It is not just the quantity but the quality of education which leads a country to rapid growth and industrialisation. In other words, it is not about just the “output” but about the “outcome” of schools, colleges and universities. The number of graduating students is considered the output, while the quality of graduates is the outcome. Qualification is basically a proof of ‘inputs or acquisition of knowledge’; while competence is all about ‘outcomes or correct application of knowledge’. Are our degrees or diplomas the proof of our knowledge acquisition, knowledge understanding, knowledge application or analysis or synthesis of knowledge? The critical understanding or use of knowledge or the ability to use knowledge (capacity) is, or should be, the ultimate result of the teaching-learning process; may that be at schools, colleges, universities (or even employers)! Are our transcripts the proof of our ability or capacity to use knowledge or reproduction of what we have listened in the class or read in the books? The percentage of ‘Capability Measure’ can be regarded as the knowledge we use or can use in our life divided by total knowledge we have acquired.
Quality Assurance (QA) is an important and organised discipline for the academia, as well as planners and government to ensure appropriate outcome of educational institutions. This is carried out at two levels. External QA (also called accreditation) is carried out by regulatory/professional bodies at the national/provincial level to ensure the minimum performance level of educational programs and institutions. It must be independent and unbiased. The other level, Internal QA, is an internal and integral part of the institution’s administration and management systems. It implements a set of policies, programs and procedures set-up by an institution to provide confidence and transparency in their outcomes related to their graduates, teachers, exams, and infrastructure. QA in education does not focus just on the academic performance, but also on the social and national outcomes. In countries where External and/or Internal Quality Assurance component is weak, weather at the state or institutional level, the quality of education suffers and as a result quality deteriorates at the country level.
Objectives of Education and Quality
The QA framework of any institution is derived from its broad objectives. Therefore, the right objectives of education must be set, both at the national and institutional levels, before designing the QA framework. Most developed countries’ policies of QA revolve around these objectives. Most developed countries’ education plans define quality of education as fulfilling the national educational goals and objectives. These objectives may broadly be classified into the following three categories:
- Social Quality:
Social norms are the foundation of a country’s culture and provide longevity to its social values. Many religions and/or political systems attempt to provide such norms. Different groups/countries have chosen different models for their community affairs and ethics, e.g. Islamic ethics, Christian ethics, Hindu ethics, socialism, etc. The believers of these religions derive their social norms from their religions. Many countries measure the social outcome of their educational institutions at the country levels; e.g. the number of violent crimes experienced at school by students aged 12 to 18 years, the number of serious violent crimes experienced at school by students aged 12 to 18 years, drug Use in school by students aged 12-17 years, etc.
- Quality of Citizenship:
Unity and integrity among the countrymen cannot be taken for granted. It must be designed, developed and groomed through the educational processes. It can easily be lost with unplanned and borrowed literature of other countries. For this to be a strong objective, every means must be utilised, including education, media, and the law. The subject of social studies/citizenship taught in schools is specifically designed to achieve this goal. These values are also normally embedded in many other subjects, like literature. Similarly, many extra-curricular activities are also designed to achieve this goal, e.g. the morning assembly in schools, the national anthem in all public functions, national integrity in classes, defence training in schools and colleges, etc. For example, the national educational policy of Japan focuses on the development of nationalist and ethical Japanese irrespective of the level, type, or location of education. The Japanese design every curriculum to ensure this and arrange various activities, e.g. preparedness and readiness for any national disaster through effective practical training in the courses and an annual day to prove this. Control over curriculum, national dress, national language, and the right historical perspectives in books, is an all-important factor to perpetuate the society in the right direction for the right objectives. Most countries in the West do not encourage books printed in other countries to be used in their schools. One of the liberal curriculum policies on the rise in some countries is to adopt books from some western countries in order to raise the level of quality of education in schools/colleges. Although these may fulfill academic objective in some cases, there are numerous reported cases where these books provide cultures, heroes, and stories of ethics, which are in total contradiction to local social values and national integrity of the other country. This includes concepts and stories like drinking beer/liquor as a heroic act, elimination of local heroes and projection of foreign heroes. All such introductions generate inferiority complex in people of that country and weaken their nationalism.
- Academic Quality
This focuses around academic outcome, i.e. results of academic learning. This is creation of the right capabilities of the subject matter/discipline, e.g. engineering, medicine, chemistry etc. Its quality is usually measured by many indicators, including – but not limited to – student grades. Other measures also include industry feedbacks, employability, career progression, job retention rates, accessibility, affordability, and fulfillment of national economic and defence priorities, etc. University degrees without ensuring such measures will create an unstable educational infrastructure in the country. Excellence in professional education implies relevant and particular set of knowledge, skills and capabilities that are required by the employers of that country.
QA function for the objective of academic quality includes activities like: employers’ need analysis, designing need-based courses and academic standards focusing on “application”, practical orientations in schools, research in colleges/universities that leads to the development of industrial and national requirements, systems which measure the quality and performance of education (both at an institution and the country levels), process control of the teaching and learning activities to ensure the quality of faculty, curriculum, students, teaching environment, and placing a system of customer satisfaction, etc.
Ibn-e-Khaldun (one of the greatest sociologists and anthropologists ever produced by the world) in his Muqaddimah talks in detail about the habits of those nations which have been ruled by bigger powers. They all, as he explains, get into a state of inferiority complex due to being ruled by foreign powers. In a quest to come out of any type of slavery, they (the nations being ruled) start adopting the habits of the rulers. The things they adopt immediately and for long terms are their language, dress, and social norms (marriages, eating, etc.). He concludes that even after hundreds of years of such imitation, nations remain under occupation, as none of these were the true reasons to become a developed and powerful nation. He further studied the powerful nations who dominate as rulers and described that they differentiate between knowledge, skills and language (which the slave nations do not). The powerful nations who rule are too selective and concerned for pursuit of mastery over language, knowledge and industrial skills. He explains that specialised and high quality industrial knowledge and abundance in skills always drive the industry in the country. This wide industrial development subsequently uplifts the military power of that country. The military power, no matter who has it, is always in search of weaker nations as bigger fish eat the smaller ones.
Theoretically, most people usually know and agree (to some degree) with these objectives. The problem is not with the identification of the objectives and a philosophical discussion on them, but with the processes which try to achieve them. These processes are not mature enough or are absent altogether to achieve the desired objectives in many institutions and countries. Many of them usually define such objectives in their policy documents or constitutions, but very few have a system on ground for measuring these objectives through clear matrices. Furthermore, schools and universities need to be accountable to public for these objectives. Are the schools, colleges, universities, and madaris producing products that fulfill these objectives? Is there any mechanism to measure and control their quality, both within and outside the institution? QA is a set of management activities, which tries to address these questions.
It is therefore important for every institution, board, accreditation body, and government organisation dealing with education to clearly define and lay the foundation of establishing the relevant objectives, as well as to develop mechanisms for their measurement, control and improvement. Institutions and government organisations involved in education must all be accountable to the public for achieving such objectives.