Dr Shahid Siddiqui
Education has undergone a tremendous change over the last two decades. It has emerged as a plausible business venture and has thus caught the eye of the private sector. A related aspect of contemporary education is corporatization. The business paradigm has a different viewpoint of education in terms of its role, objectives and dynamics. The relationship between education and society should be ideally mutual so that on the one hand needs of society should be catered by education and on the other hand education should perform the role of making society a place where freedom of thought and expression could be exercised. Education should also empower citizens to challenge some of the taboos in the society. Unfortunately the relationship between education and society has turned out to be a one way relationship where corporatization of society has completely overtaken the field of education. The economic aspect has become the driving force in education and has thus radically changed the complexion of education in many countries.
A cursory look at the new idiom of education can help us have a fair idea of the contours of contemporary education, largely influenced by the corporatization of society. One key lexicon that may describe Education generically is industry. Education which used to be considered as a mission has been conveniently turned into a money making venture where the maximization of profit acts as the guiding principle. Emerging as a lucrative industry education attracted the attention of businessmen who invested in this industry and found it as a rewarding experience. The businessmen also found their way to the board of directors and similar forums. Thus the corporate mindset, in direct and indirect manner, dominated the educational scene.
The schools are considered as flat organizations where productivity and efficiency are the two most important demands of the management. The teachers are considered as information providers who act as salespersons to sell the product. Another term used for teachers is cultural workers. These terms suggest a very narrow and limited role given to teachers, i.e., implementing the given script. Where does this script come from? In a number of private school chains the script (detailed lesson plans) are designed at a centralized office and are disseminated to different school branches for implementation. The teachers thus have limited chances of innovation and creativity and are just reduced to technicians instead of acting as reflective practitioners. The educational programmes are now considered as product. As on market people are carried away by the branded products so is the case with education where the brands are exploited. Like factory model, some school systems, have opened up numerous branches in different cities. These branches act as production units. The net result of having a large number of production units is selling large quantity of product to amass more profit.
Another lexicon which is central in contemporary education is customer or client. The students are considered as customers in the business model of education who buy the product of education. In this business transaction kind of dynamics, teachers’ role is to satisfy the customers as they are important for the business. The notion of principals and head teachers has been turned into managers who make sure that productivity is ensured.
To make sure that the system is working properly a new term, academic auditing, has been borrowed from the coroporate world. This academic auditing is made in an unacademic manner as a number of coordinators do the job of monitoring in schools and create a fearful environment. The evaluation is purely done on the basis of product and the process is not considered. The academic auditing measures are purely quantitative and the qualitative aspects do not really matter. An obvious reason of quantitative auditing is that it is easy and convenient as it measures the quantifiable units. But for the sake of convenience the qualitative aspects are not taken into account. Consequently the auditing exercise turns out to be narrow in scope and misleading in nature.
The efficiency is measured by looking at the competencies. The curriculums in vogue aim at certain competencies and skills. The underlying assumptions is that knowledge can be broken down into small measureable units which can be measured through assessment of students. The discreet point tests, i.e., MCQs (Multiple choice questions) became very popular in the near past. They are easy to mark and a large number of students can be assessed in relatively short time. Because of this reason the MCQs and other objective type assessments are very popular among the educational managers for the reason stated before. But the flip side of it is that students may score well on discreet point items but when it comes to the application of knowledge in real context they find it difficult to cope with the challenges.
The dominance of corporate world in education owes to the economic principle of lassies fare where there is open competition in market and there is no intervention of the state. The same model is being demonstrated in the domain of education as there is little say of the state as for the private section education is concerned. On the contrary the state which is responsible (as the constitution of Pakistan reads) is giving up on the public sector education. A number of public sector schools were up for grab by the NGOs. Using the corporate term these schools were considered as sick units which should be either closed down or handed over to the private sector.
The state, that claims to have plans for the improvement of education, should realize that qualitative improvement cannot come unless public sector education is encouraged, empowered, and respected by the state.
The writer is Director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org