Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Budget cuts and "futuricide"

I am personally not feeling the Latvian budget cuts, yet, because I work in the private sector, am healthy and completed my formal education many years ago. I can see some bad scenarios where the someone in the government decides that every ministry, every department and every Dog Welfare State Agency doesn't need their own subscriptions to LETA times dozens. Instead, the government makes one offer that cannot be refused to each news and information provider (we compete with Baltic News Service/BNS), for one megasubscription that costs, say 60% less than the sum of all previous subscriptions. And then we are f**ked...
But before than happens, I am thinking that my then 14-year old will have to go back to school on September 1 (his birthday is August 31), and the teaching profession in this country will have had its salaries slashed by 50 %, getting paid a reduced minimum wage and will face another likely 20 % or more cut just as the school year warms up and the government has to prepare its budget for 2010. I think the school may be empty on opening day.
To be fair, there are probably too many teachers for too few pupils in Latvia, and also too many small schools. What this would mean in a rational world is to make a skills/effectiveness assessment of all teachers and early-retire, train/upgrade or gently dismiss those who cannot be better utilized. It would mean having a nation-wide school bus network to bring pupils to magnet schools in almost any weather, also upgrading rural roads in the medium term. It would mean implementing online teaching to make the best of the best teachers... etc. etc.
Almost none of this is being done in Latvia. Instead, the government is creating an irresistable disincentive to remaining in any teaching job. Any young, able-bodied, English-skilled teacher would be a fool not to emigrate or, alternatively, to find any work that pays more than the sinking minimum wage. And that is very likely to happen if the economies of Western Europe pick up, as they will, ahead of Latvia.
Education is the basis for the competitiveness of any modern society, or any society, for that matter. We don't see too many remnants of societies that, say, didn't teach using the plow or the bronze axe from one generation to the next. Back in 15 000 BC, the tribe that cut back the piece of prime mammoth steak fed to the wise man who taught spear-throwing to the young didn't eat mammoth steak in the next generation. It was back to roots and berries and mushrooms, and when they had to save on paying the mushroom teaching medicine man with the best of crop berries -- well, the story about you can eat all mushrooms but some are eaten only once played out. The tribe that scrimped and saved on education, in effect, killed itself in its own future, committing futuricide.
Latvia, whatever its intentions, is effectively committing futuricide rather than rationally reforming its educational system. Instead, it simply won't have one, nor much of a future.


Ilmars said...

Long time ago around 2001 I was discussing with friends about unneeded expenses in Latvian budget, and we didn't understand even back then why every state entity subscribes to news agencies, daily newspaper etc. separately. One agreement between state and each of the media with big discount is way to go. Sorry, you will be hit sooner or later :)

Wannabe Sorosieši said...

Answer to all questions:
2005 - not enought time to do it. Times are to good. Why?

2006 - not enought time to do it. Times are to good. Why?

2007 - not enought time to do it. Times are getting bad. Why?

2008 - not enought time to do it. Crisis is coming!!

2009 - not enought time to do it. Crisis is here!!!

No matter the time, we seem to have been told that the time is never right. We can still do it. Not easy, but now is the time!

Steve Kozak said...

As a teacher myself, I am no doubt biased, but I entirely concur with your assessment of "futuricide." Education is the most important infractructure investment any society can make. An informed, flexible and creative population is the key to economic progress - this can't be achieved without educators and schools delivering these outcomes ... but it costs money. Reducing spending on these things is easy to do but the long term ramifications are tantamount to national suicide.