Some years ago, I met with some Japanese executives and they mentioned quality improvement techniques taught in their school system. I asked them when they start teaching these techniques in their schools and one of them responded, “Oh, I would have to ask my son who is in the third grade when he started.” He went on to say, “I myself started when I was in the fourth grade.” These students have grown up to help change the quality of Japanese products and services to the highest standards of the world.
Other Asian countries have taken note of Japan’s success and have followed suit. Starting in primary school and extending throughout high school, students are introduced to the teachings of W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, Kaoru Ishikawa, and many other great figures of quality. They learn quality problem-solving tools, basic kaizen, statistical methods, and a host of East/West theories about human development and behavior.
The city of Lucknow in northern India is home to the City Montessori School, the worlds largest school according to the Guinness Book of World Records with 40,000 students.1 Dr. Jagdish Gandhi and his wife, Mrs. Bharti Ghandi founded it in 1959 and began including quality concepts in their curriculum during the 1990s as they saw what Japan had accomplished.
Jagdish Gandhi’s teachings have spread throughout India and various parts of Asia and Africa. The teachings are shared primarily via an annual convention called the “International Convention on Students’ Quality Control Circles at cities around the world.
For the students from India, given the backdrop of India’s economic rise, one can only wonder what fantastic career paths there will be for these future leaders when they infuse the vigor of their childhood training in quality into their country’s bloodstream.
Meanwhile, what is happening in this country? We are focused on leaving no child behind and certainly would not want to introduce statistical methods in primary school. Even if we were properly motivated to teach improvement techniques to our students so they could compete in the world market on a level playing field basis, you might ask who would teach the teachers?
It turns out that is not a problem. Most institutions of higher learning have a section or department, with a staff that is knowledgeable in quality improvement. The major problem is that they are focused outward and not inwardly on their own system. They provide training for industry on the improvement philosophy and techniques but rarely does the institution practice it internally. If they did, the professors and staff would see the benefits firsthand and quickly work it into their curriculum, including the Department of Education where they train future teachers.
As Dewar and Bammert said in their article, what we are seeing in Asia is a refreshing young class of future leaders. There is little doubt that their early grounding in quality philosophy and tools will strongly influence how they will one day lead, and live. Deming and Juran were Americans who taught the Japanese. It is time now for us to learn from the Asians the importance of teaching quality improvement to our students.