Government's plans for free education
THE government is planning to make education free for all, right from primary school and all the way up to the university. There is little doubt that the move is a good one and will resonate with public expectations. We appreciate the thought behind the policy which, we understand, is yet in the process of being shaped. However, we also feel that there are some practicalities which must be considered before such a policy is put in place. From such a perspective, we need to raise the question of why the necessity for free education must arise at all, especially at the public university level. More to the point, there should be a fundamental delineation of the education process that will enable the country to produce not only scholars but also experts and technical hands at the practical level of society. In today's world, where practicalities are as much significant as idealism, it is important that besides promoting university education steps also are taken for the provision of well-defined technical education to those who may not be drawn to higher education.
Which brings us to the question of free education once again. We believe that university education ought to be based on a system of fees because of the scholarly nature of education provided by the universities. However, it is in the areas of technical education --- and we include here all areas of vocational education such as IT, paramedical training, nursing, et cetera --- that fees can be dispensed with as an encouragement to those interested in acquiring such education. But let no one misunderstand the point here. By emphasizing technical education we are not in any way undermining those who go for it. Indeed, we note the trend in advanced societies, where technical or vocal education is as much a priority as higher scholastic education at the universities. Let education be made free from the primary level up to the intermediate level. Beyond that, let university education be acquired through a payment of fees. But where technical education is concerned, let that be made absolutely cost-free on the part of students for the particular reason that the nation is in dire need of skilled individuals.
We must also point out here that education, as broad policy, must take into account the crucial factor of quality. Anyone who has closely observed the education scene in the past many years will understand that quality is of the essence in such vital areas as teachers' training, provision of classroom materials, well-stocked libraries, et cetera. Education that is not complemented by quality in the end amounts to pointlessness, if not actual disaster. That is one powerful reason why, as it mulls free education for all, the government must get its priorities straight in the sector. It is the long-term approach that matters. Populism in education can only lead to newer complexities.