Improving Education Through Equal Opportunity

The 2014 Matric examinations have come to an end. Over 688 000 candidates wrote their matric examinations without any major hiccups reported across the country. While celebrations are in underway on a successful completion of matric examinations, I cannot help but worry about the state of our education system.

For as far as I can remember, South African education has been a victim of great criticism. Before South Africa became a democratic state, the education system was purposefully designed to benefit the white minority while disadvantaging the African majority. Two decades later the education system in the country is still in a questionable state although the government spends approximately 20% of its consolidated expenditure toward improving it.

Although there has been increased spending on education, the problems within the system do not to go away. Instead, they seem to increase each year. People have come up with a list of problems as to why the education system does not work and the list goes as follows:

  • The Department of Education is not accountable and transparent enough
  • Teachers are not adequately trained and thus do not have the full content knowledge
  • The curriculum changes constantly
  • Textbook deliveries are always late
  • Teachers are constantly absent from work, in some cases not teaching while they are at the schools. and
  • Schools lack the necessary infrastructure to facilitate effective learning

The list goes on.

The reason why our education system is so poor is because it is provided by a monopoly called the government. Furthermore, government has not created an incentive for our education system to improve despite the fact that it pumps billions each year in an attempt to improve it.

An effective solution to the crisis faced by our education system lies within a simple economic principle – free choice. Each South African parent should have an equal opportunity “to” choose which school he or she would like to send their child; whether public or private schooling, regardless of their economic circumstance. This can be made possible through school vouchers.

A school voucher, also known as an education voucher is a certificate of funding issued by the government to parents to enable them to choose which school to send their children based on their preferences. The voucher is issued to all parents regardless of income.

Under the voucher system, parents have sovereignty which allows them the ability and freedom to choose which school best fits their preferences. Families will use their discretion at choosing a school which they think is of quality. If they are not satisfied with the school, the parents can simply vote with their feet and move their children to another school which they perceive to be the best according to their preference.

Consumer sovereignty ensures the effective function of markets. It rewards efficient firms, in this case, schools and it creates incentives for schools to provide what consumers want.

The voucher system will create competition among schools, public and private, thus leading to an increase in efficiency. The quality of schooling will increase and the costs will reduce due to the increase competition. Schools will have a strong incentive to innovate and improve the learning process.

Several countries have implemented the voucher system and it proved to be a success. One country which illustrated a great success is the Netherlands. Students who are from a lower social class and are beneficiaries of the voucher system in private schools demonstrated higher achievements than those who attended public schools. The level of choice offered by the system appeared to provide incentives for schools in the Netherlands to keep improving and innovate.

Written by Zenande Meyiwa

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