Education needs to be deregulated

Imagine if education was to be completely deregulated. First, learning will get decoupled from credentials/certification etc. You would be able to learn from institution A (whatever is most suitable for you: online/offline, part-time/full-time, cheap/expensive, near/far from your home, your preferred language of instruction) and take an exam with institution B (which would be much cheaper because now learning cost is not included).

Within learning, lectures (which is one-way broadcast) will then be separated from Q&A. Just like entertainment industry, there would be high production-quality lecture videos available online which you can watch at your own pace and then go to a local school/tutor only for Q&A, group study, lab work etc. Good lecturers will get rockstar-like celebrity status (deservedly) and schools/tutors in your neighbourhood can spend all of their time on personalized counselling and helping students who are stuck. Can you estimate the number of hours which are currently being wasted in the same dull lecture being prepared and performed every year, and the opportunity cost of those hours where the teacher could have helped each student individually?

This is going to be slightly harder for regulated professions like doctors, lawyers etc. But it doesn’t have to be. Entry in a profession should be tied only with credentials, not with the learning method. It used to be the case that you could take just the bar exam and become a practising lawyer. But, at first, 3-year LLB was made mandatory, then distance LLB were disallowed!

Even better: Research would get separated from teaching. All of us have suffered in our undergraduate courses with brilliant researchers who were hopeless teachers! Let researchers do research and let teachers be teachers.

This is not a flight of fancy. The change is already under way. For example, Udacity is seeing a lot of success with its Nanodegrees program. Many reputed colleges have now started offering online degrees. I strongly believe this is going to be the future.

What we need to do to reach there is: Tell the government to deregulate education. They can do it incrementally: For example, engineering education requires labs? Fine, start with Arts, Commerce, MBA etc. If a profession needs to be regulated, insist only on testing and credentials, and not on what method student used for learning. RTE should clarify the status of alternative schools.

We’ve been so used to education being heavily regulated that it can be difficult to imagine the above. But really: the free market almost always works better. Take the example of entertainment. Imagine the movies you would have to watch if only government-approved institutions could make movies!