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Education and Products

I have a feeling that we are not product-orientated enough when it comes to education. It’s just a feeling at present, but it may turn out to be the understatement of the decade.

When I look over the modern education system in England and then I look at benchmarks like the National Curriculum Levels, which state pretty clearly what products should be possible, I see a gap in terms of what schools do or how they go about it. I don’t think a subject teacher - including myself when I taught English - really grasps what has to happen within his or her subject in order to end up with a full product in every case.

This lack of an understanding of the final product achievable in a school environment leads to a wandering of priorities and a ‘culling system’ instead of an education system.

Whether you’re running a business or a school, the most common failure is in nailing down exactly what project it is that you are going for.

If you’re not producing real and viable products, that ‘nailing down’ is probably lacking.

If you were to actually state that the product of a particular class in a particular subject is the actual National Curriculum Level(s) for that class and subject, and then work backwards to achieve that, for example, more would be accomplished. Instead, many teachers and school administrators start at the wrong end: they look at what they have in front of them and try to ‘improve’ it in some way. The Levels are a vague goal at best.

At the moment, schools have raw material fed into compartments called classes and then put through some kind of process in the hope that they reach some kind of result. Some subjects are far more product-orientated: systems enable individual teachers to state quite clearly what they are going for and then to work backwards through the sequence of steps required to at least approach that product. It’s impressive how some can predict grades and so forth depending on where students have reached in that sequence.

Many subjects, though, have no clear idea of what they are aiming for, and thus their task becomes one of ‘adding value’ to what is already there, bit by bit, all the while knowing that some students won’t get all the way. Nothing wrong with adding value - but effectively it’s going on hoping all the way to the end of a student’s career at school, instead of going about things in a product-orientated fashion.

A product-orientated approach would establish the ideal picture - the National Curriculum requirements or some similar benchmarks - and then work backwards to establish, in each individual case, the major departure from that ideal. Some would be much more ‘departed’ than others: some would lack an understanding of the basics of a subject from earlier years, for example, while others might merely be bored due to the lack of activity-related lessons.

Then lessons would need to be devised to cater for the range of situations found. Perhaps some teachers work like this, I don’t really know; I know some teachers’ plans and schemes of work are to some extent like this.

It makes one re-think what an actual ‘lesson’ is. Instead of being an activity in which the flow goes from the (industrial model) central teacher to the rows and rows of more or less passive students, we would have a (post-industrial) multi-way flow with stated products and interaction resulting in completed and verifiable items and students going for clearly understood and in most cases attainable products.

This is what the struggle has been with testing: always trying to find out how far they’ve got, how much they’ve done, how high they’ve reached - when actually just about everything they do should tell the teacher that every day.

Teachers can ask, beg, plead, yell for their product. But maybe they aren’t nailing it down first. Maybe they aren't naming it fully. And maybe they don't know the name of it. Time should be spent exactly and accurately naming the exact product wanted before asking for it.

When you see schools (or an Education Department) whizzing around, dashing into walls and each other and not producing much, it might be a good idea to start with describing in detail what products they are trying to produce. Then perhaps it will all smooth out and products will occur.

Easier said than done, I know, but great if we could do it.

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