It’s the student that creates the education

Posts to the UN NGO Thematic Consultation on Education on how to measure and improve education for the Post2015 UN development goals.   My series of three comments focus on the tools a student needs to create their own educations… NOT on measuring the productive value of their educations for business.  We did that already, and overdid it.   It would do both students and society a great deal more good to look at the basic competencies offered, to see if students are getting the tools they need for exploring the world, like having competence in math, reading, and understanding ‘relationships’.

Productivity is often the assumed purpose of education, but has produced an unsustainable spoiling and depletion of the earth’s resources, now straining all its human and natural ecological systems.   So it’s our students who need the tools for guiding their own educations, to take us out of that dilemma created by the poor learning of their parents.

Schools and teachers should mainly be judged by their own peer and served communities, only measuring achievement in core competencies, and create a new core competency in “relationships“. Understanding relationships is a new essential competency for living in a world thrown into disarray by rapidly changing relationships of all kinds, caused by our prior vast misunderstanding the relationships between ourselves and the earth.


What he needs is the tools not the answers...

World We Want 2015 – Thematic Consultation – Education

Quality of Learning – Week 2 Questions

1.       1. How should learning outcomes be measured and how can measurement of learning improve education quality?

2. What would be your recommendations to address and improve the quality of education in the post MDG framework?


I. E-Discussion TWO: Week 2 – Quality of Learning
JLH Tue, January 15, 2013 at 06:11 pm

1. Based on my understanding of quality of learning, the indicators used to measure learning outcomes should be:

  1. … kept simple.  We should only use unambiguous measures giving confidence in what is being measured, like “numeracy”, “literacy”,  “understanding relationships”, “understanding design”, i.e. rudimentary life skills.
  2. The reason for the “measurement craze” is a demand for cost performance data for allocating limited funds.
  3. The demand comes from people who don’t understand education as an individual experience, and imagine “measures” as a way to define a “bottom line” for schools, like sales figures for a shoe factory.  That approach, though, both doesn’t make better students, or even better shoes.
  4. They don’t realize the side effects easily waste the resources intended to be conserved.
  5. The right approach is to find measures that do not interfere with education, like basic life skills of traditional and new kinds, putting the resources saved into nurturing teacher community development so teachers can teach each other.

2.  My key recommendation(s) for improving quality of learning in the post-2015 framework are…

  1. Develop new core “life learning” curricula and measures such as for “relationship literacy” as a study of “how life works”, to include both how to recognize human relationships and behaviors of all kinds, as well as the behaviors of the larger environmental and cultural systems we are part of.
  2. Use “relationship literacy” to avoid distracting schools, students and teachers with required teaching to meaningless tests, and instead use the resources to help build teacher community relationships.  When I was a teacher I found teachers so stressed that they never talked to each other, so much of the knowledge base of the teacher community was never shared.

Reply Comment by Emma Kiselyova – 1/16/13 1:28P
Jessie Lydia HenshawM

Well said, I sign it up!

Also admiring the skill to adjust your chain of non-trivial ideas to the rigid structure offered for this forum.


II. E-Discussion TWO: Week 2 – Quality of Learning
By: JLH Tue, January 22, 2013 at 04.01 pm

I think what people are trying to bring up in raising the issue of “education quality”, is the difference between education as quantified by measures of performance, and education as a uniquely individual experience, for each person, and in every classroom, and in every school and community and culture.

That all-important individuality of all educations is not only “immeasurable”, but as an individual creative process can’t be “standardized” without spoiling it either.    So, my view is that we should use measures just for the things that ARE measurable, and recognize the difference between measures and education, as nourishing an individual.  That’s the end purpose of education we really care about in the end, and it’s simply wrong to try to define and standardize it.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have performance measures that help you tell if a school provides a quality environment for the education experience to take place.   Measures of core competencies are very useful for that, but if that is all a school is paid to deliver you’d get only rather barren educational environments.    What tests of core competencies measure is the quality of the educational environment.   Low scoring schools or teachers need more support in building their learning culture.    I think the teachers who deserve bonuses are not the ones with students getting high marks, but the ones their fellow teachers say they have learned the most from, about how to improve their own teaching.  Wouldn’t that settle most of the arguments?

In our complex and changing world I think there are new “core competencies” needed to measure the quality of educational environment, like understanding “relationships and change”.   That’s the general subject of environmental science, the developed skill of “learning to read how your world works”.   It’s a practice if observing and reasoning, like “math” and “reading” are too, except that for understanding relationships and change “the book” you learn to read is the world you are part of itself, for understanding the ever changing relationships that make it work, with your friends, your community, cultures, commerce, nature and the universe.

That treats “relationships” as a student’s awareness of what’s happening around them, including their ability to recognize how relationships develop to change their own environments.   Discussing relationships in that broad sense is also our main use of language too, in that it’s kind of hard to find a sentence that isn’t “about something”.  We just don’t normally think of what we talk about as being both actual behaviors occurring in their own natural environment, as well as the cultural and personal values and stories expressed in the words we use.   That people rarely think of how language connects with the natural world of relationships, of course, contributes to our not having less competence in dealing with the natural world than we’d like too.

