On the inertia of systems

For various reasons I am feeling frustrated with the inertia of systems.

I work at a place where the Managed Operating Environment must retain an old version of the Internet Explorer web browser because their massive, expensive, not so user friendly Enterprise Resource Planning System has a web interface that isn’t compatible with more recent Web browsers.

Continuing on with the software perspective, I see software supporting e-learning that similarly can’t keep up with modern web development practices because it’s entire development model is based on earlier practices. Making it extremely difficult to adopt processes and services that would radically improve the experience of teachers and students.

More importantly and fundamentally I see an education system burdened by an accepted way of working that is disenfranchising kids. A system that is actively turning kids off education, and worse, almost turning them off learning. This is not something that has happened recently. It’s possible to see generations of families showing symptoms of this malaise.

And the grand solutions of the day are all examples of first-order change. They accept the present system and just try to improve it. e.g. the “teach for Australia” article in one of the Australian newspapers this weekend. We’ll put “better qualified” people into schools for a couple of years, that will solve the problem.

And I’m complicit in this first-order change. I’m helping enable this inertia.

Mainly because it’s easier. It’s hard enough to do tasks well with existing systems, let alone do something different within existing systems.

I worry about university programs and courses that are closely tied with professional groups or governments, because they help create almost crushing inertia. How do you prepare future educators – whose primary focus often tends to be how to survive the first fives years in the “system” (which the majority don’t) – when you think the entire system is broken?

And on that positive note, it’s off to think about what I’m going to teach next week.

One thought on “On the inertia of systems

  1. We could begin by getting rid of the army of people who tell teachers what to do. They are either professionals or they are not. At the moment they are pseudo-professionals. Imagine medicos being told what to do the way teachers are. They would not have a bit of it. There is just so much invested in education of the past which delivers the pap that you find in the national curriculum. There is a large industry built on generating nonsense curriculum. The folk in that industry have way too much invested to give it up easily. If they had a peek at what is coming down the pipe they should resign en masse in principal. This is pantomime. It has almost no connection to the real world. If these practices operated in any other industry there would be a lot of people in jail for fraud.

    As Russell Ackoff (2004, p. 2) puts it:

    The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become. When we make a mistake doing the wrong thing and correct it, we become wronger. When we make a mistake doing the right thing and correct it, we become righter. Therefore, it is better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. This is very significant because almost every problem confronting our society is a result of the fact that our public policy makers are doing the wrong things and are trying to do them righter.

    Ackoff, R. L. (2004). Transforming the Systems Movement. The Systems Thinker, 15(8). Retrieved from http://www.acasa.upenn.edu/RLAConfPaper.pdf

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