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Article on quality issues, e.g. Key concepts of Quality, What approach to Quality in schools?, The quality of educational resources on the Web

Key concepts of Quality
V. Benigno, B. Lindstrom, L. Sarti

The concept of quality was developed in the industrial age and was initially identified solely with product quality control (verification). This remained the case throughout the 19th century and for most of the 20th. It was not until after World War II, and especially during in the sixties thanks to the work of Demin and Juran, that the idea of Total Quality became widespread.

Total Quality embraces the modern concept of quality. It seeks to minimise errors and dysfunction in the production cycle: planning, production, maintenance, etc. With Total Quality, the focus shifts away from detection of product defects to evaluation of all the phases of production. The concept behind TQ is this: final product control does not add quality; rather, quality is to be built up step by step throughout the whole production cycle.

According to the modern concept of quality, a product need not necessarily be something tangible, it may also be something intangible such as the delivery of a service.

The TQ of products, goods and services embraces a variety of elements. The importance of traditional quality control within these does not overshadow other controls or evaluations related to the whole production cycle. Careful quality control will obviously not compensate for product shortcomings arising from design faults. In turn, design cannot be efficient if carried out by poorly trained staff using unsuitable tools.

In short, quality represents a fundamental approach for satisfying clients and justifying market presence. It leads to a new way of managing organisations. Underpinning quality is the principle of global efficiency based on getting things right the first time. This is a new, more wide-ranging way of achieving quality, one that affects every aspect and process of the organisation.

The basic elements of this new philosophy are:

  1. Total customer priority: the customer is the central focus of both companies and public bodies alike. Without customers the organisation cannot survive, so satisfying them is a high priority.
  2. Direct and constant effort from upper management: successful TQ calls for continuous leadership.
  3. Ongoing improvement of all activities: there are no limits to customer satisfaction, so as each level of quality is reached, expectations grow.
  4. Staff involvement: TQ entails the involvement of all the organisation's resources; everyone must play a part in the improvement process.
  5. Internal customer focus: To guarantee the satisfaction of external customers, the internal customer must be happy with his/her role.
  6. Regard for processes: Above all, this means mastering each process, knowing how to govern it, which calls for communication and transparency.
  7. Prevention instead of cure: This means carefully analysing the root cause of problems so as to deal with them preventatively.
  8. Scientific approach to problem solving: The study of cause-effect relationships requires a scientific approach to problems. A useful tool in this respect is PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act).

9. Continuous training: Seen as an ongoing, open-ended process, training plays a vital role in motivating and enabling everyone to take part in this activity.

The concept of Total Quality should be considered a synonym of improvement; obviously, it is not possible to launch an improvement process without addressing the issue of the required know-how, both in terms of product and processes.

The Quality System based on the ISO 9000 guidelines can significantly support the school system know-how management.

ISO 9000 compliance formally means that an enterprise carries out a set of activities that have been planned, documented and monitored according to precise standard methodologies: this ensures the quality of the supplied products and services. A continuous improvement of the organization requires proper standards, to avoid the risk that innovative processes and changes remain confined to selected people and get lost when these people leave the organization. Standard methodologies represent a way of sharing best practices with colleagues and define a 'minimum guaranteed quality level' for the product or service, while promoting transparency and effectiveness.

ISO 9000 guidelines are based on the compliance principle, are aimed at ensuring quality for the outside of the organization, and focus on the customer's satisfaction. They allow the producer

ISO 9000 guidelines bear the mark of conformity, are a sign of quality to the outside world and are aimed at customer satisfaction. They prescribe a series of requirements which allow the supplier to show the customer that the service provided is efficient and that all the processes that affect the outcome of processes and products are monitored.

The two models described above, although characterized by different aims and strategies, do not exclude each other.

The Quality System is aimed at the satisfaction of implicit needs (i.e., what customers assume by default as available) as well as explicit ones (i.e., what customers expressly require). The TQ approach's objectives include, besides explicit and implicit ones, also latent needs, i.e. it anticipates necessities that customers are still not aware of. As for strategies, The QT approach is based on human resources, whereas the ISO 9000 guidelines recommend standards that people have to comply with.

While acknowledging these differences, it is necessary to come to an integration of the two approaches, in the perspective of building a platform

Where a Quality System documented and managed according to ISO 9000 act as scaffolding for the QT continuous improvement process.

Development of a Quality System conforming to ISO 9000 is not an end in itself but an essential starting point for pursuing ever-higher levels of excellence. The Quality System is the starting point and Total Quality is the path to follow.

What approach to Quality in schools?

Students, families, employers pose a strong demand for quality to the school. This reflects the need of ensuring students adequate support to the curriculum and effective training in both the University and employment perspectives.

If, on the one side, students call for a school where their choices and attitudes are exploited, on the other the social and economic forces requires young people who can cope with the continuous demand for evolution and growth that to-day's world imposes.

The school can offer high quality services only if it adapts to the requests from the outside world, re-elaborating them in the framework of its specificity. From the quality perspective, teachers' skills and competences are questioned, as they have to provide suitable answers to the request for personal growth and professionalism; the school's organization has to ensure effectiveness and efficiency in dealing with both 'internal customers' (teachers, administrative staff) and 'external' ones (pupils, families, employers).

However, the question of quality in education is not so straightforward.

Even though the issue of quality originally arose within the industrial sector, it has since been applied to education. This has followed the active intervention of industry, which expects an output comparable with the resources invested and sees education as a basic, productive factor.

Furthermore, although some of the industry management and organizational practices have sensibly evolved in time, some quality parameters remain remarkably constant: the external customer's satisfaction, the distinctive quality features of a given product or service, etc.