So, perhaps a core competence in understanding relationships and change will become seen as essential to “quality education” in every community and classroom.   In some communities other competencies might be valued, like music, design, sports and leadership, and they might use tests of mastering the core elements in evaluating the quality of their school or classroom environments.

In that way core competencies are not seen as the “education” though, but really as the “fertilizer” for an education.   It’s the individual chemistry between the curious student and their rich environment that remains the real product.   We’ll never find how to measure that.   As educators we should learn to recognize why that trying to measure education actually demeans education, as an effort to standardize individuality.


III. E-Discussion TWO: Week 2 – Quality of Learning

by JLH January 23, 2013 at 08.58 pm

What would be your recommendations to address and improve the quality of education in the post MDG framework?

p.s. A little long, and the ecological theory of knowledge may be unfamiliar and not of interest everyone, but it’s important stuff too, not often discussed…

It would be hard to discuss how to promote quality education for such tremendous diverse kinds of education and circumstances around the globe. The “old saw” I recall, and actually experienced myself to my considerable surprise and excitement really, was that at the end of their education a student should be finally “ready to learn”. That was the feeling I found unexpectedly coming over me when I finally “walked off on the vacation from school that would never end”. I had heard of it before, but I really didn’t see it coming as a realization, that after SO many years “taking tests” I was free to see what the tools I had collected would let me learn for myself.

Education is an artificial environment, and can’t teach you what you should do with your life.   It should leave you ready to use whatever it was your educational environment had to offer.   What a student should do with their life is always theirs to discover, using the tools they learned the rudiments of in the artificial world of the classroom.   What a student would like when setting out on their own is the ability to recognize what is happening around them, and to also be both emotionally and intellectually ready to use the tools their education offered to begin “learning the ropes” of independent living.

How you’d test that is rather unclear, except to use a word like “thriving” to describe the experience of students who find their education opened a door for them to engage in life.    You do certainly see concentrations of thriving graduates coming from some schools and not others, but who knows how to measure that.   Whether schools produce thriving students is also somewhat self-selecting, making the measure of outcomes a false test of the quality of the school.   Families that send their children to “quality schools” tend to be successful themselves, have an “eye for value” and want to immerse their children in communities of other thriving students.   So, I think even for the best indicators of education quality everything is still relative to the circumstance.

For evaluating quality of education I keep falling back on seeing a school as a community, and the test of a school’s quality it’s recognition for quality within its larger community,  and directly tests of students at all.   What I believe determines whether a school succeeds for its students or not is the *culture of the school*, a combined product of the relationships that develop within the school, and the role the school has in the community of schools it is part of.    In another response for this discussion topic, I suggested that teacher bonuses should be granted for recognition within the school culture, to teachers that other teachers in the school felt they learned the most from.    You could use the same sort of test for the quality of one school relative to others in its district, as the school that other schools most respected for doing most for their students given their resources.

A web search for “measures of education quality” does not suggest many others are thinking this way. Using a web search for such a broad topic is inherently faulty, perhaps, but does seem to mostly offer examples of how people would a) measure quality, as whether students have learned fill roles defined by society, rather than the student, and warnings against that. Presently the ideal education is represented as being for being productive employees in a difficult economy. A good example of the warnings about that is the paper by Richard G. Bagnall “Performance indicators and outcomes as measures of educational quality: a cautionary critique”, Introduced in the abstract with:

  • The current, pervasive concern with educational quality arises from a context of pressure for enhanced educational accountability. This pressure derives from the increasing popularity of economic rationalism, in which a premium is placed on efficiency and effectiveness. Educational accountability in terms of these properties requires that assessments of performance be based upon indicators of educational outcomes in terms of educational costs — what is here termed ‘outcomes-driven education’.

And the conclusion summarized to end the abstract:

  • Outcomes-driven education may thus be dehumanizing and educationally trivializing -encouraging the development of relatively closed, self-serving, bureaucratic systems of education. The fundamental irony of outcomes-driven education is that, while its ideal is the enhancement of excellence, individual freedom, liberation, individuality, plurality, creativity, innovativeness and responsiveness, as a practical approach to lifelong education it may be more likely to result in educational mediocrity, servitude, manipulation, uniformity, conformity, constraint, conservatism and unresponsiveness.

In simple terms Bagnall is saying that the popular way of measuring quality of education commonly produces the opposite.   It’s symptomatic of a larger problem, that fundamental misunderstanding of the relationships is evident in how environmental measures are defined very widely.  When used to guide decision making ill-defined measures often produce the opposite of the intended effects.   There’s a very curious pervasive error throughout the professional methods of measuring  environmental impacts, for example.    It’s a habit counting the impacts we can trace to the source, and failing to make any estimate of the impacts not traced…    You couldn’t ask for a more unscientific way of defining a way to measure things.

