Monday, April 1, 2013

Quality – not only for the Adult Learner.

Quality – not only for the Adult Learner.

I was reading the other day in the Apirl 1st  edition of the Canadian Business magazine (the Innovation Issue) a special report on “35 Radical Ideas to kick-start Canadian Economy”.  Some of the ideas were for companies to hire a chief innovation officer, think globally, and embrace your mistakes (don’t be afraid to fail).  All interesting ideas, but the idea that caught my attention was #3: Start teaching entrepreneurial skills to five-year olds. 

Without specifying what skills exactly they think are a good idea to start early, the notion is that early introduction would foster the early-blooming creative thinkers, but would help create a generation of people for whom concepts such as creativity, problem solving, invention. 

I don’t have a problem with that approach, but I trust that the author understands that as far as being innovative is concerned, he is pretty yesterday; my son was actively involved in the schools-based program called Future Problem Solving International nearly 20 years ago.  FPSI is still active in many school programs around the world as early as age 11-12.  From my experience it was pretty competitive, hand-picked students getting extra attention with the possibility of going to provincial or national or international competitions, but that is also consistent with entrepreneurial spirit.  If my son is typical of the FSPI alumni, they are very successful at doing exactly what this author was talking about. 
But on a related note, every year for the last several, I have been giving lectures to a group of early university level biology oriented science laboratory students on the subject of Quality in the laboratory.  As I talk to this group, I clearly get the message that the information that I am presenting [Quality Control, Error, and Process Management etc] is completely new to them. 

While some of these kids may have come to science very late in their academic stream, I would imagine that most of them would have been involved in some level of  science study in grade school and high school.  They have had some laboratory experience at some time.

I am disappointed that somewhere along the way the concepts of laboratory quality have not been introduced sooner.  It suggests that they are still doing “recipe” experiments without knowing what they are trying to discover, or if their equipment is working properly, or doing chemistry, not knowing if their reagents are stored and maintained properly, or they are doing behaviour experiments but without any controls.
I suspect that many teachers would say that they know that the equipment and reagents are working, but they do that after hours, in order to not waste the students learning time, but that would be a wrong decision.  Teaching science is not about doing experiments, it is about doing experiments properly.

Many of these students are going to end up working in some form of human biology oriented research laboratory or diagnostic laboratory, for at some part of their future.  Some of them get the idea, and absorb Quality into their science knowledge.  Many do not.  We see that in all too many laboratories where the first financial cuts go to proficiency testing, quality control, and accreditation.  Early cuts would also go to terminating internal audits, but since they don’t exist, there is nothing to cut. 

My point is that from the very get-go students should be understanding that science is not about developing theories, it is about defining knowledge through designing and performing experiments using the principles of Quality performance.
That is something that our schools should be teaching five year olds.

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