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Response From PhotoForum to A Future Education Policy: The Tertiary Education Review GreenPaper 1997
TO: The Senior Support Officer, PCET Policy, Ministry of Education This summary reflects the views of PhotoForum Inc. (founded 1973). We are a non-profit forum of independent photographers with educational goals, and a considerable number of our members work in the education sector either as teachers or as students.
The fundamental flaw running through the Green Paper is the erroneous assumption that it is possible to apply basic business principles to educational institutions without destroying their unique purpose.. Education is a process, not a product. It is a public good when it is invested democratically. But if it is morally or financially bankrupted the education system could lend itself to political abuse, to the detriment of the whole country. Education, we argue, is not about telling us what we already know, but about encouraging critical enquiry into the meaning of all things.
The purpose of knowledge combined with a liberal philosophy of use value is to enable us to think and act responsibly toward one another and our environment while comprehending the familiar and unknown.
While it is true that basic techniques can be taught relatively easily and economically, learning to use these tools well can take many directions and a lifetime of learning. Because photography can be used as a means of communication, for artistic expression, or as a powerful tool for business, commerce and propaganda, it needs to be taught with care to prevent confusion over ends and means.
A secure future economy is dependent on the continuing spiritual as well as economic wellbeing of the people. Although the outcomes of good teaching/learning are not quantifiable, they are the essential guide to a better future.
By insinuating that educators should be more concerned about helping Government save money, than helping people invest wisely in their human potential, the authors of the Green Paper have failed to understand the nature of the educative process or the first principles of economics. What is the point of saving money if those savings are not invested more wisely?
As image makers and educators in a small but important sector of society, we know the danger of entering any territory, whether a classroom, school, or community with the wrong attitude and equipment. Fundamental misunderstandings are sure to arise when inaccurate measurements are made, and risk damaging the very complex infrastructures that make something what it so uniquely is.
Our reading of the Green Paper is that the writers have attempted to overlay an inappropriately crude business model over a complex liberal education model which could not but damage our tertiary organisations and weaken rather than improve their performance. The time taken to learn how to do something well is an essential but invisible ingredient in education as it is in manufacturing. But the time taken can be costed out only after the work is completed. A wrong calculation allowing for too little time will result in an unfinished work. A known time limit is unlikely to produce the depth of image that makes all the difference between the mediocre and exemplary. But then, like investing in cheap shoes, one would be a fool to expect them to last as long as the best that one can buy.
PhotoForum can see that it is necessary to review tertiary education. Exemplary teachers can help their students produce the very best results they are capable of, but they must have sufficient time to do so. A school is only as good as its teachers and support systems. Wise managers will centre their organisation around teaching and learning, which unlike prestige and the office safe, can be attacked, but not easily cracked.
Essentially, liberal publicly funded education is a vital investment that produces not products but, at best, helps to create the wise and trustworthy guides who are needed to take us into the unknown regions of the future.
Yours, John B. Turner, Director and Managing Editor,PhotoForum Inc.