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Friday, September 22, 2023

When the market also works in education

By: dr. Štefan Šumah

Can you imagine that a teacher at a primary school in Dolenjska region would have twice the salary of a teacher at a primary school in Prekmurje region, both of whom would teach mathematics and have a similar length of service?

Or imagine that a professor at a technical high school would be fired because he was not educated enough and was not up to date with the latest technologies, and that parents could enrol their children in primary school at will and not on the basis in which school district they belong to? What do you think about the fact that the results of the performance of all primary, secondary, and higher schools and faculties would be public, and all educational institutions (and consequently teachers) would be subject to constant checking of the quality of teaching and knowledge acquired by their students?

Do you think my questions fall into the realm of science fiction? In Slovenia, this may be true, as Branimir Štrukelj’s special units would immediately storm the Ministry of Education, Parliament, and Government Premises in such cases. Checking the results of teachers’ work, however, would be understood by the vast majority as inadmissible mobbing.

However, this is perfectly normal in Estonia, where healthy competition has been established among teachers. In Estonia, the youth population has fallen by about 40 percent in the last 15 years, forcing them to close secondary schools as well as colleges and universities. However, they did not close those where there were fewer pupils or students, but those that were worse in terms of results, as schools at all levels are subject to constant strict scrutiny, the results of which are public, and parents have the right to enrol children to any primary school; they certainly enrol them primarily in those that are supposed to be better. That there is more enrolment in secondary and higher schools and universities that are ranked higher, however, is clear anyway.

Estonia is a small country along the Baltic, where GDP per capita has risen from just over $3,000 since 1995 to just over $23,000 in 2020. That means it has increased by a good 7.5 times. This is as if GDP per capita in Slovenia increased to about 75,000 dollars in the same period, which would place us in tenth, eleventh place in the world in terms of GDP per capita and not in about 45th place with about 25,000 dollars (according to different scales). Schools and universities receive funding according to the number of students, and schools with higher enrolment can also pay teachers better from this funding. The Estonian school system is considered the best in Europe.

And let Štrukelj still defend teachers, how burdened they are, how professional they are and how… it still applies to us: once a teacher, forever a teacher! Just as they taught at the beginning of their careers, so they are largely teaching in the final years before retirement. And many of them are clogs hindering Slovenia’s transition to a learning society. Even large companies from Slovenia are relocating their development centres to other countries, including the Balkans, as the rigid school system in Slovenia is a major barrier to education.

Thus, the case of Estonia is very instructive for our schoolchildren, who constantly shout that there is not enough money for education, as well as for politicians who always promise to increase funding for education. In Estonia, total expenditure on education in the share of GDP (compared to 2018) is only slightly higher than in Slovenia, while expenditure on primary and secondary education is even lower.

As it turns out, it is not all about money, something is also obvious in the free market or competition between schools, we can also say among teachers themselves. And the market works, supply demand… And one more thing, there is no difference in funding between public and private schools in Estonia, they are only good or bad and, on that basis, they get money.

Štefan Šumah is a researcher on corruption and behavioural economics at the research institute.


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