As a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Costa Rica is one of the countries in the world with the largest public budget for education. However, in the tests of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) we are in shameful position 49 out of 79 countries and territories. In this evaluation we are well below the average of the countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The essential problem of the educational system is that it follows a centralized planning model where the Ministry of Education is the one that makes all the decisions in relation to education: years of study, subjects to be covered, selections of subject content, methodologies of teaching and selection of teachers. In other words, all of our education is in the hands of bureaucrats.
One of the consequences of the centrally planned model is that we have an education that offers a single shirt of the same size and color for all students. In other words, all students, regardless of their different vocations, abilities, and interest in studying, receive the same subjects, the same content, and progress at the same pace. Such a system encourages mediocrity because if we want the majority of students to pass the year, the educational level must fall to the level of the most mediocre.
This is aggravated if we take into account that the government of Carlos Alvarado signed on April 29, 2019 the “Memorandum of cooperation between the Ministry of Education and the Cuban government.” These types of alliances are only made by those who intend to indoctrinate and not educate. The socialist Antonio Gramsci used to say, “take education and culture, and the rest will follow.”
It is not enough to change ministers or change the educational content prepared by the Ministry of Education. The reform must go much deeper so that it replaces the central planning system. You cannot leave something as valuable as education in the hands of bureaucrats. We need to rethink the educational system and involve parents in decision-making.
It is worth saying that in Costa Rica we do not have private education because they must teach what the bureaucrat says they must teach, with the teaching methodologies that the bureaucrat imposes and where only teachers authorized by the government can teach.
In this sense, it is important to pay attention to the Swedish educational model to design a reform.
The Swedish model of education is inspired by the reform proposed in 1955 by Milton Friedman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. In your essay The Role of Government in Education, Friedman proposes that the budget of the Ministry of Education be delivered to the parents of the students through education vouchers and that these be exchanged as payment in any education center, whether public or private. I must review the data, but in Costa Rica, the bonus for a college student would be equivalent to about ¢ 2 million per year.
Public educational centers will have administrative independence and will no longer receive money directly from the government. Their only source of income would be education vouchers for enrolled students. In other words, a public educational center that does not have tuition will have no income and will not be able to pay anything, including teachers’ salaries. However, schools that offer better quality will have more income because they will have more enrollment. By having administrative independence, each public educational center will be able to hire the teachers it wishes and pay the best ones more.
In short, the objective of educational vouchers is to introduce competition and that this is the guarantor of quality in education and not centralized planning. At this point in the 21st century, we all had to learn the lesson of history that only competition guarantees quality in goods and services and that quality is not achieved with laws, decrees, regulations or bureaucrats.
With the coupon system, it is the student (or parent), and not the Ministry of Education, who decides where and how to invest public resources in education.
In addition, the reform should eliminate the imposition of the Ministry of Education on years of study, subjects to study and their content. This will be the power of each educational center so that there is a whole range of educational offerings and that it is the parents (not the bureaucrat) who decide, with their education bonuses, which educational system is better.
Each educational center will determine the content and methodology of what will be taught. For example, the school that wants to teach gender ideology can do so, but if its offer is not attractive to parents, it will not receive any tuition.
It is one thing for the government to allocate resources to finance the education of low-income students and quite another for the government (bureaucrat) to impose years of study, subjects to study, subject content, teaching methodology, and criteria for select teachers. We need freedom to choose and break with the central planning scheme.
Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it must have been clear that central planning does not promote quality in the production of goods or services, including education. We have been foolish in believing that by giving more resources to the bureaucrat we will have a better education. Bureaucrats are not angels who seek the common good but normal human beings who seek their own interest. That is why the privileges of public employees grow, while the quality of public services falls.
We have been stupid as a society to disregard the benefits that free competition brings to economic and social well-being, including education. Only by taking the hands of the education bureaucrat will we reduce expenses and improve indicators. Only by introducing competition in education will we be able to improve its quality.
Note: This article is a summary of the essay “The educational voucher system and beyond”, Written by José Joaquín Fernández, who received honorable mention in the 15th Caminos de la Libertad essay contest.
We would love to say thanks to the writer of this write-up for this outstanding material
Education is too valuable to be left to bureaucrats