Despite being on my lurking mode, I've been following the discussion in this cafe. That includes Rizal's serial quarrel over education with his secret lady. The debate was interesting, though as expected, it went into different frequencies. Expected, because this is a common thing in any debates involving economists... :-)
Of course, education is important. No doubt about it. It provides human dignity, self-respect and so on. On the other hand, education is also an investment -- human capital investment. That's where we enter the economic frequency. Here are some scattered comments, mostly based on my old piece.
First, the usual grievance is "government should improve education." What do we mean by 'improving education'? Before any of us start arguing with each other, please do make sure we are on the same wave length about this.
Second, is education as endowment, or is it a choice variable? It is both, for sure. When we agree that it is an endowment, that makes it justifiable to call for an overall improvement, as well as ethical it is ethical to call for a more equal distribution. However, since it is also an individual choice, that's where we start talking about trade-off.
Put it simply in an example: why does A go to an elementary school and B does not? A usual answer is because B is too poor to go to school. OK, now why X goes to Harvard Business School, and Y does not? Well, maybe because Y is too poor to go there (mind you, everyone except the son of a Dubai sheikh is too poor to go there). But might it also be that because Y chooses not to go there? Because it is not worth spending 2 more years in school, while Y can do some other things within those forgone 2 years? The answer is also yes.
But the 'choice' answer is not always the case for MBA degree. Going to any level of education is always a choice, because spending 6 years in primary schools, another 6 years in high school, another (...) years in the university are also choices. Read the case of Indian farmers in my article.
The moral of the story is: if the government is to improve education level, that should be both from the supply and demand side. What affects the demand for education is the return of education. It can be anything, but labor market is one important aspect of it. We can build may schools, and/or better schools. But no one would come if there is no where to go after finishing schools.
Third, let's suppose we agree that the government should do something. Does 'something' always mean more budget? More regulation (or even less regulation)? Fourth, let's suppose that there should be more budget for education. What should we spend the budget for?
Well, we see that there are more questions than answers. That what makes economists like Rizal seems to be blunt, unattractive people... :-)
(BTW, I keep asking myself, what the hell am I doing here, forgoing my modelling career back home...)