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.
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.
the modern concept of quality, a product need not necessarily be something
tangible, it may also be something intangible such as the delivery of
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:
- 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.
- Direct and constant effort
from upper management: successful TQ calls for continuous leadership.
- Ongoing improvement of
all activities: there are no limits to customer satisfaction, so
as each level of quality is reached, expectations grow.
- Staff involvement: TQ
entails the involvement of all the organisation's resources; everyone
must play a part in the improvement process.
- Internal customer focus:
To guarantee the satisfaction of external customers, the internal
customer must be happy with his/her role.
- Regard for processes:
Above all, this means mastering each process, knowing how to govern
it, which calls for communication and transparency.
- Prevention instead of
cure: This means carefully analysing the root cause of problems
so as to deal with them preventatively.
- 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
What approach to Quality
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.
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).
question of quality in education is not so straightforward.
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.
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.
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.
system can be considered as the union of three, mutually interdependent
- 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
- 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.
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
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
from the DESIRE approach, by identifying a taxonomy of quality aspect
- Content (internal quality)
- Information management (gateway
Then, in collaboration
with work-package 04, we identified a variety of user roles along with
their main characterization: teachers, students, librarians, webmasters
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).
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?
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
Deming WE, (1986): Out of the
crisis, Mit Press
DESIRE: Selection Criteria
for Quality Controlled Information Gateways http://www.bildungsserver.de/db/laender.html
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.