Elite Education for few better for a developing country than universal elementary education?

Oxfam Blogs has an extremely interesting article that compares the rise of Somaliland vs. the fall of its neighbor Somalia, and points out how this completely upends conventional wisdom regarding foreign aid and other aspects of building a country.

And the aspect I found most interesting there related to education. The paper points out that elite education, available to only a selected few, was found to be more important than universal elementary education – at least in terms of providing the next generation of leadership for the country:

The paper highlights the critical political importance of elite secondary schools in forging leadership. Available to a relatively small group of often privileged Somalilanders, this is in stark contrast to the donor emphasis on universal primary education. In particular, many of Phillips’ interviews led to the Sheekh Secondary School, set up by Richard Darlington, who fought in WWII as the commander of the Somaliland Protectorate contingent. Sheekh took only 50 kids a year and trained them in leadership, critical thought and standard (Darlington borrowed from the curriculum of his old school, Harrow). Sheekh provided 3 out of 4 presidents, plus any number of vice presidents, cabinet members etc. And no it isn’t a weird Somaliland version of Eton and Harrow (I asked) – it stressed student intake from all clans, especially from the more marginalized ones.

Compare and contrast this with what Clay Shirky said a few days ago – that maybe the way forward for higher education is to provide the lower quality of education to a larger number of people at lower cost. Of course Shirky was talking about US, a developed country, while Oxfam is talking about Somaliland, a poor underdeveloped African country, so the situations are quite different. And I certainly don’t claim to know which approach is better. (And I’m sure that the correct answers lies in saying, we should do both.)

But, it is interesting food for thought. If you were forced to pick just one for India going forward, what would you pick – great schools that provide world class education for a few, or universal literacy?

Read the full article.

Source: @makarand_s

Better education at higher cost, or same education at lower cost?

Clay Shirky writes, that we are at an important inflection point as far as higher education is concerned, and we should get used to the fact that major changes will be forced upon us whether we like them or not.

While he is talking about higher education in the US, some of his thoughts would be relevant to India too.

The main point he’s making (regarding higher education in the US) is that the middle-to-late 20th century was the golden age of higher education – the various governments funded/subsidized education to a very large extent, for a variety of reasons. This led to the creation of a system with good quality education, but very high costs. Over time, the amount of funding from the government has reduced, and the costs have been passed on to the students in terms of higher fees.

This is not a sustainable situation. In the modern world, higher education is becoming necessary, and the costs are too high for most people. Specifically, higher education is failing most people – they are getting no, or sub-standard education because of the lack of affordable quality institutions.

How can this be fixed?

One obvious way to improve life for the new student majority is to raise the quality of the education without raising the price. This is clearly the ideal, whose principal obstacle is not conceptual but practical: no one knows how. The value of our core product—the Bachelor’s degree—has fallen in every year since 2000, while tuition continues to increase faster than inflation.

The other way to help these students would be to dramatically reduce the price or time required to get an education of acceptable quality (and for acceptable read “enabling the student to get a better job”, their commonest goal.) This is a worse option in every respect except one, which is that it may be possible.

The first option, increasing quality without increasing the price, can only happen if governments starts increasing funding for education again. But, that is unlikely to happen, he argues:

If we can’t keep raising costs for students (we can’t) and if no one is coming to save us (they aren’t), then the only remaining way to help these students is to make a cheaper version of higher education for the new student majority.

The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.

Those of us in the traditional academy could have a hand in shaping that future, but doing so will require us to relax our obsessive focus on elite students, institutions, and faculty. It will require us to stop regarding ourselves as irreplaceable occupiers of sacred roles, and start regarding ourselves as people who do several jobs society needs done, only one of which is creating new knowledge.

Read the full article

The key takeaway for me is that we should stop expecting the system (i.e. government) to come in and fix the system. Instead, we should accept the fact that the goal has changed. Instead of focusing on trying to increase the number of people to whom we can provide very high quality education, we should probably focus on reducing the cost at which we can provide some acceptable quality of education to large masses.

InnoVidya Event: The Idea of Growth by Anupam Saraph

InnoVidya and IUCAA present a talk by Dr. Anupam Saraph on “An Agenda for a Resurgent India” on Saturday, Aug 17, 2013, at 11am, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA. This is the next talk in the InnoVidya/IUCAA SPARK lecture series.

About the Speaker – Dr. Anupam Saraph

Anupam Saraph holds a PhD in sustainable systems design from the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands. He has made important contributions in domains such as systems, governance, environment and civil society and has done pioneering work in economic carrying capacity modeling & use of systems as a pedagogy in education. He teaches systems – information systems, environmental systems – and sustainable development at universities in Europe, Asia and the Americas. He also advises the World Economic Forum through its Global Agenda Council for Complex Systems and the Club of Rome Indian National Association as a founder life member.

Abstract of the talk:

Growth is all about getting Bigger. Individuals, corporations, governments – all of us wish to grow. What is their IDEA of GROWTH? Is there a limit to how much one can grow? What are the practical constraints behind such growth? Is there a conflict between <earning> & <learning>? Does the economics of growth drive all life forms and the dynamics of growth itself? Do the complex systems we create and are a part of decide the pace of growth and its impact on the system itself? What are the fallouts arising from Growth? How does Growth impact our Quality of Life? Some scenarios of our Growth and the Key elements contributing to Growth shall be defined & the ideas behind them shall be examined.

About the InnoVidya IUCAA Spark Program

The SPARK program is a series of events jointly conducted by InnoVidya and IUCAA. These are special events that <spark> imagination & curiosity of our young, build bonds between participants of different disciplines, catalyze interactivity & promote peer links

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Event Details

The event is on Saturday, August 17, 2013, at 11am, at the Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA, at University of Pune campus.

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here. There is ample parking at the venue.