Of all the industries that can be privatised for profit, war is the most despicable. That being said, while all privatisation is something that should be fought against – from public ownership of vital services to the democratisation of the workplace – I believe education is the most important field that must be kept free and in the public domain.
Education is considered a human right by many, and it absolutely should be. Access to free, proper education is something that everyone should have the ability to take advantage of from primary school to further education in TAFE or university courses. Sadly, through developments like the increase of school fees (hundreds of dollars per child even in a public school in my area) and government policy regarding university tuition fees (despite some in government having benefitted from free education), in Australia it is fast becoming a commodity that has a price.
Philosopher and actress Abigail Thorn (whose YouTube channel, Philosophy Tube, is well worth checking out) creates her videos with the purpose of “[giving] away my MA in Philosophy free to people who don’t have the opportunities for learning I’ve had.” While this is commendable, and should I ever be in a position to teach it would be the approach I’d take, such selfless actions should not be required. That people “don’t have the opportunities for learning” that others have had is something that must be addressed.
For sure, the internet is a brilliant source (also a dangerous one, but we are looking at the positive aspects here) but it is by no means an educational institution. Ideas, creativity, critical thought, questioning – these are all things that schools and universities should (whether they do is another discussion I’ll touch on later) be striving to foment. The passion of learning, exploring, discovering, is something that should be encouraged in all stages of life.
Put a price on that passion and suddenly it becomes less desirable. What is the point in bettering oneself and exploring your interests if debt is your reward? Like monetary incentives to work, who enjoys a job they only do to survive? In the same way that wage slavery makes work an undesirable task, commoditising education reverses our natural inclination towards curiosity and learning.
What I am portraying is by no means the reality in ‘mainstream’ Australia (yet), but is definitely the case in the US and in marginalised segments of Australia’s population. The more universities become cash cows (to borrow the ABC’s term in their investigation into the exploitation of international students), pumping out degrees with increasing monetary worth but decreasing academic or practical worth, the worse off we will be as a society.
Education is an investment that benefits society as a whole, and the privatisation of such services (as we have seen with healthcare, electricity, etc.) has always resulted in negative outcomes for the populace. Instead of becoming a business opportunity, education should instead be focussed on reforming itself. One example, which I take from an anecdote by Noam Chomsky, is rather than simply burst out content and tell students to remember it, have them discuss and consider it.
The story Chomsky gives is a maths class where the lecturer put a theorem on the board and asked the students to prove whether or not it was indeed a legitimate theorem. Not only would the students know the answer by the end of the exercise, but they would understand the ‘why’ behind it and have a greater grasp on the theory than if they had simply been told the answer.
Such a concept seems so common sense – involving not only the consumption of knowledge but the nurturing of creative and critical thinking – and yet is often, in my experience, hardly explored. In my recent media unit, the idea of debating was central, but in some of my IT units (and even a few, ironically, Creative Industries units) we were simply ‘told’ certain things. The units that encouraged creativity and exploration were by far the most enjoyable and worthwhile.
Education should be something that is freely accessible and be tailored by the individual. If someone wishes to work towards a specific qualification, they should be able to do so. If someone wants to learn more about philosophy or history in a more engaging manner than a static text, such things should be open. Knowledge is invaluable, and placing monetary worth on something that is vital not only to society but to the growth of individuals is, quite frankly, barbaric.
We need more creative and innovative thinking these days – let us not stifle it by turning education into a commodity.
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