Skip to content

COVID-19, education, neoliberalism

Are you familiar with the game rock, paper, scissors? (Rock beats scissors, paper beats rock, scissors beats paper). I think we need a modern version: COVID-19, education, neoliberalism. Let me explain ...
Neoliberalism - ScissorsNeoliberalism is an ideology that values competition, materialism, consumerism, individualism and self-advancement. It operates through market forces, aims for 'small government' and relies on explicit metrics to gauge success.


Education - PaperEducation should aspire to develop individual fulfillment and universal well-being. Like Yin and Yang, individual fulfillment and universal well-being complement each other - one cannot exist without the other. You gain individual fulfillment through being part of something that is greater than yourself - universal well-being comes about through the collective actions of individuals.

Covid-19, Rock
COVID-19 is a virus (with various different mutations) that has potentially serious consequences for individuals who are infected by it, including death.


In the new version of rock, paper, scissors:

Neoliberalism destroys education by its focus on the individual, competition and market forces, Neoliberalism destroys education and a focus on accountability based on narrow measures of success (e.g. high stakes tests and international comparisons such as PISA).  In so doing neoliberalism undermines the common good that education should represent - it breaks the synergistic relationship between the fulfillment of the individual and universal well-being. Indeed, by focusing on the success of some individuals (at the expense of others) it negates the aim of achieving universal well-being.
(For a compelling explanation of how neoliberalism destroys education see Reid (2019))

Education defeats COVID-19 by helping people to manage the virus and minimise its consequences. For example, education enabled vaccines to be developed that protect people against the virus. Education also helps people to understand how to minimise the risk of becoming infected (e.g. wear masks to avoid spreading the virus through the air) and reduce the seriousness of being infected with COVID-19 (by getting vaccinated).

COVID-19 distorts neoliberalismCOVID-19 distorts neoliberalism by forcing people to think about their wider community and take actions which whilst perhaps not in the best interest of one particular individual (e.g. 14 days quarantine) are carried out for the greater good of society. As we have seen COVID-19 also undermines the focus on market forces - with health being seen as more important than the economy - and it stimulates government action with vast sums of money being used to prop up society in the face of the pandemic.

Individual fulfilment and Universal wellbeingPlaying this new version of the game might help to open up debate and understanding of our underlying values and beliefs - and perhaps help us move to a world dominated by an ideology founded on the desire for individual fulfillment and universal well-being rather than individualism and competition.

P.S. Did I mention that universal well-being includes rhinos?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *