According to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to a free basic education. If all human beings have this right, it seems that many people, in poor parts of the world and wealthier ones too, are not getting what they deserve. When the Declaration was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948, it was reasonable to believe that the goal of a free basic education for all could be reached before long. This has not happened, however. In fact, it seems that the worldwide level of education has recently been declining. In poor countries, many millions of children do not even go to primary school. In wealthier countries, the dropout rate among high school students has been increasing and university education is becoming less and less affordable. Moreover, there is evidence that everywhere, the quality of education is now declining.
The causes of these anti-educational trends are complex. It is clear, however, that one factor is the ever-increasing commercialization of society. Many areas of life—including education—which until recently were thought of as being social responsibilities have come to regulated according to business principles even if they are still publicly owned.
Commercialization is anti-educational in two major ways. In the first place, it is responsible for the ever-rising expense of education. If all educational institutions must operate as efficiently as possible out of concern for their balance sheets, many people will be excluded from the system. In the second place, the quality of education suffers as the result of commercialization: many who do enter the system will still not be well educated when they leave. Quality naturally declines in a commercialized educational system because its central concern is to create a “product” that is as attractive as possible to potential “customers,” and so, when the system is commercialized, its content quickly becomes commercial too. Curricula and instructional materials come to be geared to entertaining and reassurring rather than to instruction and skill development.
One website cannot, of course, defeat the powerful forces that drive the “ESL industry,” but it can make a small gesture of resistance, and perhaps at the same time it can offer a useful service to some teachers and students.
-fl, December, 2008