教育“产业”? / The Business of Education?

教育“产业”?

最近读到、听到、在工作中也接触到一些有关中国内地和香港的教育问题,从而引发了我的思考。

上大学时,我对教育学涉猎不多。虽然也当过助教,但打那以后却从未做过职业教师。不过,我曾在一所有2,500名学生的国际学校担任过11年校董,其中三年还曾出任该校董事长,因此我对教育问题抱有浓厚的兴趣。这些年来,我还应邀担任过多所学校的演讲嘉宾。

从事教师职业不仅工作时间长,而且还十分辛苦,能拿到高薪的教师更是寥寥无几。优秀教师热爱教育事业,投身教育并不以牟利为目的。但在我看来,如此重要的社会成员获得的报酬却普遍偏低,这其实是大错特错。回首往昔,我敢肯定每个人都至少会记得一位或两位对自己学习和进步产生过重大影响的老师。这些人为人类生活和社会整体作出了巨大贡献,如果不能给予他们恰当的回报,问题将十分严重。

通过担任学校的校董,我总结出一个经验:和商业组织相比起来,教育体系的领导、规划和管理变革都非常复杂,并极具挑战。至少,在判别成败时,教育单位对议论和评价的依赖就远远高于企业,因为企业是以收入增长、利润提高和股东价值增值作为公认的衡量标准的。为学校集资也比为企业融资更难,请校友捐款更需要经年累月的筹划和努力。

和其它许多社会层面一样,中国的教育领域在改革开放30年来已经取得了巨大的变化。所以每当听到有人抱怨中国教育正面临众多难题和挑战时,我都会不时想起美国幽默家、平民英雄威尔•罗杰斯(Will Rogers)对美国教育的评价:

“学校总是不如从前,而且历来如此。”

言下之意,我想是在说大多数人对现有的教育机会和教育质量都很少、甚至从来没有感到过满意,其中部分是由于社会需求的变化速度已经超出了教育的满足能力,而另一部分原因则是期望值普遍超出了现实条件。

亚洲国家的父母尤为在意让子女入读名牌学校。这一点固然可以理解,但却常常被过分夸大,并对孩子们造成了难以置信的、不健康的压力,这些孩子早在入学之初就背上了沉重的包袱。在中国内地的学校,这种压力构筑成一座金字塔,塔的顶端就是一年一度的“高考”。而在香港和亚洲其他国家,虽然体制不同,但重压之下的后果普遍类似。

太多的父母、祖父母及家中长辈都期望孩子们能进入名牌学校并学业有成。条件优越的家庭会考虑北美的大学,这一般指的是东海岸的常春藤联盟院校或西海岸的斯坦福大学——都是入学难度极大、竞争异常激烈的申请目标。

这些家长大多不知道,其实北美共有约3,000所大学和学院。即使只考虑教育质量和声誉排名占前25%的学校,那也有750座学校可供选择,何苦只盯住排名最靠前的那区区0.006%不放呢?

我敢保证大多数家长并不知晓那750所排名靠前的学校名称及口碑。诚然,名牌学校的同学关系网是个人开拓事业的重要资产,但我认为它的重要性被高估了。

很幸运,我本人毕业于一所常春藤联盟大学。但同学关系对我事业发展所起到的作用不过是聊胜于无,而且我也从没指望过它。我见过很多已经坐上大企业高管位子的成功人士,他们毕业的院校排名离那前750名还差得很远,有些人甚至连大学都没毕业。

每个孩子都有自己的特点,学习方法也千差万别。父母可以给孩子指出的最重要的方向就是找到一所适合其需求和兴趣的大学。进不太有名的学校并不意味着考学失利或智力低下,实际上它可能会成就更为圆满、更为成功的未来人生。

中国方兴未艾的私立教育产业正在解决和弥补公立教育现存的缺陷、特别是针对富裕人群对教育的需求。成人教育领域也是如此,英孚、华尔街、新东方等私立英语培训机构的巨大成功就是最佳例证。私立幼儿园和学前班也层出不穷,其中很多还提供“国际化”教育,设施也更加完善。

最近,新闻报道说一些幼儿园已经开始提供“早期MBA”教育,这一定会特别吸引那些自己没机会取得MBA学位的父母。想想幼儿园打算让这么小的孩子学习商务知识和打高尔夫球,我个人都觉得十分好笑。

这也提醒了我:儿童教育产业完全不同于成人教育,它远远超出了纯商业机构范畴,其操作和管理都需要具备极强的社会责任感。

对父母而言,再没有比子女的健康和福祉更让人操心的事情了。在北京和中国其他一线大城市,入托难的问题正值得迫切注意。有人说,现在上幼儿园比上大学都难!

