Spending on our education system without special attention to Quality is a formula for waste and frustration, leading to diminished expectations and an exacerbation of our problems in Belize. At the heart of this matter is the need to recognize what comprises quality in education, with special focus on the Tertiary level.
As noted last week, my recommended sequence to get us to Sustainable Development is:
First, strong Leadership;
Second, a Unity of Vision (taking ownership of Horizon 2030 is critical). Third, Quality Education with a focus on the Tertiary Level, and
Fourth, Improved Productivity required to increase our standard of living and capabilities to achieve our vision. This week’s article is about the Third step, Quality Education.
The same things that distinguish higher quality from lower quality in other areas apply to the education sector. For example, the German Mercedes Benz automobile is considered among the finest in the world. The company’s reputation has been maintained over the years even with serious attempts by other auto makers from other countries trying to surpass them.
Another classic example comes from the hotel and hospitality industry with ratings such as three, four, five, and higher stars. Certain hotel brands are known for their higher quality around the world, For example the Ritz Carlton chain. At this point you may be correctly linking price with quality and wondering if we can only get quality by paying a very high price. This is where the issue of Standards come in to the picture.
What really goes into quality? The first point is that you will find that a focus on details is always at the heart of producing quality. There are Industry Standards that must be met, and to be distinguished from others, these standards must be surpassed.
The higher the quality of the goods or service, the greater is the focus and effort on the finer details of the goods or service. This requires a higher level of commitment, training and abilities of those involved in the process.
The people at Mercedes Benz accept, almost with a degree of apology and helplessness, that they are obsessed with the very finest of details. Just the chime of sounds warning you to put on your seatbelts or the sound of the door closing takes incredible effort and a multitude of testing and retesting before they are incorporated in their cars.
By focusing on the finest details they are able to maintain their reputation and the high value of their cars. The extra effort paid to the details attracts a proportionately greater return in value and so they can continue to earn a high premium for their investments.
This brings us to a second important point. To be able to rise above standards and focus on details requires a certain attitude, a certain culture. It is an attitude that promotes excellence and going beyond the call of duty. It is one that has as its most important objective the welfare of the customers. It is a cultural attitude that finds personal satisfaction in the joy and satisfaction of those you are serving.
So how does our Education System live up to these requirements for Quality? Does it look at the students as its customers and does it have the majority of the people working in this sector focusing on details with a passion? Is there a culture in the Education Sector where the people working in it strive for excellence by going beyond the call of duty? Are the people in the sector properly trained and equipped to produce high quality?
The answers to these questions are not to come from the people in the Sector. They are only to respond to the answers which come from the Customers, that is, the students and parents of the students. The answers are to come also from the employers of the graduates of the school system. The answers have been coming for many years and the Customers have not been happy.
So it is an issue of what to do about creating that culture that wants to not only meet standards, but to exceed them. In the first place we need to have clear and relevant Standards, for which much work has been done in the last couple decades. Are we satisfied with these Standards? Why do primary school students have to take so many subjects and what are the implications on costs for the required textbooks, especially for lower income people?
The reason why we must focus on the Tertiary Sector as a priority, unlike what many in the Sector believe, is because it is at this level that the Leaders are to be developed who will change the Culture and improve the results. If we are pouring money at the lower levels just to increase numbers, we may be contributing to the problem: more people are now getting a lower quality education!
It is imperative that the importance of the Tertiary Sector be recognized as the place where major efforts must be made to improve quality so that this improvement in quality permeates throughout the system. Where are the teachers, managers and policy makers to be trained? Clearly it is at the Tertiary level.
We must start from where we derive Brainpower, and that is at the College and University level. And we must start ensuring that at the Tertiary level we have people who are passionate about details, about surpassing Standards, and about serving their Customers. Let us build on Brainpower and Character urgently. That’s how we will start to improve on Quality throughout the Education System, in turn benefiting all of society.