Moslow’s hierarchy of needs in education systems - Explaining the divergence between researchers and practitioners

I had earlier written a long post on the need to address the fundamentals, explaining that slow pace of reform is limiting the debates on ‘what’s to be done’ to primitive prerequisites and that the way to shift the discourse to learning outcomes is, to begin with addressing these fundamentals. Thus, there is a divergence between researchers who recommend focusing on the outcomes and the practitioners whose instinct is to address the fundamentals/primitive prerequisites. All this could have been explained simply using Moslow’s hierarchy of needs. 

Moslow’s hierarchy of needs classifies the hierarchy of human needs as the following. The premise is that one reaches the top level only if all the needs below are satisfied.



Source: Wikipedia

What does such hierarchy of needs look for education systems?



Moslow’s hierarchy of needs for education systems

The premise is same as the Moslow's original hierarchy of needs. The first necessity of an education system is the existence of schools, then comes the other infrastructure facilities and resources, then the constraints faced by personnel in the system, incentives and disincentives. If you address all these then the finally it yields space for efforts to focus on outcomes.

How do researchers and policy advocacy organisations view?




Moslow’s hierarchy as viewed by researchers, policy advocacy organisations etc.

Researchers and policy advocacy organisations view the pyramid from the top, probably they see an inverted pyramid. Thus they view the world through the lens of the tip of the pyramid, learning outcomes, the final stage in the hierarchy. Hence they strongly advocate focusing on this tip,  often forgetting that layers at the bottom are to be addressed first to reach the top, thereby implying to approach the pyramid from the top with disregard to layers at the bottom.  thereby implying to approach the pyramid from the top. Any efforts to address the constraints at the bottom are treated as distractions and are questioned - "but that xyz effort doesn't lead to outcomes". They hold this view despite failure several efforts to directly deal with the tip (scaling up pedagogical interventions like Activity Based Learning etc.) by overlaying pedagogical interventions on the weak foundations, without addressing the constraints at the bottom layers of the hierarchy.

How do practitioners view?




Moslow’s hierarchy as viewed by Administrators

Practitioners and personnel inside the system view the pyramid from the bottom. By the virtue of being in the system, they face the constraints on a daily and these act as constant irritants and hence they end up viewing the system through this lens. Thus, for them, these constraints are to be resolved first in order to create bandwidth to do anything meaningful. Rest all seem pointless to them in the presence of these bottlenecks and thus these constraints end up being perceived as "the binding constraints".  So, their efforts or immediate instinct is to address the constraints at the bottom.
By the virtue of belief that the issues at the bottom layers are "the binding constraints", once such constraints are resolved, the administrators believe that major problem is solved and hence tend to get complacent losing sight of the nirvana at the top. This, coupled with the slow pace of reform means that they never progress to the top to do the actual things that directly affect outcomes, causing discomfort in the researchers and policy advocacy organisations.

What to do?




Get a jet — progress above by swiftly addressing the constraints at the bottom

Get a jet — progress above by swiftly addressing the constraints at the bottom
Understandably, it’s not possible to ask the personnel in the system to work without addressing their fundamental constraints first. One can’t hold a teacher accountable if she shows you a class of 70 and asks,"how can she ensure learning to all of them?" (large class size is only used as an example to illustrate the world view looked through the lens of bottom layer in the pyramid). You can’t distinguish if it’s because of lack of teacher’s efforts or large class size. All such issues are to be resolved quickly to remove the scope for alibis and to ease the bandwidth of teachers.
However, the slow pace of reform means that it requires enormous efforts even to get a small thing done! In such contexts, the insiders have to persistently voice the concerns, which are at the bottom of our pyramid, for a long time. The policy discourse and mental bandwidth of the decision makers end up being dominated by the issues at the lower level, inhibiting the vision to look at the broad picture.  In such situations, it is difficult to steer the discourse and actions to  and focus on learning.
So, the way out is to address these constraints as soon as possible, flushing them out of discourse and paving way for learning outcomes in the discourse and actions.
In a nutshell , to reiterate from the earlier post
the first step towards shifting the focus to learning has to be to focus on the fundamentals (counterintuitive), so that the discourse moves beyond it towards the abstractions of learning.

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