What is quality assurance in higher education?: Part One…curricula must show society’s shared values


THE purpose of the article is to present a brief overview of quality assurance in higher education.
The intention is to help the reader develop a clear understanding of the basic principles of quality assurance, the reasons for the development of the enterprise as well as an appreciation of what has been seen as its successes and failures. This will help to contextualise quality assurance in southern African countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana, among others.
This article begins by providing the philosophical, ideological and cultural basis of quality, which basis is premised on contextual relativity.
By their nature, all concepts are subject to contextual relativity.
In this case, the southern African regional cultural philosophy of unhu/ubuntu/botho will be used as the bedrock informing the discussion.
Indeed culture provides space for the conceptualisation of literally anything and everything.
Unhu/ubuntu/botho vis-a-vis quality assurance discourse
Since time immemorial, mankind has tried to make sense of the world, of the universe and mankind’s place in the cosmos. As a result, various ages have produced different thoughts about these, even though the ultimate truth is yet to reveal itself.
This eternal quest for truth is the true subject of philosophy. It is against this understanding that education and quality in education are premised. In its broadest sense, ‘education’ refers to any act or experience that has a formative/transformative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual.
In its technical sense, ‘education’ is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge (wisdom), skills and values from one generation to another.
It is the process of developing the knowledge, skills and character of the citizens of a community.
As Hinsen and Hunsdorfer (1978) put it: “…the primary purpose of education is liberation,” that is; to be free from physical and mental constraints.
In fact, central to any definition of education is its contribution to community self-preservation which is methodically designed in line with a certain shared view of the world.
This is generally called ‘worldview’, literally meaning ‘…the view of the world from a particular position, centre or perspective.’
All human activities, including education and quality in education, are supposed to be moulded by this shared value-system.
A people’s philosophy should, in an ideal situation, inform needs analysis which in turn begets the curriculum objectives, the content, the methodology, the learning materials, the learning activities and the evaluation procedures.
The latter is the domain of quality assurance (to check the quality of input-process-output continuum). However, and unfortunately for that matter, current quality assurance discourse hardly makes any reference to any philosophy or any such values.
It is true that diagnostic tests are hardly informed by any desire to uphold shared values; that formative assessment barely makes reference to any ethical values; and that even summative assessment and evaluation mention nothing about character-building yet assessment and evaluation processes are essentially quality assurance practices.
This is a major missing dimension in current quality assurance discourse.
Current quality assurance discourse focuses on procedural appropriateness such as registration and accreditation of institutions as well as academic and institutional audits. There is hardly any reference to ideological correctness or alignment to the national goals and objectives as enshrined in the national vision or national constitution. What this means is that, if the content, governance systems, structures and the sensibilities of staff are tangential to communal values, they will still pass the current quality assurance test which appeals more to mechanics than soft issues (matters of national vision, national ideological orientation, ethical values and character-building).
The latter package inevitably results in the creation of robots rather than humane human beings which is, regrettably, the surest way of annihilating the sense of community and collective identity in the long run.
Rather than a community, we will end up with a society of individuals who relate to one another in a mechanical rather than organic way.
The necessity of philosophy is central to meaningful development; meaningful to the people who define themselves by what they produce and do. Every community has its own philosophy which directs everything they do.
The socialist societies redesigned their education and evaluation procedures along principles of socialism.
The capitalist societies shape their education and evaluation procedures along values of individualism and competition.
Success in these societies is measured against their philosophical core-values.
The question that analysts need to ask in both cases is: What kind of a person do we want to produce by our curricula?
The answer in both cases is: One who exudes our values. Never mind the profession by the way.
Engineer, driver, pilot, teacher, architect or writer will possess the same technical skills and competences but different sensibilities, attitudes and character owing to the different philosophical incubators that birthed them.
A cursory glance at India will show that Indians have been under British rule for many years but the only thing they copied from the British is the game of cricket. The rest remained Indian. Even their education is Indian in character.
They have redesigned their curricula to reflect Indian values.
You read their text on Economics; you find that while the economic principle may be universal, the examples are Indian. You meet an Indian Engineer anywhere; his or her character is unmistakably Indian.
Another cursory glance at China shows that, big and populous as it is, it is united by a common language which is the major carrier of their culture and philosophy. Indeed you go to their universities and the first statue that greets you on entry is that of their legendary Confucius, the man they revere as their intellectual ancestor, their philosopher.
The Chinese children learn the philosophies of their old throughout their lives.
You find Chinese philosophy everywhere and on anything. A good number of their films contain the same theme re-enacted in different ways: Who killed my master?
Once the main actor asks such a question, war breaks loose relentlessly. And the cause of the master is always restored.


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