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Neoliberalism in Education

Neoliberalism is the new norm in the world order that subscribes to call for a free market in everything. This norm became popular in the 20th century when demand was an environment, where market forces run every action or decision (Schram 22). In other words, in the era of neoliberalism, the government is expected not to be actively involved but only to provide an enabling environment for the forces of demand and supply to work. Under this philosophy, the common occurrences include privatization, deregulation, and free trade. Another common action is the reduction of government spending as a means of enhancing the role of the private sector in the economy (Ranis 27). Currently, the demand for improved levels of neoliberalism of the economy has found its way to the education sector. There has been continued pressure on the government to relinquish its dominance in the education sector and allow greater competition in it (Giroux). However, there is the need to appreciate that one of the results of the neoliberalism is ‘financialization’ of almost every sector in the economy, a phenomenon that is heavily associated with the financial crisis of 2007-2008 (Ranis 44). Many philosophical experts in the education sector are of the opinion that it is one of the unifying sectors where neoliberalism needs to be heavily rejected. They are of the view that leaving this sector in the hands of the organizations that are driven by profit-making will be the greatest mistake (Proctor et al. 39-41). Neoliberalism has brought an era, where profit-making has overtaken the need to remain humane, whereby anything that goes contrary to this aim is highly put off. If the continued poor performance of the economy is one of the achievements of neoliberalism, then neoliberalism has no place in the education sector.

Education and Social Mobility

The education sector is the only platform where the less fortunate people can change their lives. In most capitalist countries, the gap between the rich and the poor is huge because of the huge barriers that the poor face in acquiring resources. For example, OECD’s report found a clear correlation between economic background and education performance (Davis). The finding constituted that the people, who were disadvantaged social-economically, showed bad educational performance (Davis). In other words, the education sector is one of the ways that help in the redistribution of resources within society (Davis). Neoliberalism is one of the challenges that make it harder for the poor to improve their situation since the ability, which is based on market forces, is the key to attaining anything. However, it is only through education that children from less fortunate families can compete with their wealthy counterparts on the same level field (Inglis 33). Thus, in the USA, the country where social mobility is very slow and where 40% of wealth land in the hands of 1% of the population (Giroux, 1), the income of one’s household highly affects one’s future regarding wealth accumulation. The education sector is crucial in saving many poor people since getting educations is an important action towards changing one’s destiny for the better. Therefore, if education is also left in the hands of the private sector, the element of profit-making will be a significant factor, thus making it hard for the less fortunate children to access quality education. The government, being actively involved in the education sector, forms a critical safety net for the less fortunate in society by ensuring that the fee charges are not only fair but also sensitive to one’s ability to pay. However, if the spirit of neoliberalism were to be adopted in the sector, it would mean that higher fees would be charged to ensure that schools were self-sustaining but at the same time, providing value to the shareholders. Fewer money from the government for the education sector is a phenomenon seen in the USA, where the government spending on education has reduced by 28% in the last 5 years, which has led to the sharp rise of the cost of education (Davis 1). Thus, it is clear that the total absence of government roles would make it impossible for some people to access education.

Education and Holistic Empowerment

The education sector driven by market forces will reduce schools to mere result-centered avenues. A good example is Tennessee, where payment to the education sector has been on graduation rates; however, the research conducted by Columbia’s Teachers College has found no correlation of this approach and improved levels of graduation rates (Davis 2). In neoliberalism, results are crucial since they form the primary basis of assessing the element of being viable/feasible (Ranis 57). If this were to be applied in the education sector, it would mean that only those schools that perform well would receive funding. In turn, schools will be reduced to processing units, where all the efforts will be channeled towards improving students’ results at any cost because only through improved result a school’s perpetuity would be guaranteed. Another aspect to note in the sector driven by market forces is that untenable players are laid off. In an organization situation, employees, who seem to jeopardize the attainment of organizational goals, are fired (Ranis 76). Similarly, if the education sector were to be left in the hands of the private sector, poor-performing students would find it hard to secure admission to any school because the number of non-performing agents would have to be reduced. Moreover, a lot of efforts shown by tutors and school administrators would be directed into academic performance, and as long as students show good results, other aspects of their behaviors would be neglected. Personally, I believe that school provides an environment where one grows in a holistic manner, and this aspect can be lost if the school were a profit-making entity.

Education and Social Equality

Neoliberalism would lead to a less cohesive and consistent education sector. One of the ways of remedying society inequality is subjecting the students to the same environment regardless of their social status, thus giving them a level playing field (Inglis,19). However, if market forces were to solely influence the education sector, many school offerings regarding subjects and other training would frequently be changed to conform to the performance demand of shareholders. Therefore, poorly performing subjects would either be discriminated, when it comes to funding, or entirely done away within the school. With the government being a passive player in the sector and the private sector dominating, any money available to the school would be highly dependent on the expected valued back. In other words, schools would have difficulty availing some subjects to students, and in the schools that offer them, they will be very expensive. Thus, it would be the means of cautioning the department from spending scarce resources that ultimately will be provided on the basis of school performance. The outcome will be that many students will be locked out of pursuing their courses of choice either because they are too expensive for them or unavailable due to the lack of funding from the profit-driven private sector players. Therefore, this selective funding of subjects, as the private sector investors try to safeguard their interest, would bring great inconsistency and lack of cohesion in terms of content in the education sector. Consequently, this would lead to a shortage of workforce conversant with courses/subjects that have been eliminated due to poor performance. Therefore, this would render some industries untenable.

