May 27, 2024


Science It Works

How Current Theories of Management Reduce the Meaning of Education

In a similar vein to the last post, I came across a report which has been produced recently on the education of 14-19 year olds in Britain entitled Education for All. One of the themes of the report is the way in which the language and concepts of management have prevailed in the sector and in doing so have reduced the understanding of what education might mean:

“As the language of management and performance has advanced, so we have proportionately lost a language of education which recognizes the intrinsic value of pursuing certain types of question, or trying to make sense of reality (physical, social, economic and moral), of seeking understanding, of exploring through literature and the arts what it means to be human…”

The authors of the report take issue with the British government’s apparent single minded approach to education as the engine of economic development and success, where there is a pronounced emphasis on developing skills to serve the economy. Instead, the authors set out their alternative understanding of what constitutes a good education.

An educated 19 year old, should, the authors argue  be more aware of those qualities and attainments which make him and her distinctively human and the ways in which those qualities might be enhanced. They should have experienced intellectual development, meaning that they have entered into the world of ideas.

They should have a practical capability, understand the importance of community participation, and have developed some degree of moral seriousness. In addition, young people should be exposed to ideals which encourage them to aim high, at the same time as developing an awareness of self in their relations with others. In sum:

‘That, then is the educated 19 year old: one who has a sufficient grasp of those ideas and principles to enable him or her to manage life intelligently, who has the competence and skills to tackle practical tasks including those for employment, who has a sense of community and the disposition to make a contribution to it, who is morally serious in the sense that he or she cares about fairness and responsibility to others, who is inspired by what has been done by others and might be done by oneself, and who has a sense of a knowledge of self – confident and resilient in the face of difficulty.”

The difficulty with the current emphasis on performance and management, the authors argue, is that it hollows out this broad definition of education and is based on a spurious idea that teaching is a science. X input brings about Y output. As an alternative the authors set out the idea that teaching is a practice where ends are not separate from means: ‘The end or purpose should be shown or captured in the very act of teaching. Teaching is a transaction between the teacher and the learner, not the delivery of something to the learner.’

At the heart of this report is the idea that education is a social practice, the aim of which cannot be realized from a reduced perspective of current theories of management. The report can be found at Education for all.