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The Intent vs Outcome Debate: Applied to K12 Regulations Across International Markets

Are Asia’s largest governments succeeding in regulating education?

Credit: kyo azuma, Unsplash

Institutionalized learning represents an effective platform for governments to control the long-term future of a nation, as it plays a monumental role in defining an individual’s, a group’s, and ultimately, a nation’s probabilities of success. Although measuring success is a constant debate in itself, one could argue that it can be defined as fundamentally actualizing one’s objectives. To that effect, education, especially K12 education, remains a priority sector for governments across the globe.

A couple of large nations have recently announced and implemented disruptive educational policies — like India and China — countries that collectively represent more than a third of the world’s total population. These regulations have sparked international debate, and will require large resources to implement. And as with any endeavor, there’s some obvious uncertainty regarding whether the objectives will manifest into better outcomes. But why do nations even bother to regulate education in the first place?

Why regulate K12?

Institutionalized learning represents an effective platform for governments to control the long-term future of a nation, as it plays a monumental role in defining an individual’s, a group’s, and ultimately, a nation’s probabilities of success. Although measuring success is a constant debate in itself, one could argue that it can be defined as fundamentally actualizing one’s objectives. To that effect, education, especially K12 education, remains a priority sector for governments across the globe.

Human Resource Competitiveness

The success of a nation depends on the effectiveness of its citizens, their ability to innovate, and adapt to changing times. With today’s hypercompetitive international stage, education serves as a highly effective tool for governments to deliver the prospect of being at the forefront of human resources.

Equal Access

Whilst the quality of learning and effective outcomes nurture competence, governments also realise the importance of having strength in numbers. Some groups of the society do not have the privilege to access education, for which regulatory support might be required. Therefore, equal access is one of the top-most priorities of regulatory manifestos related to education.

National “Advocacy”

Another, albeit potentially controversial objective for regulating education, could be national “advocacy”. Governments regulate what is taught in schools — national curriculums are often a reflection of a broader belief system and ideology of a nation, which is highly influenced by the government in power at that moment.

How is this intent manifested?

K12 regulation is multi-faceted and can be enforced through a myriad of tools to achieve specific objectives.

Free Compulsory Public Education

Many countries have free compulsory education, or some form of it, which aims to address the equal access objective of regulation.

Profiteering/Fee Regulation

For fees, limited hikes, preferential hikes, fee caps, etc. are some fee regulation tactics used — implemented to keep household income-determined educational gaps at bay. Some countries disallow profiting from education as well, while legal loopholes can be exploited in some cases.

Curriculum

Governments mandate the content that is taught in schools through the national curriculums, wherein each country has its own national curriculum, in addition to access (or not) to foreign curriculums.

The national curriculum often reflects a country’s overall ideology, culture, and belief systems, but is also influenced by the party in power. However, the overarching objective remains quality outcomes and global competitiveness.

Support for Disadvantaged Communities

Education remains a basic right and expectation for today’s civilization — but economically and socially disadvantaged groups are often denied quality education. Governments often need to step in to ensure that such groups are able to access education.

Defining & Measuring Regulatory Outcomes

K12 regulation comes in various shapes, levels, and intensities. It might be fair to caveat that each country’s regulation has its own nuances and might impact the K12 sector (either demographically, operationally, or otherwise) differently — making it a challenge to compare it across categories and nations. However, the larger objectives of human resource competitiveness and equal access remain common, and can be measured using tools such as Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER), the HDI Education Index (reported by UNDP), and the Worldwide Educating for the Future Index (WEFFI; reported by The Economist Intelligence Unit).

The effectiveness of select regulations in terms of their outcomes can be brought out by looking at the correlation between the tools of regulations and the most appropriate available measure of their intended outcomes. Whilst the intended outcomes can be a result of many factors, the aim of this exercise is to use correlation to assess the effectiveness of regulations on a preliminary level.

We look at China, India, Indonesia and UAE to assess the impact of various regulatory tools, and to see if the apparent objective of the regulation correlates to actual outcomes. This collection of Asian countries represents a good mix of large K12 markets, and varying K12 regulations, national ideologies, and economic size — making the dataset diverse and interesting.

Assessing Correlation

We will use to 2x2 matrix to help summarize the outcome vs. intent dynamic for each regulatory tool succinctly.

