Is Education a commodity? A non-traditional setting..

As education moves from the traditional concept as a publically provided social good (to the elite perhaps) and forced into the more efficient market-economic model, challenges occur in the system. The idea of removing or altering academic instruction and control from lecturing staff is at the heart of such a business model – to increase income, for example in broadening access, increasing student numbers. It adds to educational Taylorism and begins to treat the art of teaching, and therefore student learning, in the same way that Henry Ford treated the manufacture of cars – breaking skilled labour down into a series of lower-skilled tasks, assigning some tasks to machines and imposing strict managerial control over the rest. Higher education becomes an assembly line of fixed structured components that combined are an academic qualification. Enabling students gain allowance or credit in a non-traditional environment surely devalues the lecture setting and the learning outcomes achieved in the module. The outcomes are measured rather than the process of learning which has taken place during the semester in the lecture – corresponding to the assembly line of Henry Ford.

The idea of developing learning modules in which the knowledge of the academic staff is extracted and implanted into an industry setting or into an online on an electronic format or flexible learning programme owned and controlled by management or national bodies. This requires the kind of standardization that typifies the commoditised model of education: standardized testing and straight-jacket learning plans. Already imposed in some educational sectors, the higher-education counterpart can be found in new corporate providers of college degrees. The plan is to take knowledge from the heads and hearts of teachers and put it into CDs and online courses, creating an interchangeable education that can be as standardized as McDonalds or Starbucks. The other angle to this commoditisation is that the learning gained in the work environment is the accredited by the University or academic institution, on the premise that the learning outcomes for a particular module or course were gained. Taking this to an extreme means that students could potentially apply continuously to academic institutions for awards as they meet learning outcomes. Does this devalue the process of higher education? Surely education, and particularly higher education, should be viewed a process rather than a product.

“We are beginning to recognize that our dominant paradigm mistakes a means for an end. It takes the means or method – called ‘instructing’ or ‘teaching’ – and makes it the college’s end or purpose. To say that the purpose of colleges is to provide instruction is like saying that General Motor’s business is to operate assembly lines. … We now see that our mission is not instruction but rather that of producing learning with every student by whatever means work best” (Barr, 1995)



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