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Commentary

Speed and its impact on education

04:03 AM October 30, 2019

The French theoretician Paul Virilio (1932-2018) thinks that “acceleration” or “speed” conditions political and economic power. This means that the intensification of acceleration brings about social, political and economic changes in society. In other words, “societal progress” is conditioned not necessarily by the building of structures and networks, but by the rate or speed of mobility involved in building such structures and networks. Acceleration circumvents the permanence of institutions.

Acceleration comes with a price. It radically alters our sense of time and space, affecting the way we interact with one another and the way we navigate our surroundings. Technological advancements, occasioned by acceleration, have not only impacted our lives by constantly changing the way we move, but have also resulted in practices that hamper our creativities and freedoms. We ignore these damaging practices by conveniently invoking the idea of modern progress.

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In the book “The Original Accident,” Virilio speaks of the invention of “artificial accidents” that come with technological inventions. For example, a crisis such as the millennium bug is only real because computers are prone to breakdowns and viruses. Likewise, traffic accidents are only real because of automobiles, and derailments are only real because of trains. These “modern occupational hazards” are caused by our accelerated production of things that alter our living environments.

Judging by the rate of speed we are experiencing, I fear that we are not going to hit the brakes anytime soon. We are forced to catch up — to “keep up with the times,” as they say.

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A similar phenomenon is happening in the sphere of Philippine education today. Universities are now obsessed with the total quality management approach, the most palpable instance of which is the adoption of the technical language of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). University administrators now gauge success based on the satisfaction of customers or benefactors in the guise of measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) and key result areas (KRAs). KPIs and KRAs are measured in the classroom in the form of measurable “outcomes” that students must be able to perform in standardized ways.

However, TQM, or quality assurance in the context of education, is focused more on the processes and procedures related to what, I think, are erroneously dubbed as “excellent services” (like teaching or research) and “products” (number of graduates or number of published articles) than on genuine quality. Universities are now being run as if they are corporations or, worse, factories, and as such, they must accelerate the same way as corporations and factories. TQM/QA is preoccupied with the regulation of production hiccups or artificial accidents that derail production efficiency—in other words, “crisis management.”

The ideology of TQM/QA has resulted in the invention of “artificial accountability” and a damaging “culture of audit,” argues Stefan Collini (“Speaking of Universities,” 2017). Meanwhile, Bill Readings quips that the university’s central figure is now the “administrator” and no longer the professor (“The University in Ruins,” 1997). Moreover, Jerry Muller observes that educational institutions today are obsessed with playing the game of metrics, conflating quantity and quality (“The Tyranny of Metrics,” 2018).

University ranking mechanisms originally were mere reflections of excellent practices in education. Today, however, the ultima finis of universities is to be ranked, accredited, assessed (or “liked,” to use social media slang). We forget that university education is for the cultivation of culture, the formation of character and the democratization of knowledge. These things require time. Yes, the process is slow!

I jokingly asked my students recently: “When was the last time you’ve participated in anything remotely academic or scholarly in the university? All you see around you are tarpaulins and a hundred nonacademic events happening at the same time! It seems like we don’t have time to be a university!”

Paradoxically, we don’t have time, but we behave in an accelerated and precarious fashion. So, when do we hit the brakes?

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Paolo A. Bolaños, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy and the former head of the Department of Philosophy, University of Santo Tomas, Manila. He is the founding editor in chief of Kritike: An Online Journal of Philosophy (www.kritike.org). He can be reached at [email protected]

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TAGS: acceleration, education, Inquirer Commentary, Paolo A. Bolaños, total quality management, TQM
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