higher education levels.

While growing private sector involvement is generally considered to be a part of the process of privatisation, it also reflects a greater degree of marketisation and commodification. This is when services or products not initially for meant for sale turn into ones oriented towards profit-making.

Critical issues regarding the negative influence of for-profit firms in the education sector have been identified. As this spills over into the non-profit sector, even public schools are increasingly coerced into acting as businesses and treating students as consumers.

This consumer orientation also has implications for the educational process. When the education system becomes increasingly gamified, the quality of education suffers as a result. The ‘short-term gain’ bias grows increasingly apparent as the attention span of students dwindles down.

While education remains easily available, the focus appears to have shifted from the quality of education received; to a number of factors related more narrowly to the measurement and comparison of student performance in easily quantifiable terms such as: percentile pass rate, university entrance scores and so on. This leads students to having an unrealistic perception of their abilities.

Greater marketisation in the field of education also raises important issues with regards to the ultimate purpose of education; which are increasingly pending towards individual private interests. With an exaggerated focus on school choice, the marketisation of education turns into a debate surrounding consumer sovereignty – rather than public debate regarding the pressing priorities that can benefit students in the long-run.

The choice between an approach to education considered as a public good or as a marketable good should be a more pressing priority for policymakers and parents everywhere.

The governance of education should not be considered as another ‘market’ since the market place leaves decision-making to the outcome of the competition and rivalry between different groups representing short-term interests.

This is out of alignment with education as being a long-term and ongoing pursuit. The difference between public policy, which is a participative and democratic process; and private markets interests, which focus solely on profit is very important, and it is worth considering as it is vital to the long-term well-being of society as a whole.

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