Economic collapse good for educational innovation?

John Robb over at Global Guerrillas put up a brief about education in the context of our very uncertain future:

[T]here is reason to believe that costs of higher education (direct costs and lost income) are now nearly equal (in net present value) to the additional lifetime income derived from having a degree.  Since nearly all of the value of an education has been extracted by the producer, to the detriment of the customer, this situation has all the earmarks of a bubble.  A bubble that will soon burst as median incomes are adjusted downwards to global norms over the next decade.

(Global Guerrillas: INDUSTRIAL EDUCATION?)

Robb concludes that the Internet will become a major platform for higher education, serving to reduce costs on both ends and providing broader access to high-quality education. This makes a lot of sense, but it leaves me wondering what will happen with school-level education.

The school systems in most industrialized Western countries  are incredibly inefficient both financially and socially. Sudbury schools are significantly more cost-effective, not spending money on anything the school community does not accutely need, and relying on a tendency to attract creative people and/or solutions. This may prove to be an adaptive advantage in the long run, especially in financially troubled times, but many Sudbury schools struggle to get new students in these times due to their tendency to take tuition. For some schools (Sudbury Jerusalem, for instance) the reason is a lack of government support. For other schools (Sudbury Valley School) it might be a matter of principle.

Allow me to speculate for a moment… Several governments are apparently trying to solve the crisis by paying failing companies truckloads of taxpayer cash, absurd as this may be. If instead the focus would shift to optimizing government and state systems for maximum efficiency at minimum cost, we might see a shift towards educational innovation as different models compete to best serve troubled economies (this would require governments ceasing to so strongly favor a single school system, supporting none or all more or less equally). If, however, the status quo in education persists, schools that require tuition may see a marked decline in enrollment, leading to at least a temporary strengthening of state-supported school systems. It remains to be seen how the schools will cope with such a situation. If nothing else, rigid curriculum-based education will quickly show its inadequacy in dealing with a reality that changes too fast for any predictions to adequately inform the creation of curricula.


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