This summer I began further (formal) studies in a doctor of education program specializing in distance and online education - also taking various other forms and names: e-learning, mobile learning, and in some cases open education. I just recently wrapped up the first course within the program. In the final online synchronous session - e.g. cohort and instructor online at the same time utilizing software for discussion and presentations - our instructor made the comment speaking: "education is a business". I quickly responded in the text chatbox, typing: "education is a human right". In turn, the instructor responded, which sounded to me like a chiding tone, "phhfffa, well David, no, it's a business, whatever you might think..."
Not interested in engaging in a discussion or interaction which resembles trying to heckle a comic on stage - e.g. pondering who holds the power of the mic - I chose to let the comment go... for the time being.
I've since pondered it a little more since and present a bit of that pondering here, as it also relates to some recent pondering on differences (or similarities) between 'equity' and 'equality'.
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The basis of my comment stems from the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, of which we approach its 67th Anniversary on Dec. 10.
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
The basis of my instructors' comment - I'm not sure.
Speculatively, I can look to dictionary definitions, which suggest that a business is: "the activity of making, buying, or selling goods or providing services in exchange for money". On this point, then, yes, I can agree that there are aspects of education then that might be considered business-like. Tuition, for example, is providing a service in exchange for money. One could also suggest that all of the many employees at an educational institution operate in a business-like atmosphere - e.g. exchanging services for money.
However, part of my one line argument in return was something to the effect that 'educational institutions might be businesses, in some cases - but not 'education' in of itself.'
Added to this, of which I did not put in my commentary, is that to have an effective debate on this topic we would most likely need to come to some sort of agreement on the use of each term "business" & "education". For the sake of discussion here, I'd suggest a venn diagram might serve a bit of purpose, as presented at the top of this post.
Along with education, embedded within the Declaration of Human Rights are the notions of liberty, equality and dignity. Some argue that these are also vital aspects of education - from primary through secondary to post-secondary and beyond. Yet, education, educational institutions, and education systems lie in a constant state of tensions between civic notions of equality and inequality, as well as legal and policy notions - rooted in current social conditions and positions, especially those of diversity and political goals around 'multiculturalism'.
Educational institutions and policy makers often suggest that they are preventing, redressing, or reducing existing inequalities and in turn creating, promoting, and enhancing equal education along with desirable outcomes. Yet, the numbers on these fronts suggest a rather different picture with many minority populations simply not demonstrating the same levels of educational attainment and 'success'.
But it doesn't stop there.
Another key aspect of 'education' is that it is accessible - as in 'equal access'. Unfortunately, when a society becomes stratified with various layers of advantage and disadvantage and hierarchy, the inevitable consequences are that equal access to education starts to ring like a hollow bell - e.g. one without a 'clapper'.
Without equal access there is not equality of opportunity, nor equity.
When some are excluded by lack of knowledge, income, or the ability necessary to participate fully in education processes, they must be able to overcome obstacles to access in order to ensure fairness. In other words, fairness also demands implementation of remedies to redress historic injustices that may have prevented or diminished access in the first place. In the case of Canada, the history of 'Indian Residential Schools' serves as a strong example. In other examples - how about geography? Or, rural versus urban split?
In order to maximize access opportunities experienced by certain marginalized groups, a 'democratic' society often commits some financial resources in order to attempt to level out inequity. Yet, with some irony, this in turn can create temporary inequalities, and, thus, rather than striving for equality among groups of people, maybe we should potentially work towards equitable inequalities that reflect the needs of certain folks.
In 2001, Saskatchewan Education published Our Children, Our Communities, and Our Future Equity in Education: A Policy Framework. In it, is suggested "the concept of equity goes beyond equality of opportunity where everyone is treated the same, to fostering a barrier-free environment where individuals benefit equally. It recognizes that some people require additional and specialized supports in order to achieve equal benefit" (p. 5), and that the measure of equity is in equity of results or outcomes, not equity of opportunity.
This framework suggests: "The scope of equity in education includes and is not limited to: equity in access and benefit; employment; curriculum and instruction materials and practices; assessment and evaluation materials and practices; cross-cultural, intercultural, non-racist, non-sexist education; school culture and environment; student development; leadership development; and organizational development and change."
These are quite the statements - and, yet, don't sound very business-like to me, (unless we're talking some sort of social enterprise).
So, yes, maybe education can be 'business-like' at times - however, I certainly differ in my opinion that 'education is a business' - it's a human right first, and then may operate business-like in some cases. However, last time I checked, not that many businesses were receiving 80 per cent (or so) of their funding base from the Provincial government. This is the approximate funding that the local community college where I live receives in government funding; only approximately 20 per cent of their funding comes from tuition, with much of that coming from International students paying much higher tuition than 'domestic' students.
Maybe some of the continued disparities and inequities in education may stem from the fact that many folks see it as a 'business' and not as a 'human right'? In my experience, too many educational institutions are trying to operate like 'businesses' - administrations are structured hierarchically like businesses, marketing firms are hired to 'brand' the institution like a business, outcomes are evaluated like a business - e.g. ROI, return on investment, and students are considered 'consumers' or 'receptors' - not citizens, nor sovereign beings.
What do you think?