They set targets and you meet those targets, so they raise the targets. You meet them again, so they raise them again. If those targets were high jump bars, everyone watching would know you are going to miss the target at some point. That is not a failure. That is just something that is eventually beyond the very limits of your ability. So we celebrate and reward that effort and achievement.
However, if you are a tertiary education teacher we pretend there is no limit. Instead, what we demand is “continuous improvement”, and if you cannot go beyond those limits we punish your institution by cutting their funding.
The government believes we will continue improving, higher and higher targets, more and more students completing and passing our courses. Eventually we will have even more students passing than we have enrolled!
There are two other differences between high jump and teaching.
The first is, it is not you that faces the hurdles and jumps at the end of the day, it is your students. If those students are springy, lean and six foot tall, or shorter, powerful folks more suited to shot put it makes no difference. You face the same target, and that target, the government has decided, is high jump, not shot put.
The second difference is, when you attempt to clear a high-jump bar the result is either success or failure, yes, or no. With education the results are not often so clear.
So, imagine if there was no one watching the high jumping, but instead you had to email in to the government how high your students had jumped. And your manager risked losing funding if your students didn’t jump high enough. What if that manager looked over your shoulder as you were recording those high jump results and pointed out that maybe you were using the wrong type of ruler to measure the height of the bar? Or maybe had you considered putting a trampoline in front of the bar? Or maybe some of your students aren’t actually students at all and should not be measured?
Tertiary educators don’t oppose the government’s efforts to measure outcomes and punish those institutions that fail to reach its targets because they are afraid of high standards. They do not oppose them because, as Stuart Middleton says, “they don’t back themselves”.
They oppose them because they are bad for education. They lower the quality of education that students receive. They pressure institutions to measure, report and obfuscate, rather than teach. They punish the people who try and fail rather than celebrate those who try, and in trying, discover their limits.
Lesley Francey, TEU national president