Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The history of the education industry: 2020 - 2050

The exact moment when 'education' was generally seen as a 'profit-making industry' rather than a 'service to society' is difficult to pinpoint. What can be witnessed is a process whereby the economy adjusted itself to the inevitable consequences of the vertiginous growth driven by the consumerism of the 20th century to a fundamentally different model driven by inter-human relationships, care, attachment and the cultivation of children. At some point, available individual resources were channeled away from the ownership of commodities and more towards the establishment of stable environments. However, with this shift came new kinds of inequality and social fracturing whose consequences were not realised until the second half of the 21st century.

For convenience however, we might place the beginning of the education industry with the emergence of the large multinational educorps, which started to swallow up individual universities between 2015 and 2020. There were a number of important factors that led to this process. Internet communications had increased the transparency of the operation of individual universities (this was one spin-off of the early - and rather idealistic - attempts at 'open educational resources' between 2010 and 2012). Transparency revealed similarity and opportunities for consolidation, both around educational content and around assessment processes. At the same time, transparency and accessibility presented an opportunity to academic publishers to present ready-made content solutions (which were initially offered at low cost) to individual institutions to offer their own certification services around. Sometimes institutions, uncomfortable with the loss of autonomy represented by the adoption of ready-made solutions, even commissioned publishers to produce tailor-made content (at huge cost). Little did these institutions know what they were letting themselves in for, for such moves were often followed by aggressive take-overs by the same publishers a few years later. 

But the educorps would not have thrived without a market, and the market for education was a function of a more general social order. The possession of a degree was a prerequisite for finding a job. Not that anyone really believed that a degree made individuals fit for a job, but throughout the whole society, it was accepted that this was the passport for professional success. It was so embedded in the social psyche that no-one really questioned it. Yet, this mentality was relatively new. It's roots lay in the 'widening participation' movement of the late 1990s, which in the light of history may be seen to be an elaborate 'pump priming' of the educational industry to come. As more got degrees, more needed to have them. In the absence of the traditional engines of economy and employment in the form of industrial production, the education industry fitted the bill in terms of providing a form of occupation for students and teachers, where everyone would at some point in their lives either pay for or be paid by the system. By 2020, this new economic system, which might reasonably be called an 'education economy' had clearly established itself. 

The believe in the efficacy of a degree generated many other social activities (which were themselves also forms of employment). For example, commissions for identifying competencies and coordinating the provision of educorps, professional bodies representing groups of workers (increasingly backed by trades unions, who also profitted from the education industry) all took part in complex (and often intractable) bureaucracies to support what amounted to a belief. 

In this way, the education industry resembled not so much the previous era of industrial production and consumerism, but more the feudal economies of the middle ages, which too were dominated by belief, and where most of the economic activity gravitated around the church as the guardian of those beliefs. The whole economy worked on the principle of blind faith in the efficacy of education. The more education was produced and consumed, the more difficult it was to critique this faith.

But as history has shown us many times before, ultimately this wasn't sustainable. The fault-line lay between families and institutions. The industrialisation of education that was the principle mode of operation of the educorps could not address the deep care needs of individuals. For those individuals who came from close and loving families, this was not a problem. But for those that didn't, much of the practice of the educorps only served to increase feelings of alienation and disillusionment. Some early attempts were made to deal with this problem (which many could see many years before it became a crisis). The Family reform act of 2020 sought to bring the principles of transparency and equality to the conduct of family life just as it had done to universities so as to benefit those from more dysfunctional families. But it was fiercely resisted by the middle classes. 

That the bloody riots of 2049 didn't occur sooner is perhaps surprising. But it took that long for those at the bottom of the pile to deal with the emotional damage that had been done to them and organise themselves into a force (initially a rabble) from which began to emerge some clearer distinctions about the nature of their complaint. Prior to this, the system seemed fair - but deep down it wasn't. More people had degrees, from all kinds of backgrounds. But the distribution of risks borne by individuals was not in any way equal. The emotionally damaged struggled with the increasingly complexification of daily life, finding themselves ripped-off at every point from finding the best bargains for food and travel to general taxation (and of course, the repayment of their educational loans!). The gap between themselves and the middle classes was flexibility. And only in 2045 was the direct link between individual flexibility and the environment of the education industry established. After that, a new phase was begun.

1 comment:

buntyross said...

the title looks interesting it says "history" of education industry and then it says 2020 to 2050