In the educational context the adoption of a similar philosophy raises both consensus and criticism. Obviously, we should never confuse schools with enterprises: schools main mission is not easily measurable in financial terms, and also reducing schools to mere service providers is often unacceptable. Besides, in the educational context the customer's satisfaction is not always the best or sole quality indicator. In spite of this, we believe that the industrial approaches to quality are worth studying, to understand what fruitful analogies can be evidenced with the school environment.

The adoption of a 'corporate' attitude towards quality in the educational field, strongly related to the customer's satisfaction, poses some further questions: who are the customers? How does competition work? What are the products? What are the processes? Although it is hard to accept, we must acknowledge that schools are productive organizations; their product is not conceptually comparable with that of manufacturing enterprises, it is rather a set of professional services supplied to customers who, being actively involved in the production of the services themselves, should be trained to use them.

The school system can be considered as the union of three, mutually interdependent sub-systems:

  • a professional sub-system: teachers, with their particular competences and skills;
  • a customer sub-system: students, families and enterprises with their expectations;
  • an organizational sub-system: the various professional profiles, resources, regulations and procedures that ensure the service supply.


A high quality level of the school system can only be achieved if all three sub-systems are considered, paying special attention to the interrelationships within them. Synthetically, fostering a culture of quality in schools entails:

  • Interacting with the external reality
  • Paying proper attention to customers needs and expectations
  • Adopting methodologies that focus on the process, its objectives, phases and outcomes
  • Carrying out in-service training initiatives for teachers and operators, thus increasing their know-how and professionalism
  • Defining explicit responsibilities for all the people involved in the educational process
  • Analysing the effectiveness of processes on the basis of factual data

In the educational context two main perspectives are adopted to address the issue of quality. The first one entails the control of the mechanisms that are peculiar to the formative process, through the identification of ad hoc indicators are (e.g., students learning outcomes, teachers performance, etc.). The other one consists in certifying the quality on the basis of international standards such as the ISO-9000 series. As already mentioned above, we should consider these two approaches as complementary rather than mutually exclusive.

Ultimately, although obtaining a standard certification is a desirable and ambitious target, it should not be considered the conclusion of the effort to ensure quality; rather, it is important to master the tools that allow the management of a quality service. We should not confine ourselves to those aspects that are easier to rationalize, but should strive to proceed further and design an approach to quality that encompasses all learning process aspects.

The quality of educational resources on the Web

After the short overview of the approaches to quality adopted in schools, let's now examine in some detail how the quality of educational resources available through the Web can be determined, with special attention to the context of educational gateways.

The DESIRE project addresses the issue of quality for web resources and distinguishes two broad categories for quality criteria: those related to the internal quality of resources, and those more dependent on the gateway context. As a matter of fact, DESIRE includes in the former category both content, form and process; it is interesting to note that the 'process' sub-category is mainly related to integrity of information, site and system. wanting. Another relevant didactic resource, which DESIRE does not take into explicit consideration, is the description of educational experiences, which teachers can share via Internet. It is not only a matter of describing a piece of educational material, or reporting on how a didactic activity has been carried out; of course these aspects have to be duly considered, but some attention should be paid also to the issue of being able to describe an educational experience in a given, understandable didactic context, so that other teachers can autonomously evaluate its reusability in their context. This is a constant concern in our approach.

The main objectives of work-package 03 'Research on quality assessment management and selection criteria regarding content for schools' within the ETB project are:

  • To analyse quality issues with reference to infrastructure, resources, organization and management of the use of Internet in schools
  • To produce recommendations for other work-packages on how to deal with quality issues, in the perspective of providing advanced search and selection tools for local and national gateways.

We started from the DESIRE approach, by identifying a taxonomy of quality aspect that incudes:

  • Content (internal quality)
  • Information management (gateway context)
  • Form
  • Process
  • Scope
  • Collection

Then, in collaboration with work-package 04, we identified a variety of user roles along with their main characterization: teachers, students, librarians, webmasters and principals.

Each actor might embody both the 'customer' function (whenever they look for suitable material to re-use) and the 'provider' function (whenever they publish material they deem useful for other schools).

We believe it is important to address the issue of quality for both products and processes, as outlined in the figure below:


The focus on the process aspects calls for special attention for the description of activities and experiences that teachers may want to share with colleagues. Describing the quality of such experiences might require, for instance, a set of indicators that includes the following:

  • The description of the experience - context, aims, resources ... where, when, how was the experience carried out? What is its potential scope?
  • The student perspective: what was the impact on students? Did they encounter trouble?
  • The teacher perspective: was the experience motivating? Did you learn something? What about difficulties?

Ultimately, we think that the quality problem should be addressed by taking into consideration not only criteria and descriptors for the resource considered in isolation (form, integrity, availability...) and independently from its usage context; we also need to contextualize the evaluation of its usage, the impact on the user, and finally include subjective user considerations, recommendations etc.



Deming WE, (1986): Out of the crisis, Mit Press

DESIRE: Selection Criteria for Quality Controlled Information Gateways

ISO 9000: 1987. Quality management and quality assurance standards - guidelines for selection and use. Geneva: International Organisation for Standardisation.

ISO 9004-2: 1991. Quality management and quality systems elements - Part 2: guidelines for services. Geneva: International Organisation for Standardisation.

Juran, J.M., (1988):The quality function. In: Juran, J.M. and Gryna, F.M., (eds.), Juran's quality control handbook, 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Author: V. Benigno, B. Lindstrom, L. Sarti
Web Editor: Riina Vuorikari
Published: Monday, 29 Jan 2001
Last changed: Tuesday, 31 Jul 2001
Keywords: quality, educational resources,