Facing the double jeopardy of education

4th December 2009 at 00:00

Oh how often have I heard parents and children talked of as "customers in education" (Don Ledingham's column, November 20), usually by people who rarely go shopping or by those who have enough money to be able to buy the best.

Let us look at the reality of the market place as a way to deliver products or services. To start with, the trader controls what is on offer, so your supermarket determines which brands and which products it stocks and promotes. The customer has to buy what the trader offers, or go elsewhere.

Moreover, the market economy is about meeting mass demand, as this is the way to the greatest profit, so it is mass needs that are catered for; those with minority needs either have to go without or have to pay a very high price for what they want. Certainly, there's no intention of being able to fulfil everyone's individual needs.

But the situation is worse even than that. The customer often faces the double jeopardy of consumerism. If the item you want is popular, you are told it is not available because it is in great demand; everyone else has bought it before you got there and the shop has sold out. On the other hand, if the item is unusual, you are told: "Oh we don't stock that; there's no demand for it".

Then we have the great price differential. There is a saying that "you get what you pay for". What this usually means is that quality varies according to price. If it is cheap, it is often badly made and won't last long, for good quality is expensive. Similarly, good service in the market place comes at a very high price. I might look longingly, from an economy- class seat, at the luxury of first-class travel by train or plane, but there are many who cannot aspire above the bus.

Education is riddled with simplistic analogies that serve only to demonstrate that the people making them lack good analytical skills and, sadly, that's not one of the capacities that Curriculum for Excellence has on its list.

Judith Gillespie, development manager, Scottish Parent Teacher Council.

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