Covid and education: A different strategy for 2022.

Edgardo Zablotsky

Ph.D. in Economics at the University of Chicago. Rector of the University of CEMA. Member of the National Academy of Education. Academic Counselor for Libertad y Progreso.

This article was originally published in Perfil on July 21st, 2021.

On my last article, which was written after four months of quarantine, I focused on an issue that has not been given entity: the economic crisis, was already making itself felt and had forced many families to stop paying their fees at private schools and, most likely, considering emigrating to public schools. By the way, a similar exodus happened after the 2001 crisis, but on this occasion, I warned in that article, the effect could be exponential, given the magnitude of the crisis.

Today, after another year characterized by numerous restrictions to productive activity, the economic crisis has reached such a magnitude that it is to be expected that, by the beginning of the 2022 school year, a massive emigration to public schools will take place.

Faced with this reality, many private schools run the risk of being forced to close their doors and the public system will have serious difficulties absorbing the flow of potential new students, especially in school districts such as the City of Buenos Aires, where a significant proportion of students attend privately run schools.

If we add restrictions on the number of students per classroom, that will probably have to be maintained in order to prevent the risk of contagion, the picture is extremely worrying. It is necessary to begin to anticipate it. We are still on time.

 An obvious alternative consists of creating a subsidy scheme for private schools so they can continue to operate without increasing their enrollment or granting scholarships to a large number of students, thereby reducing emigration. This article, however, proposes another course of action, which would help to avoid the potential collapse of the public system and subsidies for private schools while not affecting their economic feasibility.

 It consists of the State creating a simple savings account that can only be used for the educational expenses of affected students. This tool would give families that face difficult times and unpredictability the possibility of deciding where the children will be schooled. This account would be administered by the parents, in such a way that their children would be able to continue attending the school that the family had previously chosen.

 This proposal is the budgetary equivalent to subsidizing private schools that see their very existence at risk, but it would mark a paradigm shift in Argentine education since the parents, who now qualify for a subsidy, would now receive support from the State directly instead of through the schools.

 This difference is not minor, since families that were destroyed by an event of which, obviously, is not their fault, would receive the support from the State at the time in which they need it the most. The private schooling system could continue operating and the public system would not collapse due to the massive influx of new students.

 We know nothing is free, and subsidizing schools or families is not the exception. But we must not act like the ostrich and wait until next March to regret a completely foreseeable event: if measures are not taken in time, emigration to the public system will be massive and it will be unable to face it. Let’s not regret it back then, let’s start anticipating it now.

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