Education is not a service delivered like pizzas

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Extract from Grace (1997) "Education's Pizza-Delivery Model,"
Opinion Section, Sydney Morning Herald, Feb. 4, 1997.

".... Of course, universities deliver services - libraries, playing fields, cafeterias and function rooms - but education is not one of them. If education could be delivered, why should people slog away for years at laboratory benches and books? The fact is that a real education will always be hard to come by, not only in a monetary sense but intellectually. That is its nature. Pizza is for delivery, education is not.

The use of terms such as "service" and "delivery" misrepresents the character of tertiary education. Far from being a passive thing, it is more like mining: the ore has to be won from the rock and, as with mining, mere application of the processes does not always guarantee a result. Or it is like sailing or flying or venturing into a wilderness: in a university, one learns to navigate in the foreign worlds of science and letters, economics and politics. One does not get an education by having it delivered or be receiving it from a provider. It is got by active pursuit in the company of those who are adept.

The ability to unearth or navigate goes hand-in-hand with a high degree of autonomy and the mastery of a certain discipline. This is also the mark of an educated person, but education is now commonly seen as fitting one not so much for self-direction as direction by others, notably in employment.

If higher education is a service, then universities are providers, points of sale for profitable credentials rather than seats of learning. Then, as in any good hotel, the quality of service and the satisfaction of the customer become key indicators. But the purpose of a university is not to satisfy students or the public by making them comforatble and relaxed. It is not a lounge by the pool and a can of coke. A degree should awaken the thirst for knowledge, not quench it. There are enormous satisfactions to be gained from intellectual work but they are not those of the consumer. Universities should aim a graduating people who remain unsatisfied - stirred, stimulated and hungry for more. The dissatisfied might be well be those who have been over-instructed.

At his trial, Socrates warned his accusers that if they killed him they would fall into indolent stupidity and regret the loss of his criticism. A skilled practioner of doubt, he was not a "useful" person and did not believe in the decanting method of education. Besides unsettling complacent Athenians, he taught by example so that his interlocutors learnt philosophy by being provoked into doing it. It is imperative to preserve the vestiges of this approach in contemporary campus life.


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