Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Quality Assurance in Education, Volume 19, Issue 3
The Global Financial Crisis that started around mid-2007 now seems to have occurred quite a long time ago. However, in many jurisdictions, the effects continue to influence the economic and social environments in which education in schools, colleges and universities are located. Some countries have clearly been more adversely affected than others by the financial crisis. However, there have also been a number of environmental disasters, with earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand and Spain, floods in USA and Australia and severe weather events elsewhere. In most cases, it is likely that schools, colleges and university campuses have been adversely affected by these events, with some incidents sadly even involving the deaths of students and staff. This is a sobering thought as we consider how we might go about improving the teaching, learning and research activities in our educational establishments.
The improvements in knowledge generation, dissemination and application that we seek will contribute to our understanding of our planet and the natural environmental processes that surround us. It is important that the investment of taxpayers’ and all other funds devoted to teaching, learning and research activity yield the best value for money that can be achieved. This is particularly relevant when funding is scarce and other sectors of society, industry and commerce are faced with financial stringency. The focus of all quality improvement activity is, and has always been, the pursuit of value for money by the elimination of waste and the improvement of policies and processes and encouraging innovation. This issue presents a range of papers that seek to address improvement in a variety of jurisdictions, as well as at the institutional level through to the focused functional level.
The first paper in this issue is by Sally Brown who addresses overall institutional improvement in a post 1992 UK university. The imperative to improve the student experience in the institution arose predominantly out of the UK National Student Survey, a very public demonstration of the standing of institutions in the UK as perceived by the university’s own students. As is frequently the case, other complexities surrounded, and contributed to, the urgency in the need for change, including a report from the Quality Assurance Agency, low morale and financial challenges. In this paper, the author demonstrates how public measures of institutional performance were used to drive change. The measures of performance and benchmarks with other institutions were analysed to identify the changes at operational levels in the institution that were necessary to improve the overall institutional performance. The paper provides details of a number of the interventions and reports on the effect of those and other improvement activities, on the institutional performance, over one period between the National Student Survey administration. The author acknowledges that work remains to be done on institutional improvement, and stresses the importance of monitoring and evaluation of interventions to ensure that they are delivering the improvements being sought.
The second paper by Mwangi Ndirangu and Maurice O. Udoto reports on an assessment of the facilities provided for teaching and learning activities in Kenya’s public universities. The paper provides a picture of a university system that has been engaged in increasing enrolments to meet the increasing demand for higher education in Kenya, in an environment where capital expenditure on facilities and equipment has not kept pace with increased numbers. The process of postponing capital investment and deferring maintenance work is a well-recognised trait in university management, internationally, when financial exigency strikes. However, in many jurisdictions, there are strict occupational health and safety regimes that prevent levels of deterioration that are health hazards as reported in this paper. The authors have demonstrated the link between plant, equipment and facilities and learning and learning outcomes and conclude that under-investment on the part of governments needs to be countered by increasing the proportion of income from non-government sources.
The third paper by Shannon Flumerfelt and Michael Banachowski explores the leadership paradigms that underpin the adoption of approaches to quality assurance and quality management that move on from a focus on accountability to a focus on improvement. The author uses the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award Program Education Criteria for Performance Excellence as a framework for identifying paradigms of concern in the leadership for the process of moving from an accountability focus to an improvement focus. As is apparent from the first paper in this issue by Sally Brown, leadership in the quest for institutional quality improvement is a vital ingredient for success. This paper provides evidence that contributes to the understanding of the appropriate professional development for leadership in the educational environment.
In the fourth paper, by Mark S. Doman, we move from the macroscopic environment of the overall improvement in whole of institutional performance to an example of improvement in an aspect of a functional area in an institution. A particular administrative process was identified as the focus for improvement. The case study highlights how custom and practice and piecemeal changes can result in unnecessary complexity and, consequently, ineffective and inefficient processes. This case involved a coincidence of agreement that a particular process was an ongoing problem, an appropriate Senior Manager was prepared to sponsor the improvement and a student team was available to tackle a real problem as part of their learning in a class based on lean principles and practices. The work done by the student team was then taken to implementation by the senior management in the functional area.
The fifth paper in this issue, by Marinah Awang, Ramlee Ismail, Peter Flett and Adrienne Curry, reports on an investigation of the knowledge management practices in the Malaysian school system. The paper tracks the progress of the Malaysian school system over the past 50 years, noting that there has been a rapid development of the school system based on the current and future needs of the knowledge economy in the past decade. At the centre of the educational developments was the notion of the “smart school” and a project was initiated that endowed a number of schools with advanced technology. The technology infrastructure enabled both teaching and learning activity as well as administrative function improvement. The authors surveyed a group of schools that were on the program that had information and communication technology enhancements and a group of schools that had not been included in the program. The responses from the schools indicated that management, technology and culture were all factors that influenced knowledge activities. The characteristics of teachers, the management of the school, and cultural factors influenced the extent of sharing, applying, creating, capturing and storing of knowledge. The authors conclude with a discussion of the nature and relative influence of the membership of the two different school groups on knowledge related activities.
The final paper by Panagiotis Giavrimis, Stella Giossi and Adamantios Papastamatis also addresses the information and communications (ICT) sphere. In this case, it is the attitudes of primary school teachers to training in ICT that is investigated. Clearly, in order to incorporate ICT into the school system, it is essential that both primary and secondary school teachers have appropriate education and training to enable them to reap the benefits that modern technology can provide to teaching, learning and knowledge related activity. The authors investigated the motivations and attitudes of primary school teachers to ICT training about two decades after the Greek government initiated in-service training for teachers in ICT. The authors found that most teachers had participated in at least one ICT training program of 40 hours duration. Whilst most teachers took advantage of the programs provided in the public sector, a number of teachers had participated in programs provided by private providers. The authors suggest that the demand for training exceeds the capacity of the public sector provider provision. However, in order to meet the requirements of in-service training for teachers, the training must be of an appropriate standard and, in the case of ICT, the infrastructure in schools must be capable of servicing the needs of teacher once they are trained to enable the potential benefits of ICT in education to be realised.
This issue is completed with a book review by Shubhangi Vaida of Total Quality Management of Distance Education edited by Nayantara Padhi and published by Atlantic Publishers, India in 2010.
The papers in this issue cover a range of important themes that are topical in today’s world. The case of institutional leadership and the macroscopic change in turning around a whole institution is juxtaposed to the identification and improvement of one particular matter in a functional area. Both of these cases demonstrate what can be done with reliable measurement and the commitment to bring about improvement. A further, similar, contrast is apparent between the paper on the physical environment in an African university context and two papers examining the contribution of ICT to a teaching and learning agenda. We trust that the readership will find the variety of the papers presenting research from Europe, Africa, Asia and North America both interesting and informative.