Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Quality and Sustainability

I have been giving some thought recently to the ideas of quality and sustainability and how they relate to education. Much has been said and written lately about the quality of British education. Basically, the gist is that the quality overall is not too good.

What I have not seen mentioned is anything about the sustainability of British education. Actually, I do not recall ever seeing this term used to describe education. (It certainly may have been applied, but I have not seen it.) Normally, the concept of sustainability is applied to things like logging and other businesses. If you are a logging company and you chop down all the trees without making sure that you plant and care for enough seedlings, seen you will end up with no more mature trees to harvest. Similarly, if you run some other type of business, you need to make certain that you do not expand faster than you can maintain. It does no good to open new outlets of a store if you cannot maintain the production and supply chain.

Now, despite the fact that business models cannot always be successfully applied to education, the concept of sustainability deserves some notice. Currently, Britain is unable to sustain its educational system. By that, I mean that Britain’s educational system is not producing enough teachers. As a result, in order to have enough teachers in the classrooms, schools are forced to recruit from other countries. While the shortage seems to be across the subject areas, it is particularly acute in mathematics and science. A number of institutes of higher education are even closing their mathematics departments due to lack of students. Such closures will only lead to further shortages, since the students interested in pursuing higher-level mathematics are becoming more and more limited in their options.

It seems that the only way to make sure that Britain, or any nation for that matter, to educate their children is to make sure that the educational system can sustain itself. This is one reason that organizations such as the Peace Corps focused both on teaching children and training teachers while also concentrating on other basic issues like farming and access to clean water.

So, what does quality have to do with sustainability?

Everything. Though two separate issues with varying causes and remedies, improving one can only be done by improving the other. To make sure more students become teachers, it is critical to make sure we have high quality schools. Similarly, to make sure we have high-quality schools, we need to make sure we produce as many well-trained teachers as we can.

Much can be said, and indeed much has been said and written, about why schools are declining. However, until the long-term quality/sustainability cycle is taken into account, little lasting improvements can be made.


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