In the case of the accepted standard environmental measures for the impacts of business, business energy use is treated as the total of traceable energy uses, such as recorded in receipts for purchased fuels.   The energy consumed to deliver the services needed to operate a business  are counted as “zero”, as there’s no traceable record of them, P.F. Henshaw et al., 2010, Systems Energy Assessment (SEA). Sustainability,

This matter of socially defined measures having the exact opposite of the ecological effect is actually rather disturbing to read about, so you might just skip to recommendations below.  It’s very troubling that our relationship with the earth changed in a way that causes many of our cultural assumptions about it completely invalid.   There are more and more concrete examples exposing themselves all the time it seems, as we change the earth more and more and don’t pay attention to how our relationship with it is changing.

The error in measuring environmental impacts exposed by SEA, in turn, exposes an even more surprising and troubling error in how we’ve been typically measuring “education quality” than Bagnall identified.  The meaning of economic productivity has changed as we changed the earth, so the meaning of education for making people more productive has changed too, without anyone noticing.

Productivity is actually measured is as how successful employees are in creating business profits, generally thought of as a universal good as If making more money for employers would always make everyone’s work more useful to themselves and to society.   The real value of business profits depends on what they are used for, to accumulate profits at the expense of the human and natural resources that produced them or to care for them and their ability to generate future profits.  So… which choices do that change dramatically as the economy begins to press the real limits of the earth’s resources.

As our ever increasing productivity in using the earth’s resources presses their actual limits… the real availability of resources around the world begins to shrink, causing shortages to abruptly develop and prices to suddenly and permanently rise out of reach for all by the most productive.   What is driving that counter-productive trend It ‘productivity’ itself, of course.   As we’re now seeing around the world, this physical logic of that business drive for ever greater employee productivity for business profits also becomes a practice of ever faster depletion of the earth’s resources, as an expedient way to maintain our prosperity.

How you measure employee productivity for the environment, though, becomes the reverse how we’ve been thinking of it.  At the limits of the earth it measures of how fast the resources of the earth are being made unavailable, and so ever *less productive* for us.    It physically measures of how rapidly an employee’s work is depleting the earth.   As such it also implies a negative not positive value for of the employee’s education too.   It measures how fast both the earth and the employees education are being made ever less useful to the employee themselves and to society, not more useful.     What it all really shows is, of course, just what a poor quality education we have been giving our children.   Their educations left them quite unable to understand these rather elemental changes in relationships resulting from the accumulative effect of our productivity changing our world.

So, if it were possible…. perhaps the greatest real improvement to the quality of education would then come from introducing “relationships” as a new core competency, at all levels of education, at the same level of importance as “reading” and “math”.    That might be done by having courses devoted to it, but more importantly to be integrated into the whole curriculum, by adding the study of “relationships” as “how things really work in their own natural forms and places”, as a section within every topic in the history, society, language and science curricula.   It’s always been there implicitly, of course, and always what the best teachers relied on to make their subjects memorable and meaningful.   Evidently as an educated community our schools and teachers have not been learning from those teachers, and we allowed our communities to develop a remarkable ignorance of it.   So some intervention seems clearly needed.


1)      What are the key policy implications for an Education goal in the Post-2015 Development Agenda?

  • Begin a general discussion of “relationships” as a new fundamental competency, like “reading” and “math”, as the study of how things really work in their own natural forms and environments


2)      How could access to education, equity and quality learning be combined in a post- 2015 learning goal?

  • Raising the question of whether making people more productive in consuming the earth is a valid educational goal.


3)      What specific actions should be taken to facilitate the quality education for the most marginalized groups, such as girls and women, ethnic and other minorities, disabled, refugee and IDPs and child soldiers?

  • It’s a matter of “agency”, as the social, economic and environmental barriers are really the subject.     Heroic actions may be the right thing, but such barriers may also only get more rigid if directly confronted.   A systematic study, using a practice of “action learning” to discover what is possible in the local environment that is creating the barriers, may often be the best bet.   The sure thing is that systems work better when you learn how they work.

4)      What specific actions and interventions should be recommended for each of the following actors?

–          Governments

–          School boards and other school-based actors

–          Stakeholders, such as teacher and student unions, parents associations

–          Civil Society

–          Communities

–          Private sector

–          Academia including universities and research institutes

–          Media

–          UN system and International donor community

  • Ask again what we should really be educating our children for, as we seem to have let a deep misunderstandings of what children really need as tools for life and finding their own roles in a thriving society.

Follow up questions:

  • In this analysis, little emphasis is put on local and school-based structures to ensure equitable quality education.    That’s too bad.   The location of the knowledge that makes a thriving school environment is in the school-based structures, the community of the school and its whole family or relationships.   That’s what we need to nourish

What is the importance of decentralization and of an effective school-based management in improving the quality of education services?

  • It depends on what works locally

What role teachers’ unions could play in improving the quality of education, besides providing teacher training?

  • Being a real unions of teachers first, their professional culture and community, not just negotiators for money


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.