I have previously written about debates on education in India (link) and the push by the economic liberals (some of who also side with social right wing, who side with economic liberals) for “schools choice” as a means to solving India’s poor record in primary education. The economic liberals like to make the case for choice and believe that the state should be out of delivery, which should be the left to the market, and instead provide cash transfers or school vouchers, which can be redeemed by the economically lower classes in any private school. Thus, they try to prove that they are better (morally and managerially) at addressing the issue of education, a key component of development.
The “choice” debate often invokes the example of social democratic states that have “reformed” and have embraced the “choice” logic. Choice is often proposed in various forms: school vouchers, parents setting up and managing schools, which is in turn funded by the state. This is often used as an argument to further delegitimise any role for the state in education and instead open up social and cultural spaces to be governed by markets. Sweden has often been cited as an example of choice over public education (for e.g., see Heartland Institute, a libertarian organisation; report by BBC).
A report by The Guardian, UK (link) based on an investigation by BBC’s Newsnight (here) throws a spanner in the works. Per Thulberg, director general of the Swedish National Agency for Education argued in the Newsnight report that overall education standards had fallen at the same time since the introduction of the new schools. “We can’t say the introduction of new schools had led to better results,” stated Thulberg. He also stated that children that did well in these schools was to do with their backgrounds. “They came from well educated families,” he stated.
In the developing world, votaries of economic liberalism are pushing for “reforms” in education based on hunch and an argument that on the face of it looks very persuasive. But scratch beneath the surface and you find that it is the elites who benefit from reforms in education. As the Newsnight’s Liz MacKean reported, the Conservatives (in the UK) are now struggling to defend their enthusiasm for this program, which they announced as a key educational reform they would introduce if they came to power. The Conservatives, now state in private that the enthusiasm was “based on a hunch”.