Monday, April 11, 2011

Improving Education through Quality Principles - some thoughts

Paul Borwaski has a raised the voice for a topic very close to me – quality tools in education.  Much is said about children being the future and education being the key to a better world – but not much is done.  Paul has shared some examples from the US where select institutions are using quality tools to make a difference, for the better.  There are surely such institutions across the world. But these exceptional institutions are exceptions. Very far and few.

There is no denying that quality tools, methods, and practices can play a huge role in changing how education is provided and managed. There are enough examples of successes for institutions to follow.  If companies could learn from successes of other companies, why can’t institutions?

Well they can, if we looked at the forces at work and did something about it.  I am responding more from my exposure to the education system in India.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of being a product of this system.  For understanding what quality tools to use, we try and understand the macro characteristics of the company we are trying to help – let’s do the same for our schools.  Here are some macro forces:

 I know I have not said this but whoever did was very smart.  Competition drives all improvement!  If we did not have enough competition, no company would be interested in improvement.  Competition when mixed with scarcity is a key driver for improvement.  This is not the case in education.  There are far too many students and too few schools.  Imagine a situation where fewer students were chased with a lot of schools!  Utopia I know.

The customer – provider relationship with companies is insulated from damage that the provider can inflict.  But in education, our children study and stay (up to eight hours sometimes) with the people and system that we want to complain against.  It’s tough to gather courage to complain in such a situation.  And schools take full advantage.

Who gets into teaching? If we leave out some exceptions, it is the people who do not want or can’t get into a so-called proper career. This is one of the biggest paradoxes of the developing world – the people who should and want to become teachers never become one.

What can be done? I am not qualified to comment but then I do have an opinion.  Here are some thoughts to improve education through management and quality tools.

It is time to forget teaching is the noblest profession.  Why? Well, the profession itself forgot its nobility years ago.  Noble profession is now only used as an excuse for incompetence and corruption.

Organized commerce:
Schools in India remain largely unorganized.  It’s way too easy to start a school if you have some seed capital and it’s even easier to run it without any regards to rules if you continue to have the money.  Yes – corruption rules here as well.  If school enterprise is made organized by then there is hope.  Just as industry is regulated by rules and guidelines, it is time education is governed too.

Complaint management:
If you buy a service you can choose to complain about it.  If the complaint is not addressed or is repeated you can choose to walk away as a customer.  You cant do this if your children are studying at the school you want to complain about. If the government or another agency can develop a fair and vengeance-free system to manage complaints then we could have true feedback pouring in.

Parent partnership:
A key quality principle is developing partnerships with customers or stakeholders.  If parents became partners in the management of a school, the school would know what the customer wants before they make a huge mistake.
If this and more is to be done, the Baldrige model for schools is a solution I completely support.  There is no other model/framework which can help schools/colleges from understanding who their customer is, what their mission could be, what strategy to adopt, whom to recruit, what processes to put in place, what to measure and monitor, and what results should matter.