OPINION

Reform via referendum

The sorry state of education is common knowledge, with a few bright exceptions serving simply to underscore the rule. The education question is a crucial one because its quality defines to a great extent not just the level of cultural development, but also the performance of the country’s economy. Reform of the system is therefore critical. Upgrading the quality of education is a realistic goal and society is at a point where it can embrace change. There are those who continue to dig in their heels but alone they are not strong enough to stop change all together. They have succeeded in doing so thus far by using university and public school student rallies. The only way to eliminate this front politically is through the democratic process. History has shown us that quelling such rallies is not the way to go. Whenever governments have applied this tactic, they have simply stoked the fire of dissent. The upcoming parliamentary debate on education reform is being held in the context of the new minister’s statements that he will be starting talks afresh. Such dialogue needs to be aimed at a national strategy that will iron out traditional sticking points, upgrade the educational process, establish a functional system for assessing both teaching staff and students, and, of course, promote a new mentality. For such a plan to succeed, it needs to transcend the prospects and aims of the current government. Fresh dialogue is necessary, though not ideal, if we want to climb out of the quagmire. If the government wants to avoid the very real likelihood that these talks will be torpedoed before they even have a chance to start, it must first set the example and commit to specific proposals. It must also ask other parties and interested bodies to do the same. But, even this will not be enough. Dialogue can only be taken seriously if it is made clear from the outset that all basic issues will be put to a referendum. This is the only process that allows for the people’s voice to be heard and compels parties and authorities to take it seriously.