The High Cost of Free Education
We often hear a saying "you get free cheese only in a mousetrap" implying that nothing is free on the earth. However, under the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic we are entitled to free primary and secondary education. What should we believe: the fundamental law of the country or common sense? If we analyze this question, it is clear that, in fact, the so-called "free" is very expensive.
Citizens pay all bills
Free school education in the Kyrgyz Republic is the worst according to the PISA education ranking. The Kyrgyz Republic was ranked the last place out of 65 countries where the research took place. Our school students do not receive relevant, up-to-date knowledge. They are taught by textbooks written 30-40 years ago. And if we also mention graduates of public universities, most of them are not competitive on the local labor market, not to mention the global labor market.
The government does not intend to eliminate barriers for starting private schools and universities to boost competition among educational institutions. As usual, the government demonstrates a desire to control everything ignoring the negative consequences of such control.
Common sense tells us that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone should pay for it, but this someone isn’t the government, which is maintained by the taxpayers’ money. We, the citizens, pay all debts in the end. Here is a relevant quote of prominent economist Frederic Bastiat: “Everyone wants to live at the expense of the state. They forget that the state wants to live at the expense of everyone”.
There is a demand but no supply
In the education system the government is a “middleman”. This middleman receives his salary regularly, but does his job poorly. The reason of such neglectful treatment for the taxpayers is the government monopoly in education. And we cannot refuse low-quality government services to higher quality services offered by private companies. The monopolist does not allow private educational institutions to appear, because upset and unsatisfied students will start turning to private organizations.
A great deal of money invested in our school education system has given little result. Even if we increase government expenditure by several times, the result will be the same. The Ministry of Education, local officials and school principals have no incentives to enhance education quality and fulfill demand of students and their parents. On the contrary, private sector is interested in demand fulfillment, i.e. it works far more effective than public sector.
Quality of education in private schools is higher than in public schools
The reasonable question arises: are private schools accessible to the most part of population? At the present time they are really financially out-of-reach for most parents as there is very little competition on the market. The entry on the market is artificially limited by hundreds of requirements of the Ministry of Education. If there were no barriers, the number of private schools will rise significantly. The inevitable result of this will be reduction in price for education.
Millions of children from poor families in China, India, Ghana and Kenya are studying in low-fee private schools. The research showed that quality of education in low-fee private schools in these countries is higher than in public ones with greater funding. Education is a service like a barber’s or baker’s services. Do we need to license their activities?
Let’s give ourselves answers to some questions. Which schools:
- - give higher quality and more diverse education?
- - revise and update educational programs regularly?
- - provide modern equipment?
- - apply to students attentive and individual approach?
- - provide security for students?
- - prevent school bullying?
The answer for the questions is obvious. Why, in this case, the government should impose barriers for starting private educational institutions? Let the parents make a choice, whether they want to send their child to a public or private school.
Education is a fundamental basis of prosperous society and strong economy in modern world. Educated and high-skilled citizens are strategic resource of the nation. We sacrifice our successful future for so-called “free” education.
Central Asian Free Market Institute (CAFMI)