Why do we invest in Education?

Kinder Republic
4 min readJun 13, 2020

Globally, education represents a significant investment — not only in terms of the direct (whether public by taxes or private by fees) and indirect (lodging, transport, uniforms, stationery, etc) expenses, but also in terms of opportunity costs (e.g. delaying the start of income-generating activities) and unintended consequences (physical and mental trauma due to punishments, exam pressure, bullying/ragging, etc.)

What is the outcome for which we, collectively as societies and individually as students/parents, are investing so much?

When we were schooling (in the 80ies and early 90ies) we were told “හොඳට ඉගෙනගෙන හොඳ රස්සාවක් කරන්න” (study well and get a good job) which is probably consistent with the expansion of formal employment being a driving force behind mass schooling. And of course this is important — it’s hard to justify individual investment in education (with ambitions ranging from completing school to a degree to postgraduate qualifications) unless it secures a better income in return, and as tax-payers it’s easier to justify further investment in education if it results in a greater boost to the economy (both value created by work as well as taxes paid on income) — so it’s natural that politicians will prioritize this aspect in their manifestos (e.g. see page 20–21 of the Election Manifesto of H.E. Gotabaya Rajapakse)

But, is that the only reason for education?

We believe not, and here are some definitions that inspired us:

Jomtien Declaration at the World Conference on Education for All:

  1. Every person — child, youth and adult — shall be able to benefit from educational opportunities designed to meet their basic learning needs. These needs comprise both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy, and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning. The scope of basic learning needs and how they should be met varies with individual countries and cultures, and inevitably, changes with the passage of time.
  2. The satisfaction of these needs empowers individuals in any society and confers upon them a responsibility to respect and build upon their collective cultural, linguistic and spiritual heritage, to promote the education of others, to further the cause of social justice, to achieve environmental protection, to be tolerant towards social, political and religious systems which differ from their own, ensuring that commonly accepted humanistic values and human rights are upheld, and to work for international peace and solidarity in an interdependent world.
  3. Another and no less fundamental aim of educational development is the transmission and enrichment of common cultural and moral values. It is in these values that the individual and society find their identity and worth.
  4. Basic education is more than an end in itself. It is the foundation for lifelong learning and human development on which countries may build, systematically, further levels and types of education and training.

National Education Commission, from Proposals for a National Policy on General Education in Sri Lanka 2016:

“General Education should prepare children for a satisfying life in which they live and work together productively with fellow adults, equipped with the knowledge and other competences that would enable them to contribute to the wellbeing of their family, the community in which they live, and the nation as a whole.”

(Edited for brevity; it’s a laudable ambition but will require some serious re-engineering of our educational institutions and practices to achieve it 🤫)

Education Reimagined:

“To enable all children to fulfill their full potential as empowered individuals, constructive members of their communities, productive participants in the economy, and engaged citizens of the US and the world.”

(Feel free to replace US with your own country)

Alliance for Self-Directed Education:

“Education is the sum of everything a person learns that enables that person to live a satisfying and meaningful life.”

Vision and Mission of Kinder Republic

Our vision: Education for a kinder world.

(If that sounds confusing: Kinder in our name is the German word for children, and is pronounced /ˈkɪndə/ like in kindergarten; when we say kinder world it is in the sense of more kindness.)

To be more specific, we believe that, as individuals and societies, we invest in education to create a kinder world — a world that is more free, peaceful, respectful, sustainable, inclusive and equitable.

And the best way to achieve that is for education itself to embody those values. Actually, it is the only way — to eliminate any of those values in education is to say that that value is expendable, that it isn’t really important at all.

Our mission: to make available a Democratic Education to every child in Sri Lanka who desires it, by

  • Operating Kinder Republic, a network of Democratic Schools, for families who are ready for a full-time democratic education
  • Supporting Conventional Schools to offer part-time democratic education for families who are not yet ready to enrol in Kinder Republic but still wish to avail of its benefits

Regardless of whether you are a learner, parent, educator, tax-payer or citizen; how would you define the purpose of education?

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Kinder Republic

Sri Lanka's first and only Democratic School (Established 2021).