On this blog, I have pondered the matter of education quite a bit because development and education are inextricably related. Irrespective of how rich an economy is by the usual measures of GDP, if the population is not educated, it is not a developed economy. An economy may have a high per capita GDP, due to say exporting oil, but it cannot be considered a developed economy.
Poor nations are notoriously under-educated. Part of the problem is that education is a public good. I have explored that aspect briefly in Why Education is Underprovided in India?
I believe that there are two factors that explain this unfortunate phenomenon. First, education is a public good. And second, the socially optimal provisioning of public goods require collective action. India is particularly prone to a failure of collective action, which in turn leads to an under-provisioning of public goods, including the most fundamental of public goods — education.
… which holds the entire economic machinery together. It is so fundamental and basic that without an educated population, there is no conceivable way for an economy to prosper. Show me any economy that has ever done well, and I will show you that at its foundation is an educated population. I grant you that for short periods of time due to special circumstances, an economy may flourish without an educated workforce, such as an economy bouyed by a natural resource such as oil. But it is a hollow sort of an economy and cannot survive in the long run.
On the question: Does educational spending promote growth?, my position is this.
… that basic education (not higher education) is a necessary (not sufficient) condition for economic development (not growth). I can well imagine that spending on higher education beyond a certain amount under specific circumstances may not be found to be statistically correlated with economic growth. If an economy is already very rich and economically developed, it may be close to its potential economic growth rate and therefore any extra spending on higher education will not have any significant effect on the growth rate.
India has the largest collection of illiterates and semi-literates in the whole universe. India is also very poor and therefore cannot afford the luxury of going the traditional route as regards education. The tradition route of having fancy classrooms and well-paid teachers is beyond the reach of the majority. What is the way out, then? [Source]
My prescription for India is to invest massively in education. I presented a modest proposal for making India fully literate within three years. I followed that up part two of the proposal where I wrote:
Around 1950, India had about 200 million illiterates. Suppose India had taken a big bang approach and instead of spending $1 billion that year, it had allocated $10 billion each year for 3 years on primary education and make India completely literate. Then the total cost to the public would have been $30 billion and it would have solved the problem once and for all. On top of that, having a literate population from 1953 onwards, it would have developed more rapidly (if the country had not screwed up in other ways), and it would have had a lower population (population of developed nations grow less rapidly), and the aggregate wealth of the country would have been higher, and hundreds of millions of fewer people would have led mean, brutish, nasty, desperate and short lives. And we would not be having this discussion. We could have spent the time reading poetry or playing online games.
In part 3, I argued that information and communications technology tools have to be used to make the task of education tractable and proposed that a regulatory body be constituted for education.
It is my position that to develop, we have to use ICT domestically instead of merely building ICT tools for developed countries to use. I keep repeating the word tool because that is what it is. ICT is a means, not an end. Which means that we need to first figure out what we want to get done and only then seek the tools required for the job. If you go and first purchase an expensive hammer, you are out of luck if what you really need done is make a cup of tea.
Following a presentation at a conference on development, education and ICT at Bhopal in December 2004, I considered the matter of reinventing education in a brave new world of IT.
Since the dawn of civilization, the store of knowledge has steadily increased. The rate of increase has now accelerated and the stock of knowledge is growing exponentially. This has some major implications for education because unless one has a good handle on the existing stock of knowledge, one cannot meaningfully use it nor add to it.
Education today faces a challenge. Part of that challenge arises due to its past successes. I call it the “supply-side” part: the stock is too huge already and the flow seems to be exponentially increasing. There is a complementary “demand-side” challenge: there are immense numbers of people who need to be educated. The combined effect of two increases the cost of education. In this short series I will explore the use of ICT in meeting the challenge.
In Re-inventing education part two, I noted:
… [that] disruptive technology increases the production possibilities frontier, and to obtain the gains from that technology, you may have to replace the older structure with one that is more consonant with the new technology.
I believe that we have to move from a teacher-centric to a learning-centric education model
… the learning-centric model recognizes these two basic truths: that the universe is connected, and that every student is unique. The model makes available to the student a very rich, deep, and connected set of content which the student navigates through a process which can only be called discovery. Although the basic material is accessible to students is common, the path that a specific student takes is unique to the student. Conceptually, the content is a fully-connected network which can be traversed in a potentially infinite set of ways. One can start from any one of a very large set of nodes, and then move from one node to another till entire structure has been visited.
That is a quick index of some of my posts on this blog dealing with education. I concluded with some musings on what the goal of education to me is: it teaches one how to think, how to fast, and how to wait.
I believe that learning how to think may be something alike to learning a language. It appears that we have a language learning sub-system in our brains which shuts down sometime around age 12 or so. Before reaching that age, you can very easily learn languages; after that, learning languages is extremely hard. So also, I believe that if you catch a kid early enough, you can teach him or her to think. It is as if the brain circuits are just a lot of firmware in early childhood and then as one grows up, the firmware hardens and become hardware that cannot be re-programmed.
Here is my prescription for a good education. Focus primarily on teaching how to think and on teaching how to learn. Teaching how to think is like giving kids a very high powered CPU. Teaching them how to learn gives them control of a very broadband channel through which they can have access to content that the CPU can process. Alternative analogy: good thinking skills is like have a good operating system. And good learning skills is like having a great set of applications.
I hope to coninue to ponder the matter of education more on this blog.