Taking quantitave control of the higher education sector

Posted by Calvin Ngotho,

The degree of importance pegged on research and development and the production of quality professionals to the success or failure of a nation’s economy cannot be understated.

Why – if you ask me – does a nation’s leadership fail to ensure the quality of education in its system, is the best it can be, puzzles me everyday.

It is evident that commercialization of education in an environment that has a low threshold of ethics and good virtues, is a threat to education quality delivered to learners. So one MAJOR contributor to the deteriorating education standards and quality, despite government investments is the unethical behavior manifesting in the education leaders and administrators.

But I tend to think differently.

The lack of ethics and good virtues – which is a human nature flaw, is a consequence of primary cause as regards the education sector – especially higher education. That is a dysfunctional Commission.

A level above the institution, in the higher education ecosystem, there is a commission in place established by Government which is charged with the responsibility of managing the efficacy and quality of the system to its citizenry with the objective of driving the economic program of a nation.

According to statutes established by law, a commission of higher education is charged with ensuring the higher education sector is a landscape of excellence. It plays a highly coordinating role to ensure that a nation’s development agenda aligns with the higher education outputs.

However, I do not understand why commissions are too rigid, too complacent and in some cases completely abdicating their duties in building a gold standard education system. There are low lying fruits which, in my view, the commissions have no excuse why they have not taken steps towards.

Deconstructing the higher education sector from the purview of a commission, we have the commission, the institutions, the consumer (learner) and the economy. The primary factor of production in the sector is the institution which takes in learners and produces graduates to the economy.

Measure structural components first.

An institution of higher learning when looked at structurally, is an organization having a resident address (even virtual institutions are headquartered somewhere on earth), it has buildings and structures to support learning, it has constituents which are students, teachers and non-teaching staff. That is pretty much the structural view.

Learning takes place in a classroom. Without going into the cognitive and summative aspects, I want to look at the quantitative aspect of learning.

The class

This is an abstract representation of a group of learners going through the same learning and assessment path. The class is taught by an instructor or a group of instructors. The quantitative elements of interest are:

  • The class size.
  • The number of instructors actively teaching or preparing the class.
  • The total time of teaching allocated to the class.
  • The total amount and level of learning expected of the class (in terms of credit points).

The quality control elements to look after in a class are:

  • Teacher-student ratio
  • Teacher academic experience vis-a-vis the level of learning expected.
  • Class attendance metrics – for the students and instructors.
  • Class academic performance – learning outcome achievement record.

The classroom

A physical room with walls which houses the learning infrastructure – desks, chairs, boards, audio-visual equipment, lab stations et.al. The quantitative elements of interest are:

  • The total space allocation of all demarcated classrooms.
  • The purpose for which a space has been allocated for function.
  • Total class sitting capacity.
  • Functioning state of all tracked infrastructure housed in a class room e.g. workstations etc.

The quality control elements to look after are:

  • Total academic space available in an institution.
  • Distribution of the academic purposed space by learning type and academic divisions.
  • Total students utilizing the space allocated in a classroom.

The Instructor

These are the properties of an instructor engaged in teaching and learning.

  • The instructor can be engaged on Full-time or Part – time basis.
  • The instructor is at a specific stage in his/her academic progression.
  • The instructor is employed at a certain job grade.

The quality control elements to track about an instructor is:

  • The total time engagement in teaching, research and other administrative engagements on a yearly basis within an institution and across institutions which the instructor is contracted.
  • The progression of the instructor’s academic achievement in line with a plan set forth at employment and the alignment of the achievement with the subject area of teaching expertise.

Now taking a scale from 0 —to—10 where 0 represents the worst grading and 10 representing excellent record in structural and quantitative performance of an institution. It is possible – with the advent of big data – to devise a data collection and intelligence analysis infrastructure that takes information on a continuous transactional basis up from the classroom learning level up to the top most level – the commission – with a mission to provide an effective action and feedback mechanism which behaves as a unit.

The commission, at its level, can process data derived from institutions under its jurisdiction to get the performance and quality of levels across the types of institutions, qualifications and fields of studies cross-cutting the economy.
Standardization is key, in how institutions collect and prepare the datasets for the consumption of the commission.

Institutional accreditation and chartering is a means of recognizing institutions which have met certain thresholds as ascertained by the commission, to support teaching and learning activities. A majority of the threshold requirements are quantitative in nature and thus are prime candidates to automate.

If a charter is a form of recognition, then it ought to be a means to ensure continuous compliance to the requirements.

A lot of opportunity exists for the commission and institutions of learning to take advantage of to improve their institutional performance and as a result, overall sector performance. Structural performance, in my view, will provide fertile ground to improve on the other psycho-social factors affecting quality.

I hold the conviction that the quality of education management will be greatly enhanced through the utilization of technology. I wish an environment where technology is aptly embraced and used in the management of education ecosystems. If you share the same vision, we can can work together to attain the improvements.