June 20, 2024


Science It Works

Why A Revolution Is Needed In The Management Of Education

Figure 1

There could hardly be anything more important for the future of the country than the strength of its education system. Yet by almost every measure, our schools are not delivering what is needed. The ongoing revolution in industrial-era management to 21st century management in the corporate world has yet to reach the education sector.

An obvious symptom of the problem can be found in the fact that in 2006, only 43{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} school personnel in the US were teachers, while in other countries, that percentage was 70 to 80{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec}. The Fordham Institute reports, “Non-teaching staff grew by 130{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} between 1970 and 2010, while student enrollment grew by 8.6{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec}.” This imbalance is driven by a compliance focus that affects school-personnel hiring. Many staff are hired to monitor and comply with federal and state requirements. Others may be administrators, clerical staff, lawyers, guidance counselors, social workers, or paraprofessionals.

In effect, the education sector has a bad case of industrial-era bureaucracy, where the purpose of the organization has gotten lost, as a result of a hierarchical structure with in an internal focus based on telling people what to do, as shown in Figure 1. There are of course many exceptions and inspiring points of light. But overall, the idea that the school system should be about inspiring children to be ready and able to solve problems in a rapidly changing world seems far away.

A New Role For Teachers

Just as there is a revolution in management and leadership under way in the corporate sector, there needs to be an analogous revolution in the education sector. 20th century education was based on the assumption that the teachers have the answers and that their job is to impart those answers to the students, as the “sage on the stage.” Brazilian educator, Paolo Freire, called this the “banking model of education” because it treats the student as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge, like a piggy bank.

By contrast, 21st century education is, or should be, based on the assumption that the answers are already available in the digital world. The purpose of education should be to inspire the students to ask the right questions and discover those answers for themselves and start applying the answers in their own lives; learning from each other is a key part of the collaboration and inspiration. Paolo Freire thus argued that pedagogy should instead treat the learner as a co-creator of knowledge. Learning becomes a dialogical interaction. The change is summarized in the chart in Figure 1.

Obviously, management and education are connected. When education systems and schools are run on the basis of 20th century management, we should hardly be surprised that the education that they teach also turns out to be 20th century. It’s time to move on. Education itself needs to be fundamentally reinvented, along with a different way of running schools and education systems.

The Evolving Role Of Teachers

This is not about get rid of teachers. No-one is suggesting that. As shown in Figure 1, the teacher is still there, but instead standing at the front of the class imparting the teacher’s knowledge, the teacher (shown in red) is now in the middle of the interaction going on between the teacher and the entire class, as “a guide on the side.” What is being proposed is that the teachers be freed from the coils of bureaucracy within which they toil.

Of course, children have to learn language and basic math, but instead of having it drilled into them top-down in a rote fashion, they need to be learning it interactively in tasks that have meaning, where they can see the point. The idea that rote teaching instills a love of learning is nonsense: children love solving real problems and accomplishing things, not learning things for the sake of learning.

This requires a shift in mindset in which teachers stop thinking of themselves as the repository of knowledge that must be transferred to fill the children’s empty brains. Instead they need to be thinking of themselves as stimulators of the native curiosity and capability of children to explore and learn. That means appealing to heart as well as the mind, and inspiring children to see the meaning of these subjects in collaborative activities. The best teachers of course already do this. It just needs to become the norm.

As an illustration, I was recently delighted when a friend showed me a video of her three-year old granddaughter making a presentation to her class and explaining the structure of the solar system and answering questions from the other children. In such a collaborative setting, learning can become interesting and fun. Teachers play a key role in making such interactions happen.

The contrast to the rote learning to which I was subjected to as a child in primary school is staggering. Progress is possible when there is a change in mindset.

Freeing Education From Bureaucracy

The point is that we are dealing here with a management problem, not just an education problem. In industrial-era management, it is quite normal for a lot of the staff to be involved in what David Graeber in his book, Bullshit Jobs, called “BS jobs”, i.e. people whose work involves creating work for other people, with little if any benefit for those whom the organization is meant to serve.

Graeber identified five main types of BS jobs: flunkies, goons, duct tapers, box tickers, and taskmasters. Surveys he conducted showed that in industrial-era management, having around 40{13aab5633489a05526ae1065595c074aeca3e93df6390063fabaebff206207ec} of work being BS work is typical. This is not just an education problem, but the education sector has it in spades.

And read also:

Education Needs To Be Fundamentally Reinvented

How New Leadership Succeeds In The Digital Age