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Quality in education

The recent release of the matric results signalled the start of the 2011 academic year in South Africa. The newspapers contain pictures of long queues of students trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to gain entry into 'select' universities in Johannesburg and elsewhere. As pleased as we may be that so many students have achieved a university pass, the queues point to several crucial questions about our schooling system. Why are so many students so determined to gain access only to traditional university study? Given the sad truth that the majority of students entering university qualifications do not leave with a degree raises the question of whether and why these students are not aware of alternative courses of study? Are there not other places or courses from which students could obtain a quality education?

So many South Africans appear to have tied notions of 'quality education' to 'the university' and the perception that the only education worth having is a degree persists. Surely we cannot be driving the entire schooling system so that it results in universities being over-subscribed and under severe pressure to move beyond the number of places they have? And I believe that we do have sufficient places at the universities. What we do need is a schooling system that produces students willing and able to look across the range of educational options available - public and private, technical and academic, Further Education and Training and Higher Education, one year, two year, and three year courses - and to make informed and sensible choices about where they are going and what they will be studying.

Let's briefly consider some of the understandings of quality in education. Does quality mean exceptional or distinctive? If exceptional, then do only the exceptional have access? Does an elitist approach like this have any value in South Africa? Does 'quality' only attach to certain types or levels of education?

Or is quality perfection? Is something that is not consistently flawless of poor quality? Or is it that we should continuously strive to perfection and determine quality from monitoring how close to perfection we are able to get?

The Council on Higher Education (CHE) lists one of the indicators of quality as fitness for purpose. In this model, a quality institution fulfils its mission by delivering programmes of study to students that achieve its stated ends that must also demonstrate fitness of purpose.

Quality can also be understood as value for money. In this view, quality is measured in terms of the return on investment. So, if the same outcome can be achieved at a lower cost or a better outcome at the same cost, then a quality product or service has been delivered.

Quality as transformation looks at whether education has achieved the classical meaning of the term: did the education in some way alter the student? Was the educational intervention of a quality sufficient to move the student from one state to another, improved state? The assumption here of course is that through the acquisition of knowledge, students are enhanced, developed or empowered.

As parents, teachers, employers and managers, our understanding of 'quality' in education informs our decisions and beliefs about what, where and how learning should take place. Perhaps it is time for us all to develop and act on a more inclusive and broader-based understanding of where quality education may be obtained and of what that quality means to the individuals with whom we come into contact. We should aim to ensure that the queues outside the few universities may be diminished in favour of more students successfully completing more programmes across a broader selection of institutions and study areas.

Gloria Castrillòn
Director: Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs

Milpark Business School

Milpark Business School (MBS) is an independent, private provider of Higher Education (HE) and Further Education and Training (FET) qualifications. The qualifications offered focus on the niche areas of management and leadership, banking and financial planning and insurance education. The business school has three campuses in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Milpark Business School is rated as a Level 3 contributor with 31.25% black shareholding. Visit for information about Milpark Business School, its courses and qualifications.

28 Jan 2011 11:16