0238e5d7d2188210VgnVCM200000e66411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2009-Q2Schools are too important to be left to the marketf138e5d7d2188210VgnVCM200000e66411ac____Schools are too important to be left to the marketMany people have commented favourably on the recent school inspection exercise carried out by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai to try to ascertain the quality of schools. I agree with them.<p>Many people have commented favourably on the recent school inspection exercise carried out by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai to try to ascertain the quality of schools. I agree with them. Such in-depth examinations of the totality of a school provide much more useful information than relying on snapshots gained from testing children, no matter how good these tests are (and many of them are not that reliable). What can be gained from a test score is much less informative than the sort of rigorous inspection carried out into all aspects of school life - from the classroom to the management to the library.</p>
<p>@body arnhem:I also agree with the editorial comment in The National about the need for transparency in such matters and the benefits to parents of having a thorough picture of their school. I would also add that teachers and principals also often recognise the value to a school of a rigorous examination of the processes and procedures as a way to improve the educational provision.
The problem lies, however, not in the process, which I think is generally applauded, but in the use of the results. As with reports by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) in the UK, the problem lies with their use to "name and shame", or in Dubai to allow schools to charge higher fees. It is sad that the idea of using reports to help schools to provide a better education takes second place to commercial imperatives.</p>
<p>The movement from support to inspection in education is one that I have witnessed with disappointment over the past 30 years or so. I arrived in the region in 1980 as a British government adviser to the Oman government, with the express instructions to encourage the inspectorate to advise rather than inspect. In fact, we were pushing on an open door, as the Omani ministry of education had issued a directive that inspectors were to be known as muwageh (advisers, guides) rather than mufatish (inspectors). The emphasis was clearly to be placed on support and development rather than monitoring and criticism.</p>
<p>To my dismay, when I returned from the Sultanate, the political philosophy had changed in the UK and Ofsted had been born. Advisers had been replaced by inspectors, ploughshares had been converted to swords and the neo-conservative attack on educationalists had begun ("what do they think they know about education that parents don't?"), along with a general distrust of the role that government should play in social life. The statement that "government is almost always a poor policeman" is not based on any solid evidence; it is an expression of ideology.</p>
<p>The philosophy that parents are the best arbiters of good education is part of this ideological viewpoint. The extension of this to the idea that market forces are the best regulators of education is even more disturbing.
The belief that market forces are the main driver of better education is, I believe, fundamentally flawed. Loosely regulated market forces may have an important role to play in commerce (although the recent collapse of the world economy due to unregulated banks must give even the most ardent believer in free-market philosophy pause for thought), but there are certain aspects of society that are too important to be left to free markets. Education is one of these.</p>
<p>Governments must play a role in the regulation of education. Schools and universities should not be peddling their wares like shopkeepers in the souk. The suggestion that the survival of schools and universities should be determined by their ability to attract students is not, in my view, compatible with quality education. On the micro level, the cost to students who might find their university closing before they have finished their programme is clearly something that needs to be considered. On the macro social level, such a policy will not develop world-class research institutions. Parents and students are unlikely to have the sophistication effectively to evaluate the standards of staff and research necessary to create a vibrant research institution - unlike the experts involved in the rigorous validations carried out by the Commission for Academic Accreditation on behalf of the Government.</p>
<p>To believe that the most effective mechanism for change is consumer-driven reform is to deny the important role that impartial research, educational expertise and social priorities can and should play in shaping educational programmes. Consumers, even when supplied with access to the best information, do not always act in their own best interest. Even modern economic theory, the source of such beliefs, is beginning to realise that this is the case.</p>
<p>That the consumer may buy the wrong computer because they are swayed by the colour, design or packaging rather than solid performance data, or make an investment that is not in their best interests, may be a problem for economic theorists but can perhaps be seen as relatively trivial. It is not in education. Our schools and universities are too important to be left to market forces and the vagaries of consumer demand.</p>
<p>Dr Mick Randall is Dean of the Faculty of Education at the British University in Dubai</p>