Education and Ideologies

Lack of government control in the education sector would lead to ideological fragmentation of it. One of the key roles that the education sector plays in uniting people through common ideologies that students are exposed to during their studies. According to Davim and Leal Filho, the government not only avails the needed funds but also plays a huge role in influencing the ideologies that are taught in schools (89). For example, my school life was based on the ideology of the need to be independent through an improved understanding of various issues. On the contrary, if neoliberalism were to be adopted in the education sector, it would mean that different regions would follow the ideologies that help the investors to profit. In a neoliberal economy, there is tremendous pressure in securing profit at all costs (Schram 22- 27). Thus, being the force that would run the education sector, the ideology that best motivates the students to perform well would be the one supported by resources and the number of corresponding trainers hired. Consequently, students in different regions would be exposed to different teaching habits that would make the inter-region cooperation in the education sector more unlikely.

Education and Diversity

The education sector driven by the neoliberal approach would lose diversity in terms of skills taught. As earlier mentioned, a neoliberal economy demands safeguarding profits at all costs; therefore, this would also be the case in the education sector, where less performing schools would be closed. Moreover, a majority of schools would offer the subjects that have a higher chance of producing good results. This would coincide with the common ideology of the neoliberal economy of taking calculated but cautious risks (Schram 39). Furthermore, it would lead to the education sector giving people similar skills, thus exposing them to difficulties in securing employment due to increased competition. This lack of diversity would also mean that some industries would be disadvantaged due to the lack of enough graduates with the necessary abilities. However, this would not be a problem for investors as long as schools make profits. Thus, an attitude like this would be detrimental to the education sector, where empowerment should be the primary goal.

Education and Society Sustenance

A neoliberalism-driven education sector would be a risk to the welfare of society. According to Bowen and McPherson, the education sector forms the basis, through which society ensures its self-sustenance through availing fresh skilled workforce where needed (58). Therefore, it the sector was to be managed by the players obsessed with making profits, it would be possible for them to be clouded by short gains rather than the long-term impact, which is usually the norm. One of the mentioned ways that neoliberalism would lead to the eventuality that threatens the welfare of society is the lack of enough employees in some sectors. If making a profit demands the private sector to do away with some courses, it will be done even if it means jeopardizing the ability of the education sector to meet its societal role of offering the needed specialists. Thus, lack of enough graduates is the problem experienced in the USA, where in the previous six years from 2013, graduation rates had fallen by 21% in public schools and 51% in private ones (Davis 4). The huge gap between public and private schools is also a clear indication of how neoliberalism is incompatible with education matters.

Insights

It is clear that despite neoliberalism being helpful in other sectors of the economy, it would lead to a crisis in the education sector without a doubt. This can happen because this sector must be sensitive to other goals such as eliminating social inequalities and instilling the right virtues (Proctor et al. 50) despite the cost as well as availing diversity. These aims might not always help the goal of making a profit. The government’s role is also crucial in bringing about consistency needed in safeguarding a level playing field for all individuals, which is of the greatest importance for the removal of societal inequalities. Therefore, exposing the education sector to the market forces, where the private sector players fight to make profits, will ruin the sole purpose of education that lies in empowering young people into becoming critical members of society who are actively involved in changing their society for the better.

Benefits of Neoliberalism in the Education Sector

At the same time, it is possible that with neoliberalism, the quality in the education sector will be greatly improved due to the strict follow-up of its undertakings by the private sector. It is clear that with private investments, greater monitoring will follow to ensure that these investments are used to meet predetermined goals. However, this follow-up will make recommendations that will lean more on making a profit rather than empowering students. In other words, the keen follow-up by the private sector will not be directed towards meeting the students’ demands but manipulating the situation to fit in the process of enriching the investors. Therefore, despite more money being available to the sector and a more robust administration, the spirit of making profits will always supersede any other intention, thus jeopardizing the education sector in general.

Conclusion

From the above information, one can conclude that with neoliberalism, the education sector will lack diversity in terms of opportunities offered to students. Moreover, with the neoliberal approach, it will be impossible for some students to access some subjects/courses because they are too expensive or unavailable as a result of realignments made with the intention of making profits. It is also obvious to safeguard the making of profit for investors, more and more schools will be involved in the areas that, as they know, will bring good results easily. However, this possibility would lead to schools giving people similar skills, which will be disadvantageous to students and society at large. Bringing in neoliberal ideology into education will also lead to various regions using different ideologies when it comes to teaching since the principal aim would be making profits for investors. Due to the variety of factors affecting the education sector in regions, administrators would adopt the ideology that fits their needs best. Therefore, allowing the market forces to be in control of the education sector and having no government control will reduce the education sector to a mere result-oriented field. This would mean that as long as the desired goals necessary for profit-making are met, fewer efforts would be channeled to other elements crucial to the general growth of students. The utilization of neoliberalism in many economies has led to crises, and this would also be replicated in the education sector, causing the need to safeguard it from any element of neoliberalism. However, if even the adoption of neoliberalism in the financial markets still led to the 2007/2008 financial crisis, is it necessary to adopt neoliberalism in the education sector as neoliberalism has already failed in sustaining growth in the sector that it suits best?