Why materials costs aren't the problem in education
by Jose Ferreira
Students spend a lot of their day learning.
They spend six or more hours in bricks-and-mortar classrooms each day, listening to teachers, talking with peers, and working with textbooks/software/technology (collectively, “materials”). Then they spend a few more hours working through materials after school. Some students learn more in the classroom environment; others learn more by using materials to teach themselves.
Despite how huge and complex the education system is, students do primarily just those two things: attend classes and work with materials.
For all kinds of reasons I won’t go into here, it’s very difficult to innovate — especially at scale — the bricks-and-mortar classrooms side of the system. But it’s eminently possible to innovate the materials side. In fact, we’re currently in an innovation boom.
Just as this innovation boom has begun to proliferate, though, materials creators have received growing criticism over the price of their products. People have long complained about textbook prices, but over the last few years it has been increasingly argued in some quarters that the high costs of education ought to be addressed by lowering materials costs.
But materials are only around 1 or 2 percent of global education expenditure. Bricks-and-mortar classrooms — and all the costs associated with operating them — make up the rest.
We would all like education to be more affordable, but focusing on reducing materials cost is pointless. It’s far too small an expenditure. In fact, it’s worse than pointless — it’s dangerous.
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