What makes the things that one learns in life really valuable? This editorial is an introduction to four in-depth editorials on quality education. What makes good education is widely debated however it is not disputed that quality education is a necessary precondition for delivering good education. Therefore this editorial first introduces the concept of quality education and places this concept in a European and international setting. In essence, this editorial argues that quality education is about providing inputs that result in highly valuable outputs, or so called learning outcomes. This debate is timely, because quality outputs can enhance the learners’ prospects on the labor market. Enjoy my thoughts and introduction to this particular topic! Let’s start with a quote by philosopher Comenius.
“The proper education of the young does not consist in stuffing their heads with a mass of words, sentences, and ideas dragged together out of various authors, but in opening up their understanding to the outer world, so that a living stream may flow from their own minds, just as leaves, flowers, and fruit spring from the bud on a tree”. – Comenius (1592-1670)
Comenius had a very clear vision already back in his days on how youngsters should be educated. The above mentioned quote indirectly takes proper note of the factors and actors taken into account in order to deliver education, such as the teacher, the child and the author providing the study material. Also, Comenius clearly focused on both inputs (the words and ideas), yet also on outputs (children should understand the outer world). When linking inputs and outputs to a discussion on quality education placed in a contemporary setting, it appears that Comenius’ rhetoric still embodies a progressive way of thinking. Achieving solid output in terms of knowledge, skills and competences of learners is still under discussion nowadays. Indeed, the focus should not merely be on inputs, but more importantly on outputs. Excellent student output can be an indicator for the quality of education delivered to learners albeit in primary education or on university level. But what is quality education?
Four pillars for quality in education
For many years now, countries have developed their own respective quality standards for education. However, since the labour market is increasingly becoming mobile and therefore people also move across borders much easier, some common standards for quality education were developed over time. Some degree of harmonization in quality standards can be viewed as a spillover effect from increased mobility. The European Commission and UNESCO haven’t been the least of organizations putting forward both ideas and concrete documents and instruments for definitions on quality and indicators that measure education quality. This is not a straightforward discussion but rather a cumbersome undertaking. Conceptualizing a definition that has a vast array of meanings, UNESCO put forward four pillars for defining educational quality in the 21st century in 2000:
Naturally, there are many cultural, psychological, social and pedagogical factors that underpin the above mentioned pillars. Also, quality depends to a great extent on the quality of the teacher, the learner and the learning environment. However it remains difficult to define quality standards.
European Commission’s vision on quality education
When narrowing the topic down from an international to a European perspective, the European Commission also attempts to help the member states in improving the educational quality. Within this respect, it developed already in the year 2000 sixteen quality indicators, ranging from mathematics and foreign language learning to teacher quality and participation rates in higher education. These indicators provide the means to come to the preferred end, namely enhancing the quality of education and hence the output of the learners. Apart from exchanging good practices between the member states which the European Commission strongly encourages through the Open Method of Coordination, the Lifelong Learning Programme is the instrument pre-eminently targeted at networks and mutual learning between schools and universities. Over the years, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union have also proposed sector specific recommendations and council conclusions for quality education in higher education, vocational education and training and in school education. The most important development of recent years is the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) which puts transparency high on the agenda. Misleading as the name of this instrument may have been put forward, it does not only focus on qualifications, but also on competences and skills, which all lead to one set of quality outputs: learning outcomes.
There are plenty of initiatives and thoughts about what quality in education should embody, but at least the European Union recognizes that inputs do matter to come to excellent output. By providing the right mix of instruments (teacher quality, learning environment, etcetera), a certain level of education quality can be achieved. And here the old philosopher Comenius comes into the picture again: education quality should be about knowledge, skills and competences that make learners understand the world around us. Education is therefore a process that needs to be nurtured like a learner is nurtured to become an independent individual with a lot of potential.
Part II: Learning and the importance of knowing: the educational backbone.
by Charlotte Geerdink