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Lean Education: Can it Work?

I saw an article on CNN and thought it would make a good point about Lean. The piece is titled “Why teaching is ‘not like making motorcars’”. The article compares education with producing cars, but misses a key point.

Can Lean Education Work? (Photo by Daniel Case)

The article starts out by saying, “Sir Ken Robinson says our education system works like a factory.” (Sir Ken Robinson is a British author.)

I disagree. I think schools are nothing like modern Lean factories

Look at it this way. Every student in a school district goes through an identical process to complete their education. Does every car sold in that same district go through an identical process? Not even close. There are probably hundreds of different production lines catering to the unique needs of different groups of drivers. It seems that if schools really were like car companies, they’d create multiple tracks of education that matched the needs of the diverse groups of students.

Schools do break out the very best and brightest, and those in need of special education, but the majority of students at each grade level are treated with a far more mass production approach than any modern car company I can think of. Essentially, schools use the 1908 mass production techniques of Henry Ford, not modern Lean manufacturing methods.

While I agree with many of the assessments of Robinson about education, I find that the article highlights how little most people understand about manufacturing today.

Manufacturers must understand their customers’ needs and meet them, or they go out of business. They must create conditions that make workers productive and satisfied in their jobs, or their employees will leave. They must continuously improve their processes to stay competitive.

I’d go so far as to say that the title of the article should be “Why teaching should be more like making motorcars”.

What do you think? What aspects of modern production methods could be applied to ‘Lean education’?

 

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