Sunday, October 25, 2009

Eduterras: An Educational Economy


By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 25, Ilm 11, 166 BE

Yesterday we broached the possibility of a Comenian world government instituting a world currency called the "terra," with three semi-exchangeable sub-types, the "ecuterra," the "paxterra" and the "eduterra." The first sub-currency is the ecuterra, a currency overseen by interfaith institutions at every level of society that are charged with overseeing faith groups and, more broadly, with the general religious, spiritual and metaphysical welfare of humanity. The paxterra is run by the political world parliament, whose chief goal is peace, the removal of injustice, and the immediate material welfare of all world citizens. The third, the eduterra, is the terra sub-currency overseen by affiliated institutions dedicated to philosophy, science, art, culture, knowledge and education. This is what I will discuss today.

While the idea of educators printing money seems foreign at first, it has great affinity to everything that teachers and learners do that. The desire to learn gainfully is deeply rooted in human psychology from the earliest age. As we shall see, teachers who are empowered to give students substantive rewards, short term as well as long term, will suddenly be far more effectual with their students and influential in society. So spectacular will be its success, I feel certain, that once eduterras are instituted the big question will be how educators ever muddled along without it.


Roland Fryer, an economist and head of Harvard's Education Innovation Laboratory, has been experimenting with "pay-for-performance" in education, where students are paid in cash or cell phone minutes for getting good grades. In a 2008 interview with Macleans Magazine he told how he realized that the reason why it is so hard to motivate children and youth to try hard at school is that the rewards are so distant, usually ten or twenty years into the future. Children complained that they are the last to be consulted on educational issues. Although results from his experiments are still tentative, Fryer told how he has already noticed how pay for achievement in class is universally popular among pupils and students.

"Part of the resistance (to pay for performance) echoes part of the [problem] with public education: we consult mainly adults, and do things that are comfortable for adults. I think if the answer lay there, we would already have found it. One thing we are trying to do at Ed-Labs to push the envelope is to ask children how schools can better serve them. And the most important thing is that I never met a kid who did not like it. Though in D.C. a few weeks ago, there was a kid who surprised me. He said, `I do not think we should be paid for school. I think I should pay to come to school, because it is such a valuable resource.' I was so impressed. An hour later, we were giving out the first cheques in the auditorium, and this kid's name was called, so I put his cheque in my pocket. He said, `What are you doing?' I said, `You told me you did not believe you should be paid, so I would like to honour that.' He looked at me in a way that only a 13-year-old could, and said, `I never said that!'" <>

I too have observed in my own son and daughter that money, even fake money like reward points, silly and insubstantial as they seem to someone old enough to take into account several decades of life, are extremely effective motivators. It was an economist, J.M. Keynes, who said that in the long term we are all dead. The brilliant invention of money acts as a constant reward for economic virtue. Meanwhile, educational values tend to be pie in the sky. As long as there are no immediate rewards for learning as well as working, for all intents and purposes it is not rewarded at all.

This initiative hints at what could be done with eduterras. Let us go over the numbers. Where I live, in Ontario, it costs the government an average of about ten thousand dollars to keep a child in a public school for a year. This expense is slightly above average for developed countries. Some nations, such as Belgium, attach that yearly sum to the child, so that whatever school the child decides to attend, be it public, parochial or private, and whether teachers are unionized or not, the money follows that child. This forces all schools to compete for pupils; reportedly, Belgian teachers take great pains to keep pupils and their parents happy. In any case, this ten thousand dollars a year amounts at five percent interest to the equivalent of a float of two hundred thousand dollars for the duration of a child's schooling.

In view of Fryer's findings, it would make sense to make at least some of this ten thousand a year available for pay for performance schemes, paid directly to children. It would be wise to earmark at least some of this money not for pupils to retain for themselves but to pay out to their peers, conditional upon performance, in this case on whether those peers show them kindness, cooperativeness and helpfulness in studying together. The power to reward others in this way would give children a degree of financial independence and would teach how to influence others in reaching their own educational goals. Of course, all this could be done with ordinary money.

The advantage of paying educational expenses in the world eduterra currency is that educational institutions would actually gain the ability to exercise monetary policy. They could leverage their budgets by tying education to not-for-profit revenue schemes. For example, eduterras could pay for tokens in video and internet games that are sanctioned and licensed by educators; they might be used to pay for educational books, toys and games. Under the present system, such new revenue streams could be used to increase the float, or reduce the yearly costs of school.

Under an eduterra scheme, this would be leveraged. That is, the extra eduterras are re-distributed directly to students, who in turn purchase more sanctioned goods, which increases the revenue further. Since children would have only marked eduterras in their pocket, it would be difficult for them to spend the money on illicit or non-age appropriate goods or activities. At the same time, any advertising or commercial outreach to children would have to live up to the standards of educators before earning the right to trade in eduterras.

This goes further than what Comenius actually proposed as sources of revenue for teachers in Panorthosia. However, in other ways Comenius went further. Here is the full text of paragraph 11, Chapter 22 of Panorthosia, which deals with pay for teachers.

"Proper salaries for teachers. Where the question may arise, whether it is better for teachers' salaries to be paid from public funds by the local Magistracy, or from private fees charged to parents, my answer is 'Both'. Modest salaries should be paid from public funds, payable in advance, to provide them with means of subsistence while teaching the poorer pupils free of charge. But fees should remain as an incentive to diligence, payable duly after a public examination at the end of a year's work, if the teacher has fully succeeded in bringing his Pupils to the proper standard. Otherwise he should receive nothing except disgrace for failing to perform his task. If these arrangements are made, there will be plenty of opportunities and incentives for diligence on the part of teachers and generosity on the part of parents." (Panorthosia, Chap 22, Para 11, p. 51)

It can be seen that he advocated multiple revenue streams for education, and, rather severely I think, advocated pay for performance for teachers, or, more exactly, no pay for poor performance of students in examinations. I know of no school where teachers get no pay-cheque if their students fail their final examination.

In his defence, he does seem to advocate an unconditional salary from the state. An under-performing teacher would be like a business that goes bankrupt; he or she would lose out on extra pay, but would not be faced with homelessness and starvation.

Parts of this are based on an essay originally written for the Badi' Blog dated Dec 10, 2008, called: "The Leadership of Knowledge; Beautiful Balance Sheets and Trade Money" (


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