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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Who are we to say what's best for them? A reply to Randy David

Many like Randy David's article last Sunday about "Education and its Purposes." I agree with most of it but I take issue with his bit about those who take up nursing. He writes:
Not too long ago, every college or university in the country tried to cash in on the thriving global market for nurses. Almost overnight, nursing schools sprouted or expanded, drawing scarce resources away from courses and degree programs that had no immediate market value. The curriculum was re-arranged to make room for those skills that were needed in hospitals abroad, while the general education courses were trimmed down to a minimum. Then, almost without warning, the nursing market crashed, leaving in its wake thousands of unemployed graduates and desperate students who had borrowed money to pay the high tuition being charged... Nothing could be more disastrous for a nation’s educational system than to fasten its curricula to whatever is the current flavor in a rapidly changing global market. The function of education is to prepare people to live in the future.
My question is this: how can you fault filipinos for investing in something like nursing, of reacting to global demand, where the possibility of returns are huge and potentially life changing? i argue that most of the people who take up nursing, otherwise, would not have gone to school, if not for this lucrative option to live abroad. Although this nursing demand does steal away from people who otherwise would have become doctors, accountants, bankers, our next leaders, etc. - the "better" professions perhaps - for most of these people I suspect that this IS their best option, by revealed preference. Most of those who take up nursing are from outside of Metro Manila, not those who have the opportunity to go to private schools like Ateneo and UP which virtually assures a job after college, people not gifted by many other opportunities. How can we fault these people for doing what they think is best for them? Similarly, how can we fault private schools for specializing in training filipinos in nursing, giving them opportunity when otherwise they would have little? Broadening their curricula would incur added costs to them, tuition would be higher, and they would not have otherwise set up business. We need to imagine the right counterfactual here. In an ideal world, sure, let's offer the most well-rounded of educations for these nurses. But we live in a world with budget constraints.

To be sure, investing in any specialized education has its risks that tomorrow's demand won't be the same as today's. This is true for global and local occupations. The only problem would be if the people who choose professions, in this case nursing, are not internalizing these risks properly. But people know these risks when they invested in their education. The burden of proof is to show they do not. Why do we think it's not a careful decision on their part?

If an investment (in education or business in general) fails, it doesn't mean it wasn't worth pursuing. 80% of business startups fail; it doesn't mean trying to start one up is not good investment thinking simply because there is risk of failure.

This is my only issue with this article. It's a bit elitist in assuming that those who choose nursing are not able to know what's best for them and we know what is best for them. Who are we to say this? Are we better in internalizing the costs than them?

In any case, it's unclear if the demand for nursing abroad will stop because Europe's population is aging and so are America's baby boomers. This recession was an economic blip. We know from history that the world economy has never (yet) failed to bounce back and the demand for foreign workers will continue. "The function of education is to prepare people to live in the future," says Randy David. Let us not rule out nursing as a good future career path.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Shanghai: Then And Now

The difference 20 years of economic growth makes.

1990:

2010: