What Do We Value?

Photo Credit: Tax Credits

Photo Credit: Tax Credits

In a recent seminar we concluded that some of society’s values are misaligned. In a world where some economically developed countries are now developing robots to care for their elderly while one can be paid hundreds of thousands of pounds for making yet more money through the financial markets. Consider that also in terms of education. We say we want to deliver value for money in an education system, which we do through batch processes, shipping students through to get the best ‘value’ for money. Interestingly, some less economically developed countries scratch their heads because they can manage to empower their students with an individual laptop each while we, well… can’t.

Some people will tell you this is the natural flow of things. That that is just how it is. That the refuse collector (who really keeps our streets clear of rats and disease) doesn’t warrant such a high salary. Or the teaching assistant, who might be the difference between children achieving a meaningful role in life, or being left to fail. It’s all to do with our values. It asks the question: what do we value? Do we desire for every child to find purpose in life? Or do we value ‘get rich quick’ schemes based on leverage and speculation?

The problem is that this question seems too anecdotal. Is there any variables, or any break down at all that could give it some depth? I think there is. Look at how businesses measure value? Typically in terms of cost I would say. They ask: for every pound I put in, how much do I get back? It drives their decisions of who to hire or what equipment and raw materials they might choose to use. So value might be what you get back to what you put in. And good value typically means you get back more.

The value of return is measured in more than money. If you value a £300 set of Bose headphones, the sound quality must be worth more than £300. Although, can you put a price on quality? Where society’s values are mixed up then is the worth they place on individuals. It looks to me that we place our worth on things, not people.

I also believe that this applies to education. Not just for teachers and commissioners, but for learners. As a higher education student, what do I value? How do I value my time? Or entertainment? What types of work or study are likely to yield the largest dividends in the long term? And it is in no way clear cut. Ask anybody the right leading questions and they’ll tell you they value study. Which is right, if one wishes to do well; more study typically leads to a more empowering job. But we all need balance, so a measure of recreation and entertainment also yields increasing returns.

We need to carefully discern how to value each, and I think it is something that can only be learned individually after one has selected one’s own overarching values of getting a good education.

Value is so much more than monetary. There are things which are somewhat priceless, but wherein we will experience a ‘law of increasing returns’ for putting resources into it.

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