One of the principles of marketing is ‘know your customer.’ And if you watch television for about 15 minutes, you will clearly see that rule in operation. Energy drink commercials are populated with cool young people doing things at a frenetic pace. Incontinence pads are calmly discussed by white haired people sipping tea in the parlour.
It makes a lot of sense. In fact, you have to ask yourself why this principle isn’t applied by more organisations.
Government organizations in particular should take heed. And in this case, I am thinking about the Ministry of Education.
The school year starts down here next week and a brand new primary school is opening up in response to the influx of people into a rather desirable part of the country. There has been a lot of excitement about the new school. First they had to build it from scratch. So, yes, it’s totally state of the art. It will have 460 students when it’s fully operational and cost $17.3 million. That’s $37,600 per kid. I don’t know if that is high or low.
Then they had to hire teachers and support staff. And through it all, you could track the progress on their web site which even included a web cam setup so you could watch construction in progress. Plus on their web site they have a monthly newsletter that talks about all the fun things they are doing as they establish the school.
And this is where I’m getting confused.
It might be a brand new school, but let’s face it, there doesn’t seem to be an urgent need to break new ground in terms of what will go on in this new building. After all, the nice new building is going to be populated with kids who presumably have the same educational needs as their counterparts around the world. But the people organising this school have decided to reinvent the whole concept of a primary school.
The school is in a part of the country that attracts a lot of tourists who do hiking and exploring and mountaineering and rugged sports. And for some reason, the people organising the school think that the school should reflect that.
For example, this school will not have students. It will have expeditioners. Let me quote from one of their newsletters. The pertinent section is titled “Join Our Learning Pathways to Reach the Summit:”
The students (expeditioners), with the help of their teachers (expedition leaders) and Board of Trustees (expedition planners) will select suitable and personally meaningful expedition goals.
I have to point out that the expeditioners in question are in the 5 to 7 year old age range. So you have to wonder how much input they will have into the expedition goals. But that’s what it says. They (the expeditioners) are going to do it “with the help of . . . “
I can hear little Dakota now, “But Simpson reruns are the only thing I find personally meaningful. And you said I could have personally meaningful expedition goals!”
And are we really supposed to believe that the Board of Trustees, oh, excuse me, expedition planners, are going to get involved in the curriculum for each kid?
But that’s not all.
This school will not have classrooms. It will have “learning pods” (although sometimes they are referred to as “teaching pods”). And they don’t have numbers, they have names such as “Water,” “Sky,” and “Our Earth.”
The article also said that areas of the campus such as meeting rooms would be called “caves,” “watering holes,” or “campfires.”
Although it looks as if the Principal will still be called the Principal, the school receptionist will have the title “Director of First Impressions.”
Usually when you hear about stuff like this (e.g., giving jobs fancy names, like garbage collectors being called “sanitation engineers) you don’t know if it’s really true or who the people who come up with these ideas are.
In this case we do.
Do they mean well? Absolutely. They have noble goals. It is very nice. After all, reminding a receptionist that [he or she] is responsible for first impressions isn’t a bad idea.
But I think that they may have been carried away by their enthusiasm. After all, at some point, no matter how different and unique this school may be, someone is going to have to tell little Tiffany that k-a-t does not spell “cat,” and little Dylan that 2 + 2 = 4.
And I’m not sure if it makes any difference if you do that in the Mother Earth Room or in room 102. Which brings us back to my earlier observations about knowing your customer.
I decided to do a little market research of my own using the assumption that the students of a school are its customers. I asked my nephews to stretch their imaginations to the breaking point and to pretend that they were going to design a brand new school. No rules. No limits. Xtreme out of the box thinking.
At first I thought they had spent the summer at acting school and had perfected the “Blank Stare.” They looked at me as if I were from outer space.
I cajoled them to put themselves in the shoes of the builders and teachers and administrators. What would they want to see in a school.
I don’t know. Maybe more computers. A bigger gym.
Spongebob characters on the wall?
I could see we were getting nowhere, so I decided to, as the marketing people would say, drill down: “Would you give the rooms names or numbers.”
Again, the Blank Stare. I repeated the question.
Well, some rooms should have numbers and some should have names.
Ahh, now we’re getting somewhere, I thought. Could you be more specific?
Well, the library should be called ‘the library,’ and the office should be called ‘the office.’ But classrooms should have numbers.
I was shocked. Just numbers? Not names?
No. If they have names you can’t tell how to find them. Numbers make it easy. You know that the 100 rooms are on the first floor and the 200 rooms are on the second floor. And that room 102 is next to room 103. It makes sense.
Thus spake a nine year old.
And that’s the trouble, I realised: “It makes sense.” But I guess that when you are setting up a school and focused on how new and innovative and exciting and relevant you can make everything, you might forget that your raison d’être is not to climb mountains or retreat to the campfire, but rather to learn.