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Donald G. Perrin

In these times of dwindling budgets for education, the word cost-effectiveness has come up many times. Like the gasoline engine, we have “maxed-out” the efficiency of the traditional system. Teachers are variables, students are variables. The probability is that, unless we can clone our top performing teachers and students, performance will stay close to the present levels. Schools are under fire for being inefficient, and they are asked to produce more with less and less resources.

Alternative methods of teaching and learning are receiving close attention. Some cost more because basic technology is required, but they produce more. Those that cost less invariably produce less. Alternative methods that are not teacher driven are resisted by unions that fear technology will replace teachers. Parents and politicians are concerned because they do not want teachers replaced by machines. Education is in the deadlock of the kind that led to the demise of the United States automobile industry as we know it. Why did it fail? Because Japanese manufacturers had a better business model – a model proposed by Edward Deming from the United States.

Medical services in the United States are also under fire for rapidly rising costs and inefficient operation. Here the power struggle is between doctors, pharmaceutical companies, government, members of the public that pay for services, and persons excluded from the system because of pre-existing conditions or inability to pay high health-care premiums. The fact that thirteen industrialized countries provide universal healthcare at a basic level is obscured by arguments about government inefficiencies and poor service.

The problems of U.S. education, health-care, and the automobile industry are the same – unwillingness to change. The automobile industry had a solution offered to them and rejected it. Similar examples exist where Kodak rejected xerography and the Swiss watch industry rejected LCD watches. Education, for the most part, still believes that face-to-face contact between teachers and students is the mark of a quality education. Health-care has the same affinity for the doctor-patient relationship.

Students have changed and the world has changed. Students are better informed and better educated than our predecessors. Many learned from television, from parents and teachers, and from direct experience. They already know “what is the global society and how do we succeed in this world?”

In the medical model, informed patients can make basic healthcare decisions without a doctor, yet they are denied even basic prescriptions without a visit to a doctor’s office. Similarly, educated adults can make decisions about curriculum-and-courses and teaching-and-learning that are appropriate for their professional development. They can research, organize and develop their own knowledge and skills. They need the professor to motivate them and be a guide, advisor, facilitator and evaluator, and they need their professor or advisor to ensure that “what is right for them” meets the standards and criteria for their certificate or degree. And if a student needs additional assistance or tutoring, they want to know “where is 24 X 7 help available?”

The pages of this journal and many others are filled with research and solutions that potentially solve today’s educational problems. However, if we are not well informed, and if we are not willing to change, the status quo will continue to degenerate and today’s problems and many more will be with us for a very long time.

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