Public Education: Using the Eisenhower Matrix to Examine the Who, What and Why (Part 1/3)

Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has catapulted our understanding of welfare economics through his seminal work on capabilities. He argues, first, that poverty is multidimensional and second, that freedom from poverty can be obtained only when people’s capabilities are enhanced; thereby increasing one’s freedom of choice. If one were to make the primary argument that education is a basic means of augmenting long term human capability, it would stand to reason that resource allocation within the public education system is a key lever towards poverty alleviation within a country or state. This series of thought pieces will use the Eisenhower Matrix to suggest how resources could be allocated from the perspective of state provision of education.

This first piece will serve as an introduction to the concept. Part 2 will delve into the nuances of the lifetime human need for education, from the perspectives of equitable delivery and uniformity. The final part will conclude by proposing a rationale for the strategic stance discussed through the series.

Let us make the following broad assumptions:

First, that the state wants to do everything it can for its citizens, so that they grow economically and become poverty free as quickly as possible.
Second, that education is a key lever by which a nation can grow and become poverty free.
Third, that resources are constrained and there is a significant opportunity cost to all allocation decisions. It therefore becomes necessary to have a system by which one prioritises and allocates resources (eg- the Eisenhower Matrix).

We could further take the stance that the objective of state-provided education should be to ensure that citizens are provided with an intellectual base through which they can gain lifelong agency of choices. It then becomes the education departments’ primary responsibility to ensure (by means of policy and provision) that citizens are able to build and maintain an adequate livelihood, which provides for their basic necessities (or today’s version of roti, kapda, makan) through the education they have obtained. Practically, this means that the 15 odd years of education which a child obtains today should meaningfully support the subsequent 45 years of their working life.

Additionally, assuming we seek to fabricate an equitable society, the opportunity to build such a livelihood should be equally provided and equally accessible to all citizens. It should be noted that while equity is not essential to the conceptualisation of resource allocation, it becomes essential in deciding the executional strategy for the education provision within a society.

Therefore, keeping the aforementioned goal of a poverty free, equitable society in mind, we can agree that state resources should be allocated towards provision of public education within a given society. Then, the questions before us are:

How does one decide to what end funds should primarily be allocated?
How does one decide what needs to be done first versus what can wait?

The Eisenhower Matrix aka the urgent/important matrix can be used as a prioritisation tool for potential policy items that will determine the trajectory of public resource allocation, a blank matrix may look something like this.

In our context, deciding where funds should be allocated to is the importance component; prioritising the chronology of expenditure is the urgency component. Thinking through each potential policy decision/ resource allocation, as per the guiding notes given in the image above can allow us to place it along the matrix and aim to minimise the opportunity cost of resource allocation.

Before we move onto the next part of this thought piece, consider the aforementioned questions yourself. What do you think? How would you allocate resources? Where do you think the different components of the public education delivery should sit on this matrix?

Posted by Aparna Shankar