The Outcomes of our Educational Systems

Does a particular type of education system tend to produce the same outcome irrespective of the underlying environment?

Or is it that the underlying social, economic and political environment will cause pretty much any educational system to tend to produce the same outcomes?

Or is it that the outcomes emerge as a result of the interplay between the educational system and the components of the ecosystem it lives in?

The reason I am asking is because everywhere I look (at least in democratic societies), the problems of education are pretty much the same, although the scale does vary. I hear people across school, university, professional and vocational education mulling over the same problems with as much inertia or angst, in India or in the UK or the USA or Australia or elsewhere. In the case of democratic, market driven countries, there may be a stronger set of patterns as well (as the case may be for authoritarian regimes or other sociopolitical structures).

Common refrains include ones such as teachers are not trained enough, children are not getting 21st century skills developed in them, employers don’t feel happy with the levels of employability of students that graduate, not enough e-Resources are available, there is an issue getting learning to remote and economically weaker sections of society, and policy makers are slow and bureaucratic. And then there are people who proclaim variously that the education system is broken, or that it is obsolete and cannot be “fixed”.

If it is indeed true that educational systems  are invariant to the underlying environment, then there are obvious design faults, that when rectified should cause the systems to improve dramatically. Perhaps the current educational systems may be replaced by new designs instead of being redesigned or “fixed”. The aim then becomes to understand the elements of design of the educational system and overlay them with the current and estimated future contexts, to arrive at new constellations of those design elements.

If the conclusion is the reverse, that educational systems don’t have much to do with outcomes, rather the outcomes are really driven by the underlying ecosystem, then perhaps the answer lies in reforming or redesigning other structures that provide inputs or receive outcomes and outputs from the educational system.

The possibility that outcomes are emergent (i.e. they emerge out of the interplay between the networks of our education system with the rest of the socioeconomic fabric) exists. People will say that the educational system shapes and is shaped by the underlying ecosystem in which it operates. But that does not explain commonality of outcomes observed globally.

I have also started feeling that traditional educational systems are far more chaotic than Connectivists would like to believe. As an example, a degree is given the same level of recognition in most countries, however the conditions of obtaining that degree, whether it is the curriculum, the quality of teachers, the infrastructure or any other design element, vary hugely from University to University. I did this exercise recently when I tried to compare the same named courses across multiple Indian and Foreign universities, and could not find more than a 20-30% similarity in most cases between the syllabus and teaching method of one university versus that of the other.I don’t think two universities would really agree on what (say) a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics should really contain, but they will still award the same degree! The traditional systems seem very chaotic, but are also very highly constrained (duration, method, engagement, assessment…) and designed towards very fixed goals – like closed loop systems – they do not present much opportunity for non-linearity.

So it is really an interesting question to try to answer, at least for those who are looking to engineer the next generation education system(s).

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