It’s very sim­ple, what­ever is free al­ways lacks qual­ity


IHAVE YET to come across any­thing that is of­fered for free and is of qual­ity. Gen­er­ally, if some­thing is of­fered for free, it is usu­ally low in qual­ity and lacks ex­cel­lence. The cry for free ed­u­ca­tion is an un­e­d­u­cated call.

You don’t have to look any fur­ther than our pub­lic schools in com­par­i­son with the in­de­pen­dent schools in our coun­try that still charge a fee for ed­u­ca­tion. The qual­ity is dif­fer­ent.

In the vil­lage where I grew up, no mat­ter how poor, par­ents who can, will sac­ri­fice to get their kids to pri­vate schools for bet­ter and qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. Be­cause, ev­ery­where you go, qual­ity has got a price. No mat­ter how poor you are, it does not mean you don’t ap­pre­ci­ate and know what qual­ity is.

This then got me think­ing: A call for free ed­u­ca­tion is not a win for our coun­try. Of­ten, we en­joy cel­e­brat­ing small vic­to­ries in bat­tles that will even­tu­ally cost us the war we are fight­ing.

Let’s start with the ba­sics. I am a prod­uct of a ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that is ap­palling, pro­duc­ing be­low par re­sults with a bar set so low. Masses of learn­ers pass Grade 12, be­cause all they need in most cases is a 30% pass­ing mark.

It is not about striv­ing for qual­ity, but a mass pro­duc­tion of quan­tity.

I asked some of the teachers from home about the logic be­hind a pass that re­quires a learner to ob­tain 40% in three sub­jects (one be­ing a home lan­guage) and 30% in other sub­jects. All they said was: “That is what we deal with. We are here to just get th­ese learn­ers to move to the next level with­out wor­ry­ing about the qual­ity of learn­ers which we are pro­duc­ing.”

They fur­ther say: “That is what you get, Mr Cha­bal­ala, for not pay­ing a sin­gle cent. That is why we, as teachers, take our kids to paid schools that strive for aca­demic ex­cel­lence.” This is a re­minder of any­thing that is pub­lic and free in our coun­try. Yes, no­body is do­ing any­thing about the low qual­ity of our ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion, which has adopted this friv­o­lous sys­tem.

Look at our pub­lic hospi­tals and pub­lic

The cry for free ed­u­ca­tion is an un­e­d­u­cated call

clin­ics. Gen­er­ally, they are poor in ser­vices. You know why? Be­cause they serve our peo­ple for free. And free things lack qual­ity. Qual­ity is some­thing you pay for. Peo­ple who want qual­ity ser­vices still run to pri­vate hospi­tals.

The same thing is go­ing to hap­pen to our uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges once they are free, they will be of­fer­ing ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, but it will not be good in qual­ity.

Those who have money, those who en­joy eco­nomic priv­i­lege in our coun­try will con­tinue to be a step ahead of us. We will not be nar­row­ing the gap, but mak­ing it wider. Pay­ing for our fees through loans and bur­saries or schol­ar­ships like they do, makes us get the same qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion as they do. Mak­ing uni­ver­si­ties free would mean open­ing new or more pri­vate col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties for those who have money.

And just like we do have pri­vate schools in our coun­try that of­fer qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and strive for aca­demic ex­cel­lence, we will be open­ing the gap fur­ther. Peo­ple still have a right to en­rol their chil­dren where they want to. Just as peo­ple who have money ditch pub­lic schools, they will ditch our tra­di­tional uni­ver­si­ties as their qual­ity drops. That is the war I was re­fer­ring to above.

The school of thought that be­lieves mak­ing ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion free helps us fight eco­nomic priv­i­lege, is flawed.

If we think that the ob­tain­ing of diplo­mas and de­grees is the lev­eller of the so­cial and eco­nomic im­bal­ances in our coun­try, we are wrong. It will only show how poor we are and how the rich con­tinue to be richer.

I am all for the call to make it more af­ford­able, but not free. Free ed­u­ca­tion will not square up the poor and the rich. If our goal is only to get higher ed­u­ca­tion qual­i­fi­ca­tions and not qual­ity higher ed­u­ca­tion, let’s go ahead and make them free. The truth is, qual­ity is ex­pen­sive.

Ka­belo Cha­bal­ala is the founder of the Young Men Move­ment. E-mail, ka­be­lo03cha­bal­, Twit­ter @Ka­be­loJay, Face­book Ka­belo Cha­bal­ala

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