The Business of Education?

Lately between reading articles, listening to friends, and work-related stuff, education in China and Hong Kong have been very much on my mind.

Education was my minor field of study in university, although apart from my student teaching experience, I have not worked as a teacher professionally since then. I did serve on the school board of an international school with some 2,500 students for eleven years, however, including three as board chair; so I have retained a strong interest in the field. I’ve had the pleasure of being a guest speaker in various schools over the years as well.

Teachers work long, hard hours, and very few of them are paid high salaries. Great teachers are passionate about education and not in it for the money, although in my view it’s a big mistake for such important members of society to be generally poorly paid. Thinking back, I’m sure each of us can remember at least one or two teachers who had an exceptional impact on our learning and development. It’s difficult if not impossible to put an adequate price on such a contribution to people’s lives and to society in general.

One thing I learned from my school board experience is that compared to business organizations, leading, planning and managing change in educational institutions is very complex and challenging. For one thing, the metrics of success are subject to a lot more debate than in business, where growth in revenue, profits, and shareholder value are widely agreed measures of success and failure. Raising capital for schools is also more challenging, and efforts like developing a significant flow of donations from alumni take many years of planning and hard effort.

Like so many other facets of society, education in China has undergone enormous changes in the 30 years since the Open Door and Reform. era began. When I hear complaints about the many serious problems and challenges facing education in China, I am sometimes reminded of the quote from the American humorist and folk hero Will Rogers, who commented on American education thusly:

“Schools ain’t as good as they used to be, and they never was.”

To me that’s another way of saying that most people are rarely if ever satisfied with the available educational opportunities and quality, partly because society’s needs change more quickly than education’s ability to satisfy them, and partly because expectations usually outpace current reality.

Asian parents are particularly focused on getting their kids into famous brand schools, which although understandable, is often exaggerated and can result in incredible and unhealthy pressure on their children, who are under enormous pressure already in their early school years. In schools on the Chinese mainland, this pressure builds to the top of the pyramid in the form. of the annual “gao kao”. In Hong Kong and many other Asian countries, there are different systems but with similarly pressurized results.

Too many parents, grandparents and other adult family members expect their children to achieve admission and graduation from a famous brand school. For those with sufficient wealth to consider a North American university education, this is often translated to a focus on an Ivy League school on the East Coast, or Stanford on the West Coast — all extremely difficult and competitive admissions targets.

What many of these parents are not aware of is that North America has approximately 3,000 colleges and universities. Even taking the top 25% in terms of quality rankings and reputation means a pool of 750 excellent schools to choose from. So why focus so much on the top 0.006%?

I guarantee that of those 750 top schools, most parents will be unfamiliar with the names and reputations of the vast majority of them. Although it’s true that networking among schoolmates from a top brand school is an asset for one’s career, I think it’s grossly overrated in importance.

I was very fortunate to graduate from a top Ivy League school but networking among schoolmates has been of next to no importance in my career development, nor did I expect it to be. Many of the most successful executives I have met, who rose to the top of major organizations, graduated from colleges which are not anywhere near the top 750 rankings. Some didn’t even graduate from college.

All children are different and learn differently. The most important direction a parent can give to their child is to find the college or university which best suits their needs and interests. It is not an admission of failure or lower intelligence to attend a less prestigious school, and it may in fact result in a happier and more successful individual in later life.

The booming sector of private education in China is addressing and satisfying many of the perceived shortcomings of public education in China, especially for more affluent people. That’s true in adult education as well, evidenced by the great success of private English language schools like EF, Wall Street and New Oriental. And private kindergartens and pre-schools have multiplied quickly, with many offering “international” curricula and better facilities.

I was struck recently by the news that some of the kindergartens are now offering an “Early MBA” program, which must especially appeal to parents who themselves did not have a chance to obtain an MBA degree. Personally I think it’s ridiculous to propose that kindergarteners should be studying business and beginning golf lessons at such a tender young age.

It’s also a reminder to me that the business of educating children, as opposed to adults, is much more than a pure business enterprise and needs to be approached and managed with a deep sense of social responsibility.

Nothing generates comparable levels of anxiety in parents more than the health and well-being of their child. The terrific headaches associated with getting kindergarten admission for their child in Beijing and some other top Chinese cities really deserves urgent attention. Some people say it’s now more challenging and difficult than college admissions.


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