What Do We Mean by “Quality Education”?

By Francisco Esteban Bara and Juan Luis Fuentes

This month’s post from the current Educational Forum is by the authors of the article, “Swimming Against the Tide in Current Educational Practice: Thoughts and Proposals from a Communitarian Perspective.” It is available for free through the month of April.

Francisco Esteban Bara is an associate professor in philosophy of education in the Department of Theory and History of Education, Faculty of Pedagogy at Universitat de Barcelona (Spain). His research focuses on values education and ethics in the university.

Juan Luis Fuentes is an associate professor in theory of education in the Department of Educational Studies at Complutense University of Madrid (Spain). His research is centered on character education, intercultural education, and the use of ICTs in the educational sphere.

A casual conversation with parents of school-age children reveals several common themes. As parents, of course they tend to be very concerned about the well-being of their children. But this concern can be channelled very differently. In the welfare state typical of Western societies, where basic rights are guaranteed for most of the population, the focus has been on the quality of such rights. Establishing the standards for a quality education is an honest and reasonable concern for responsible parents, but a key question arises: What do we mean by educational quality?

A “quality education” is superficially understood to be innovative, changing, and dynamic, capable of adapting to society and the challenges it poses. Other times, the answer to that question is more simplistic: education quality is held up against so-called “traditional education,” something supposedly unacceptable in the 21st century—an outdated model, with outdated methods, old teachers, and schools that are not “current.”

According to this perspective, a “quality” school will be an alternative—a modern, high-tech, cutting-edge school—empathetic, flexible, and focused on the hottest topics. This new school is receptive to everything parents or school boards propose, even at the risk of forgetting that it is a school, where change is not impossible, but where the importance of its role in the community means that changes cannot be made lightly, without understanding what they mean for one of society’s most fundamental institutions.

Certainly quality, in all facets of life and of course in education, implies reflection and renewal, but the second cannot happen without the first. Nevertheless, sometimes defending this prudent idea is seen as swimming against the tide of educators at different levels, political actors, and parents, who seek the best for their children.

In our article, we raise some questions about what should be considered “useful,” and whether the school should only teach subjects that can be identified as useful and profitable. This means ignoring things that are apparently “useless,” yet are actually worth a great deal. Indeed, education is not solely concerned with the teaching and learning of certain subjects, skills, competencies, and the like. It is also concerned with how teaching and learning that educates others and oneself is unique to the human condition.

We cannot forget that the accumulation of information, methodologies, and resources may not be enough if we lack a sense of direction or orientation. Educational practice is not an assembly line of workers and citizens, nor a car wash from which one emerges gleaming bright. Education is a transformative process from which one should emerge different—changed—from the way we went in. Educational practice is a truly human and humanising process, a veritable ethical event. It is more than taking on the role of student or teacher; it means understanding that learning and teaching are a way of life.

However, certain tendencies distort the overall purpose of educational practice, and undermine this transformative power. Among other tendencies, we identify three: the obsession with adapting educational practice to some subjective reality; the excessive prominence of one of the three educational actors; and, finally, the belief that educational practice is something in which everyone should have a say and a choice.

Education certainly concerns us all, as human beings, but we can’t rely on a superficial analysis of what a quality education is, excessively utilitarian or abandoned to the loudest political voices. Educators and parents cannot afford to stand by; the stakes are too high.

Thinking Critically About Our Current Education System

Hi, my name is Kevin Cataldo, and I’m a recent graduate of Felician University in New Jersey. I was the chapter president of the Alpha Zeta Rho Chapter of KDP on campus. I’m also a representative of KDP to the United Nations, as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), and I am at currently a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University.

On July 15, 2019, Teachers College welcomed K–12 educators and all other stakeholders from across the country and around the world to its 4th Annual Reimagining Education Summer Institute (RESI).

During the Institute, participants got the opportunity to critically think about our current education system.

In fact, during Day 1, the participants were asked to keep the following questions in mind: Why must we “reimagine” education here in the United States? The remaining 3 days focused heavily on the following: (a) racial and cultural literacy, (b) equity pedagogy, and (c) culturally sustaining leadership.

Here I am with Dr. Ladson Billings!

This year’s keynote address was delivered in an eloquent, powerful, and thought-provoking manner by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, a KDP Laureate.