  • Vertical Axis: The level of regulation is divided intro 3 levels of intensity — matching the legend of the table below
  • Horizontal Axis: The metric used to measure the outcome for that specific category/tool of regulation
  • Size of the Flag: The GDP per capita in US$ to add context and differentiate between countries with varying levels of incomes, which indirectly impacts educational outcomes

Note: Ratings for “Curriculum” have been decided on the basis of the national curriculum’s relative focus on religious studies as part of the curriculum, and the extent of focus on subjects that promote all round development (extra-curricular activities, future-readiness, etc.)

Free Compulsory Public Education & GER Rates

Source: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.PRM.ENRR?locations=CN-IN-AE-ID

Correlated — since GER is the direct intended outcome for compulsory free education, the correlation clearly exists. Additionally, there seems to be a correlation between the income-level of the country and GER rates as well.

Profiteering/Fee Regulation & Education Index

Source: http://hdr.undp.org/en/indicators/103706

The Education index is a measure of access; it is calculated as a simple geometric average of two indicators: mean years of schooling completed for adults aged 25 or more, and the overall expected years of schooling. Whilst profiteering and fee regulation is a concern for lower-income groups, data on educational statistics reported by different income levels within a country is scarcely reported for select countries. Therefore, a broader index such as the Education index has been taken into consideration.

Fairly uncorrelated –Educational access, while affected by multiple factors, draws in influence from the dynamic between profiteering vs. social outcomes, wherein there are conflicting interests.

The correlation between the existence of profiteering from education and the Education index is fairly low. Per capita income of nations, inter alia, has a relatively stronger correlation to the Education index.

Curriculum (Focus on Overall Skill Development) & WEFFI

Source: https://educatingforthefuture.economist.com/wp-content/uploads/From-policy-to-practice-Worldwide-Education-for-the-Future-Index-2019.pdf

The Worldwide Educating for the Future (WEFFI) Index measures the level of future-oriented skills amongst students, across critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership, digital and technical skills, amongst others.

Fairly uncorrelated: There seems to be a stronger correlation between the per capita income of the countries and WEFFI scores (perhaps because of investment into infrastructure and teacher training), than curriculum focus on overall skill development. Teacher quality might be a concern here, as the right pedagogy and access to teacher talent are needed to translate curriculum quality into learning outcomes.

Seat Reservation / Financial Aid & Education Index

Source: http://hdr.undp.org/en/indicators/103706

Uncorrelated: India, which has fairly stringent laws regarding reservation within education, has a low score on the education index, whilst UAE, with virtually no reservations/aid for the weaker sections of the society, is much higher on the index.

Regulation’s role in Education is Undeniable

The 1991 economic reforms transformed India’s trajectory, cutting out license raj and prominently improving the lives of the consumer — both rich and poor. Characterized by the “laissez-faire” attitude to business, India deregulated most sectors with the intent to unlock the country’s vast resources and potential — and so it undoubtedly did.

It might be tempting to do the same with education — after all, it worked earlier with other industries, why would it not with education? Tempting indeed, but education means taking responsibility of the future of a nation’s entire population — which cannot be left to the devices of private enterprise.

Government intervention ensures that the lower- and middle-income classes (the society’s productive mass) get access to a minimum standard of education. And that is not just an incentive for the government by way of nurturing productivity, but also remains a right that’s ought to be offered to the people. Therefore, the idea that competition and choice alone are sufficient to drastically improve education at such a large scale will be detrimental to any nation’s prospects.

Always well-intended; only sometimes well-executed

Some form of regulation in education is required, and is generally well-intended. The interests of the government and the public at large (but not private enterprise in education in the short term) remain aligned.

The world has seen a sharp focus on education in recent decades, and more children are going to school than ever before. As seen in this article, progress in GER rates is relatively easy to track w.r.t to the specific regulation. To that effect, avg. primary GER ratio for low-income countries was merely 70% in the year 2000. While in 2019 (latest update), this stands at 102%. Such an increase would not have been possible without the efforts of governments.

Although what’s well-intended may not always be well implemented. This rings true for multi-faceted regulations targeted at curriculums, seat reservation, and profiteering. Such regulations often lack the depth of thought required to implement them in such a way that is fair for all parties involved — and not just to the government, the public or otherwise. For instance, curriculums might be well-designed, but teachers might not be trained or equipped enough to teach them effectively.

Educating millions is a huge chip to have on your shoulders, and governments realise it. But they need to be held accountable for the implementation of their educational policies. Maybe in this case, the outcomes trump intentions — as intent alone will not land people the jobs they need.

Watch this space for more on EdTech, Education, and Everything in Between.

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LoEstro Advisors

LoEstro Advisors

Advisory firm with sharp focus on Fundraise, M&A, and Strategic Consulting.

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