Not Everything That Counts Can Be Counted

Getting a good education costs money. But if you haven't got the money you can't get a good education. If this is a fact what does it tell us about education policy makers?

Getting a good education costs money. But if you haven’t got the money you can’t get a good education. If this is a fact what does it tell us about education policy makers?

Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray)

When I opened my emails yesterday evening I was pleased to receive a document sent to me by a good friend from the North of England. The accompanying message urged me to read this document as he put it, “in order to recognise that you are not alone in your concerns.” Far away from home it’s always good to know that there are friends thinking about your welfare.

The document sent for my scrutiny is titled “Measuring Social Value: the Gap between Policy and Practice” and was written in 2010 by Claudia Wood and Daniel Leighton.* In around 100 pages these authors discuss the need to consider the ways in which we can measure the importance of enterprise and initiative through an analysis of social impact, rather than simply looking at economic factors. The tenor of their argument indicates that there are some projects which if undertaken are unlikely to reap financial rewards but may still be valuable in terms of the social benefits that accrue. As they suggest “this is particularly the case for the third sector, where often unquantified social returns can be far greater than in the commercial world”.

Within this interesting document they discuss what is termed a “Social Return on Investment (SROI) model” which assists organisations in understanding how some actions might be undertaken for the good of a community or section of society and have a significant and sustainable impact, which makes the activity worthwhile in respect of long term consequences. An example they give is in the implementation of effective rehabilitation schemes for young offenders, which appear very expensive at the outset, but if they are successful and prevent re-offending may have long term benefits that are both social and economic.

The reason my friend sent me this document relates to a conversation we recently had about the marketization of schools, colleges and universities and the profit driven motivations that seem to dominate activities across the education sector. I had expressed my anxieties that education, which in times past was seen to be a process for the social good of individuals and the communities in which they live, has in many instances been driven along a route to ensure that children leave school equipped solely to foster the economic well-being of the nation, with little concern for the personal and social development which may enable them to adjust to a fast changing world. This change manifests itself in a utilitarian curriculum and a devaluing of those subjects that are seen as less likely to equip school leavers as drones for the workforce.

As this process has happened, a presumably unintended consequence has been that, the importance of addressing the needs of those seen as “less able” or “with poor social adjustment”  has been side-lined with some schools, and certainly a number of education policy makers suggesting that investment in these children takes away essential resources from those more likely to become more efficient “economic units”. The language of commerce and business now dominates schools and universities as never before and, is already contributing to the greater marginalisation of young people.

Here in Bangalore I am always conscious that whilst working to support teachers in any way we can, to establish a more inclusive education system, and to provide long term and sustainable benefits to children who have previously been denied opportunities for learning, we still fail to reach most of the teachers who could really make a difference. Far too many teachers here in India would struggle to obtain the fees necessary to enrol on the programmes that we offer. Even if they could join such a course, their facilities for studying at home or accessing the resources to support them are severely limited. In the future this will be seen as a sad indictment of our education system, and will ultimately lead to a condemnation of those of us who are complicit with this way of working,

I am fortunate in working here with colleagues who are not motivated by money or the need to balance the books. However, as we go about our work we are ever aware of the shifts in education that mean that every move we make is scrutinised and assessed to measure whether we provide value for money. Universities in the past have always been institutions for the promotion of intellectual debate and social change. The Social Return on Investment (SROI) model suggests that it is essential that those who have responsibility for courses such as that on which we are engaged in Bangalore, look into the future to see the changes that the teachers we work with can bring to India’s schools. Sadly such change will not come over night, and I suspect that many of the decision makers who oversee our lives are looking for a quick return on their investments. In the past I feel sure that universities would have engaged with the proposition put forward by Wood and Leighton in this document. My confidence in their ability to do so today is all too regularly shaken.


*Measuring social value: the gap between policy and practice, written by Claudia Wood and Daniel Leighton is published by Demos.