A few days ago, the President of the Republic stated, on the occasion of the inauguration of new members of the Council of the Republic, the following: “We all recognize that we do not have quality education, we need to work, take this step, go beyond quantity , from the numbers of enrolled students, we started to pay attention to the quality of our teaching. It is with quality professors, with quality academics, that quality students are made.”
These statements caused some furor, but essentially led to a sterile discussion about the reduced percentage of GDP that is devoted to Education in the State Budget and to more or less hypocritical laments about the lack of quality in education in Angola.
In fact, the subject is more complex and has to be discussed from the pillars. Education is a very peculiar area because, as the famous Nobel Prize for Economics Milton Friedman underlined, it triggers “neighborhood effects” (that is, “neighborhood” effects, or contamination). Education benefits each person individually and, at the same time, benefits society in general, through its contribution to the formation of better prepared citizens. Therefore, Education is not merely an individual or a collective matter. It results from a reciprocal influence. Friedman explained: “A stable and democratic society is impossible without widespread acceptance of a set of common values and a minimum degree of literacy and knowledge on the part of the majority of citizens.” This, of course, is brought about by Education. On the other hand,
Thus, the quality of education does not depend in the first degree on the closed education system, but on the society in which it takes place. A developed country, as a rule, will have quality education, while an undeveloped country will have poor education, only eventually guaranteeing some “islands” of quality.
To that extent, before demanding quality education from Angola, a developed country must be demanded. One thing is connected and depends on the other. Within this line of thought, it is also evident that quality does not depend only, or above all, on the State, but on the interaction established between individuals and society with regard to Education. If a society sees that those who have merit and education are those who ascend the social scale, then it will promote Education, while a society that sees that social elevation depends on chains of knowledge and family arrangements or others will not promote Education, but rather these networks of influence.
A second point to note and that follows from the first is that, although expenditure is important, it is not the decisive element. The decisive element is the development of the country and the encouragement of society for Education, which leads to investment in education, as it is considered to bring collective and individual benefits. But don’t expect miracles from Education. For years it was thought that spending money on education would lead, by some unknown mechanism, to economic progress. It has now been realized, mainly thanks to the work of British scientist Allison Wolf, that there is no such direct relationship. What there is, however, is a circular relationship between development and education. Development creates a favorable habitat for the quality of education.
In the specific case of Angola, some simple aspects must be seen as the most decisive for building a quality education system. The first is a matter of perspective. When looking at the quality of education, the focus should not be on universities, but on basic education. The quality of education does not start with higher education, which should be seen only as a natural corollary of the quality of previous years. Therefore, the big bet and the focus must be to create a basic education with good and solid attributes. It is certainly more glamorous to talk about universities, but there are neither good students nor good teachers if they have not both been well prepared by their primary teachers.
So the first recipe for quality education in Angola is very simple: good primary schools. This implies reasonable buildings (which don’t have to be Pharaonic hotels…), well-paid and motivated teachers, and a simple, accessible curriculum.
After ensuring good primary schools, there is another structural aspect that needs to be noted: the State cannot do and deal with everything. It’s unthinkable and impossible. A good education system is open and diverse. Schools should be public and private, or mixed, offering different programs and methods. Not all will be good. Admittedly, there will be good and bad schools, but competition between schools and freedom of choice between students must be promoted. Only a diverse system will be able, in a sustained way, to promote quality education, as it allows the permanent refinement of the available options. The United States of America is an example of this approach: they practice freedom of education and have some of the best universities in the world (Harvard, Stanford, etc.) and the worst,
There is, finally, another detail to highlight. The aim of the student entering the education system should not be the completion of a degree at university, but the full development of his personality. This means that people have to be appreciated for their abilities and not for their titles; it is likely that many specialists and masters of arts and crafts will achieve greater personal fulfillment than university students. Thus, the education system must have outlets for everyone, not a frustrating standardization. Schools of arts and crafts must go hand in hand with universities. This, for example, is the system followed in Germany, which has ensured the competitiveness of its industry.
A final note: it is definitely necessary to stop seeing Portugal as an example with no alternative. Science and teaching are not examples of particular success and competence in contemporary Portugal. We have to open horizons beyond Badajoz.
This article was first published by MAKA Angola.