Though government officials—and society at-large–want to know that the money allocated to education is well spent, this should not mean that profit or material productivity should be the measures by which we assess the educational experience. In other words education is not something one buys it is something within which one invests, so the issue is not about money well spent but rather appropriately invested. The investment involves not just money but also more importantly people’s lives. If the latter is not part of the commitment, then the former will truly be just money spent.
If money is all that is put into the educational experience, then very little benefit will be derived by students as well as by the educational institution. Seen in this light students are not customers purchasing a service and teachers are not merely providers of facts, both are partners in creating the learning experience. It is not like dinning out: as partners they each have a role in determining the nutrients of what is made and consumed in the experience.
Educational institutions acting on the notion that students are customers encourages the belief that the exchange between them and their students is largely business/economic in nature. What this means is that what is paid must equate to what is received and in this context the money paid should equate to the grade received. The feeling becomes, they pay good money so they deserve a good grade. Further evaluating professors according to student evaluations affords students the lever of faculty ratings for grades. No wonder we have students graduating having not learned much, except of course how to work the system for grades.
In education we shouldn’t spend anything, yet we must invest everything—hearts, minds and money. You don’t get proper investment by treating people—teachers and students—like cogs in the education machine. You don’t get it by seeking efficiencies at all costs—learning, like creativity, is not a efficient activity. Hence terms like ‘academic efficiency’ is a contradiction in terms. This is not suggesting that we ought to be carefree and careless in employing the resources we have.
Aim of Education
The issue should not be whether the learning experience provided returns a profit or whether it is materially productive, but rather whether it is a meaningful and humanly productive experience. This is why throwing money at the educational problem we face is just misguided.
This is why educators need to be educated about—and critically think about—the very human aim of education. Unfortunately it is material productivity, not human productivity that is capturing the attention of some education administrators. The more we focus on the former the less we realize the latter and the more deficient the system becomes.
Of course we should measure how, what and how much students learn. Of course we should assess the teaching strategies and tactics we employ with the intent of continuous quality improvement. This however does not mean we should turn the very concrete learning experience into an abstraction.
Of course the publish-or-perish system in higher education doesn’t serve us well. It does serve both the professors’ and the institution’s image (among the members of the academy) but not necessarily the student. Of course professors need to do research otherwise they have nothing to teach, but research for the sake of getting published—when those doing research infrequently teach—is not very helpful or relevant to the learning experience.
We must seek to make the learning experience a value-added human experience—materially and humanly productive—and one that engenders joy in learning.
Learning is foundational to our viability as individuals, as a society, and as a species. We must learn to embrace learning since our continued existence depends on it. Yet many exit the educational system abhorring learning. Education should be about learning how to learn and how to think critically. The better we are at learning and thinking critically the better we are poised to sustain our viability and realize human progress.