The failure of public education in Argentina: no responsibility, no quality

PANAMPOST – I start this column with a very unfriendly phrase or, as they say now, politically incorrect: “Tell me how many public schools a country has and I will tell you how much it has failed and it will continue to fail that system.”

In Argentina, public school is always news, not because of its qualities, but as the protagonist of some conflictive event. Demands, protests in the streets, teacher strikes, students without classes for half a year, teenagers taking schools. The record it has on its shoulders is long and its reputation has been declining in recent decades by leaps and bounds.

How many times are private schools protagonists of this type of news? I leave the reader to go through his memory.

Although, not even private educational institutions in Argentina are outside the domain of the state educational agenda, (which imposes certain content and texts on them), they are, at least, much more efficient for a simple reason: they are compelled to compete to attract to its customers and to be able to stay in the market. Therefore, they need to offer a product with certain appeal and quality. What parent would be willing to pay for a school where they do not know when their child will have classes?

None of that happens in public schools. Their survival in the market is assured because they are the anonymous patrons (alias, the taxpayers), who are obliged to keep them under penalty of becoming delinquents if they refuse to do so.

Which is the solution then? Is there a decent exit?

In the short term, a good solution is to compel public schools with private schools to win the vote of parents who currently send their children to state institutions. How?

The State of Nevada in the United States seems to have found a good program to achieve this. It’s about “Nevada’s Education Savings Account Program” (Nevada Educational Savings Account Program), which basically consists in opening an account to the parents at the bank, where the State deposits the amount that a student costs each year in the area of public education. With that money, parents can choose what kind of education to offer their children, opening a wide range of options. Parents may choose to continue sending their children to public school, or they may choose a private school, or a distance education program, or homeschooling with one of their parents or guardians. If the annual amount deposited is not used completely, the youth can accumulate that money and add it to the amount of the following year. It is worth mentioning that this money can not be used for other purposes.

What is most likely to happen with the implementation of such a program?

Those parents opt for the best education they can get for their children for the money they now have in their accounts. By counting parents now with several alternatives, the only way the public school will obtain these funds will be to convince parents to be the best option, and they will not be able to do so unless they offer a quality product.

What will happen if public schools fail to attract students and parents opt for one of the other alternatives? They must close their doors; in the same way that any company, whose products nobody wants to buy, ends up closing its doors. But the students will not be left without education, but with the education they chose.

Some feel that this could be the end of public school and they see it as a real drama. But there are several considerations to keep in mind.

First, something disappears from the market when nobody wants it anymore. If nobody wants it, why keep it by force overwhelming the citizens with taxes to achieve it?

Second and most importantly. To argue that the public school must exist or wish it to continue to exist is the same as wanting poverty to continue to exist. The public school is just a product of the impossibility of some paying for an educational service that they would like to acquire but that does not have the means to do so. When people can pay for education, just as they can pay for other products or services they want for their lives, public education no longer has any reason to exist.

Public education is today, a consequence and symptom of a failure: that of not having implemented a system capable of generating the necessary conditions so that people can take charge of their lives and acquire what they value with the fruit of their own job.

Even more. Not only is it a symptom and consequence of a failure, but it has also become a cause, perpetuating a deficient, politicized, collectivized education that little prepares young people to become independent and responsible individuals of their own lives but prepares them so to continue under the wing of the welfare state.

Nevada has taken a step forward by competing the public school with other educational options.   It is a first step that we could analyze and reproduce in Argentina and the rest of the countries of Latin America that suffer the same problem.

In the long term, and with the right political and economic measures, the public school will tend to disappear and there will only be private options among which people can choose and pay with the sweat of their own front. And for specific cases where there is real inability to pay for this service, there will always be alternative scholarships, voluntary collaboration, or a system such as Nevada that can meet the exceptions that deserve to be considered.


Written by: María Marty
She is the executive director of the Foundation for Intellectual Responsibility (FRI).
Degree in Social Communication, scriptwriter and libertarian.
Published in spanish by PanamPost.