Some time ago, my wife and I decided to enrol my daughter in a children art class. The class was held at a SAFRA building near us, the teachers were impressive – I mean, they were friendly, articulate and professional and really had a way with kids. The facilities were fantastic too. The fees were a little towards the high side, but with all the state-of-the-art set up, we were willing to give it a shot.
Some 12 weeks later, I pulled my daughter out of her arts class. We felt that she was not really learning much during the class. Adding on factors such as the higher than average fees and the late hours of the lesson, all these worked together to produce the final decision to take a break from the class.
What happened in these 12 weeks to change my mind as a customer? Hadn’t they done everything right as a children arts class? After much pondering, these are my learning points:
1) Great teachers cannot salvage an inappropriate curriculum. The teachers were all competent and wonderful. My daughter loved them. As she did the classmates. However, we found that the curriculum was too artificial, too much ‘feel good’ and hype-like activities. Even though the teachers who conducted the lessons did them very well, it didn’t change the fact that the curriculum didn’t quite make the mark.
2) Having a curriculum helps the parents. The art class which my daughter attended did a great job in publicizing the art projects the students were going to do for the upcoming few weeks. It gave parents like me a predictability on what to expect for that lesson, and informs us on what my daughter would miss if we skip the lessons. Imagine we could do that for our Maths and Science lessons. Wouldn’t it help to reassure our customers that we were not wasting time in class?
3) Having a curriculum protects teachers from unfair blames. I imagine how the owner of the art learning center would react when they found out that my daughter had withdrawn from the class. That meant lost revenue to them. Bad for business. Now, they might start pointing the finger at my daughter’s teachers and say, ‘You didn’t do a good job, that’s why the student left.’ But wait. The curriculum had been set by the center, not by the teachers; the teachers only executed the curriculum to their varying abilities. When a student left, it could be due to the curriculum or it could be due to the teacher. If the teachers had been given a free rein to teach whatever they want in the class, when students leave, the full blame would fall onto the teachers’ lap. I don’t believe many teachers will want that.
4) Having a curriculum helps business owners to retain control. As an education business, we want to deliver a predictable service. We have to find a way to at least have control over something that happens in the classrooms, so that we can be answerable to the parents. We cannot shrug our shoulder as business owners and say, “We don’t know, our teachers are fully in charge.” That doesn’t sound like we trust our teachers. That sounds like we abdicated our responsibilities as overseers.
5) Having a curriculum helps to maintain continuity and consistency. As a customer, we knew that whichever teacher my daughter got in the lesson, she would go through the same project stipulated in the company website. Even though every teacher had different style and personality, we knew that the content they delivered (e.g. a water color painting on the Olympics) and the method with which they delivered (e.g. show a related video clip, go through brush strokes worksheet, etc.) would be the same. The lessons did not change drastically when a teacher was absent, and so, we learnt to trust the brand and not only the individual teachers.
Now I am more convinced that a good curriculum is essential to an education business. It’s not only about putting excellent teachers in front of students.
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