Do the basic tenets that drive process improvement fit education?

Processes have some basic components – they have steps; there are inputs and outputs; there are certain requirements we have for the inputs to a process; the outputs are produced for a customer (even if you are your own customer); customers have expectations for the output produced… There are others, but these are the obvious and they hold true for every process.

So, do you consider education a process? We would argue that it has all the components listed above:

  • Both students and teachers have steps they follow to promote learning
  • Both students and teachers use inputs, and produce outputs
  • Those outputs have customers – for example; students do homework and take tests for their teachers; teachers create lesson plans, they lecture and develop tests for students
  • Both students and teachers have expectations of what is produced in education

If education has all the process components, then shouldn’t we be able to overlay process improvement on it? We often heard and read lots of reasons why you can’t, but again, we would argue you can! Go back in time to when manufacturing improvement concepts were transported into the service sector, some of the same arguments were made that are being made by the education sector today – “we are too different; we don’t produce widgets”.

There is also the argument that education isn’t a business and it doesn’t have customers. To those arguments, we ask why? Why don’t we treat education more like a business and do more to manage costs, optimize spending, maximize the resources (think people) expended? Why don’t we consider students, parents, post-secondary institutes, the businesses who will ultimately hire our students, and even teachers, customers of the education process?

Given the stagnation of our education system – today’s model is eerily similar to the Prussian method, brought back as a model for the US public education system by Horace Mann in 1843 – we should be looking for ways to shake things up, take advantage of new tools and concepts, figure out how to create the win-win so desperately needed by our system. It is unfathomable that the US is ranked 14th of 40 countries by Pearson for cognitive skills and educational attainment – but we are…

We understand and sympathize with the arguments that the education system is too big and complex to even consider process improvement methodologies, and why when we ask for change it is met with resistance, because let’s face it, change is really difficult. But we are in the midst of a technological revolution that’s moving so much faster than the industrial revolution ever had a mind to… Turning a blind eye and refusing to recognize why it’s imperative that we break the current paradigms, is immensely frightening – and it’s why we stay committed to advancing process improvement in the education system. We need to adapt the methodology and our mindset to find similarities, not hide behind the differences.