She is considered a pioneer of culturally relevant teaching, a pivotal area of study in education that I hope to learn more about as I continue my graduate studies at Teachers College.

The Institute was extra special for me this year, as this was my first time participating in it. I also was a dialogue session co-facilitator.

During the 4 days, my co-facilitators and I provided K–12 educators and other stakeholders with a brave space to share their thoughts, feelings, concerns, and knowledge about our education system. As a soon-to-be first-year third-grade language arts and social studies teacher in Newark, New Jersey, the Institute provided me with hope that I have the power to “reimagine” our education system and truly make a difference in the lives of my students.

At the conclusion of the Institute, both educators and stakeholders were asked to return to their respective school communities with a crucial question in mind: “What Now?”

In other words, what will I do to bring equity pedagogy into my school community?

Today more than ever before, the United States and the world must join forces and “reimagine” education, especially since one’s society depends heavily on an educated citizenry.

Furthermore, as a member of Kappa Delta Pi, International Honor Society in Education, and as one of its UN Youth Representatives for the upcoming 2019–2020 academic school year, my goal is to raise awareness about this unique Institute at the world stage—at the United Nations Headquarters.

To end, raising such awareness can be beneficial not only to educators, but to other stakeholders within the United Nations as well.

Why? Think about it: The goal of the Institute is to help educators realize how vital it is for schools and stakeholders to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (SDG 4: Quality Education).

Fighting back from the Global South: Education reform, teacher’s rights, and social media resistance in Mexico

Today’s blogger is David Ramírez Plascencia, a professor and researcher at the University of Guadalajara–SUV, whose recently published article “Education Reform, Teacher Resistance, and Social Media Activism in Mexico, 2013–2016” appears in the special issue of The Educational Forum on educator activism in politically polarized times. In that article, he relates how Mexican teachers use information technologies to engage in the fight against new regulations that affect their labor rights.

In recent decades, education systems in developed and poor countries have been impacted by neoliberalism tendencies that emphasis cost-benefit factors to the detriment of social access and equity. Public education in Mexico has not been an exception. In 2012, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto ordered the establishment of an educational reform. Teachers unions claimed the reform’s lack of legitimacy because they were never consulted; and since 2013, there have been several offline and online protests.

In general terms, most of the dissatisfaction concerning this reform centers on the fact that it tends to blame teachers for Mexico’s low-quality levels of education and standing among countries internationally. In addition, the amendment fails to offer appropriate instruments to improve education quality and applies a standard evaluation system that puts teachers under the microscope without consideration of important economic, administrative, infrastructural, and cultural differences among local education systems.

In this work, I focus not only on describing social media activism in education, both pro- and anti-reform, but I also consider how these virtual spaces have strengthened as an alternative media for teachers to fight back against governmental policies.

Meme example. An indigenous lady with a kerchief and the phrase in Spanish “We all are Oaxaca.” This slogan supports teachers’ actions in that state. This visual element is used frequently online to protest Mexico’s education reform.

My article stands mainly on two concepts. The first is “digital discourse,” which encompasses all sequences of interconnected ideas that span across digital media—audio, video, or even “meme” (see illustration). All these media consolidate to create dissidence with which to combat government actions. In other words, they are “weapons of the weak,” which is the second concept, referring to a particular form of resistance in which the oppressed use alternative and hidden strategies, aside from military hostility, to confront authority (J. C. Scott, 1987). What is remarkable in this context is how Mexican teachers use a dissident strategy of diverse multimedia elements as weapons against the educational reform.

In the end, the purpose of my contribution to this issue of The Educational Forum is to emphasize how cases like the teachers unions’ use of social media to support protests in Mexico provide substantial examples that might be replicated. This kind of media encourages movements and communities to have a voice to advocate for their demands, in spite of the government-controlled traditional media like the press or television. However, what is important to recall is that in order to improve education in Mexico, it is important to promote social assets like equality and justice, not only inside the government, and to modernize teachers’ unions as well, to open elections to a clear and democratic process, and to set strong transparent policies regarding usage of members’ dues. We must remember that providing quality education is a challenging task that can be addressed only with the collaborative efforts of all.

I hope you enjoy reading about this issue!

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the special issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through July 31, 2018.