(This post is a part of the Future Frameworks Series)
If the past two years of disruption in education has taught us something, it is this. That any break in habit will build new habits. And each new habit will tend towards convenience. Schools are a convenience and so they survive. As long as they deliver both expertise and convenience, schools will remain a hub for learning systems.
But schools themselves have reasons to reevaluate their provision. They offer much more than their ‘customers’ and ‘consumers’ appreciate. The expertise of teaching, the research and evidence that backs up teaching practice, the leadership, the professional growth through the jungles of fad and jargon – all of these are quietly humming in the background. The front face of schools is delivery.
So what services do schools deliver? They deliver three buckets: Care, Connect and Content. Only one of them cannot be replicated by technology or other competing models.
Do pause and guess which one before reading forward : D
The first service that a school provides is Content. This is the most visible transaction. This is also where schools and specifically teachers have to put in effort to make it more visible to parents, carers and investors (including governments, inspectors etc.). Send a kindergarten child back home without the drawing they did that day, and for sure, you will have parents gently probing, asking about progress. Teachers in primary and middle school may want to try new approaches to teaching, but they must be able to show inspectors, and parents some progress in notebooks. Homework is essential not to student progress at that age, but to parental reassurance. This is what we pay for, whether in taxes or fees, and we want to see evidence of delivery. The unsaid part of this is the baby-sitting and the safe space that schools seem to offer as a bonus. This is of huge value to the parent, but this delivery, while tangible, remains unacknowledged. Building basic skills, socialisation, sharing, working in groups, in silence, with focus, to a goal – all of these are also delivered by schools but remain under the visibility radar of delivery. For they are not seen as ‘content’. Content delivery is the rewarded part of school provision.
The second service a school provides is connect. Most important of all the networks a school enables for its students is the connect with the exam board. Now, it is entirely possible for a student to register independently for any board or school leaving examination. One does not need school administrators when an exam board portal could suffice. But this connect with the examination board via the school gives huge visible value while not really providing any true convenience or value to the parent. The true value remains implicit – the ability to keep up with the thinking at the board, to push the student through the examination funnels, to train the student over the years in assessment skills. These are not services that are visible, but show through as standards to the parent community. Other networks are essential too – assessing student exchange programs, enabling entry into competitions, exposure to great opportunities are all enabled by school level connects. Indeed, teacher training too is a function of the networks that have been enabled by the school. Again, these remain invisible and unrecognised. It is visible connects with direct rewards that are an essential part of the school provision.
The third part of the school service is the duty of care. This includes many invisibles such as enabling free time for parents, ensuring safety, enabling growth in social skills and in emotional maturity and so much more. These are often seen as – no – these are often unseen. There are few who would pay extra fees to enrol in a school that emphasised care. Even if it was care for the progress of the student. Would an ed tech start up dare to place its valuation future on this part of the education spectrum? To say we care about identifying the potential of the student, and enabling them to become a worthy aspirant on that journey carries no value in the minds of those who pay. To say that care is what grows the student in confidence and skills so that they get better jobs, become industry leaders and entrepreneurs has few takers today. Indeed, to say we deliver on students being better citizens who understand public discourse and vote for better welfare and growth will have no takers. Neither fees, nor time will be allocated to the service of care.
And yet, the first two services will inevitably be taken over by technology. Teachers will be co-opted away from schools. The format will change, the medium will evolve. But the need of a school will not be because of the first two services. The school will remain a hub when it learns to value – and be valued for the third service it provides. The service of care. This is the one that makes the first two effective, and this is what binds the learning community to the school. Care is the magnet, and the core service provided by schools.
Use it or lose it, they say. For schools, the message is – show the value of care, the service that will help you survive the next decade. For school is a service, and other SAAS in education products can gently take it away from you.