Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is education a part of the service industry?

Recently, I have been thinking about how educators need to carefully consider and construct their material in ways that is palatable to their "clients" and how these clients are actually two different target audiences: students and parents. In my lesson planning, not only do I need to make sure that my students will be engaged and actively learning, but I have to make sure that the parents will find the content and methods acceptable for their child. 

This led me to ask if education falls under the category of "service industry," where the customer is always right. Wikipedia says
"The service sector consists of the "soft" parts of the economy, i.e. activities where people offer their knowledge and time to improve productivity, performance, potential, and sustainability. The basic characteristic of this sector is the production of services instead of end products. Services (also known as "intangible goods") include attention, advice, access, experience, and discussion. ... Service providers face obstacles selling services that goods-sellers rarely face. Services are not tangible, making it difficult for potential customers to understand what they will receive and what value it will hold for them."

Although you might disagree with me when I say that education is not about the end product, I think there is little question that education does indeed focus on "attention, advice, access, experience, and discussion." That, in fact, is a fantastic summary of what I would like to provide to my students. 

However, if education does fall into the tertiary sector of the economy, it means that our goal as educators is to please those we serve, exactly because it is "difficult for ... customers to understand what they will receive and what value it will hold for them."

So, are educators to cater to what our clients want? If so, we must ask if we are to prioritize the wants and needs of our students or those of the parents. 

Or are educators bound by some different code and driven to present material that is judged by a different standard, and therefore less immediately pleasing to our "customers"? I fear that consumer-driven education would perpetuate homeostasis, where students only learned what they found enjoyable and what was directly related to their parents’ experiences. I’ve found that my most rapid personal growth has happened when I was in situations far removed from the world of my childhood, the exact world that my parents (ever so lovingly) crafted.

I must admit that part of this train of thought stems from some parents questioning what I am teaching their children. To a certain extent, I understand their point of view: they know their child better than I do; they have more invested in their child than I do; they will live with their child far longer than I will. Ultimately, I do not get to make the over-arching decisions regarding the life of the young person. But I still wonder: am I working for knowledge, or for parents?