Education as a Commodity
in North America

The Canada eZine - Education

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The Negative Impact of Standardized Testing

By Nina Teixeira - 2008.

What are the feelings amongst students learning within the North American public education system?

Are they enjoying school?

Do they have a desire to learn?

I wonder, does the atmosphere of public education actually harness the students’ ability and aspiration to learn. With some programs that create education as a commodity such as standardized testing and outcome based education, the harnessing of the desire to learn for students would seem somewhat problematic. With all these expectations and pressures on those in the classroom, it seems that it would be difficult for true appreciation of learning to take place. Education, in the end could be taken for granted or become something alien to those students who participate in the public education system.

Measuring estrangement of students, the focus on outcome-based schools is an appropriate example demonstrating the impact of education as a commodity has on students. As Ken Osborne explains outcome based learning in Canada, “In a sense the language of objectives and outcomes is intended to serve a kind of truth-in-advertising purpose in education.” (Osborne 1999) we understand that outcome based schooling relies upon the results of the students’ learning. This educational approach centered on outcomes is popular amongst ministries of education throughout Canada. (Osborne 1999) Because Canadian education ministries adhere to the idea of outcome based learning, it is important to question why this is happening.

It is believed that students are supposed to be able to do something one can see before they have actually learned the information. (Osborne 1999) Due to this fact, it is stressed that education should be organized in such a manner that an individual is able to “prove” that they have actually learned the material. More importantly, outcome education may serve pre-existing agendas such as business elites calling for higher standards through standardized testing to “remedy” poor educational productivity. (Robertson 2007) Learning through an outcome-based approach reaches goals that do not necessarily represent the goals of students. Outcome-based learning reinforces a mold for students to fit to suit others’ expectations of commodifying education.

Education focused on outcomes and results impacts what is being taught, how it is being taught and whether or not the material is actually of interest to the students. Teaching only specific curriculum that can be tested, neglects other vital lessons.

My own experience regarding commodification of the public education system affirms the alienation and estrangement many students may feel. During my first year of high school, my class was the year the education system was testing the effectiveness of the future mandatory EQAO math tests. The pressure on students to learn difficult concepts such as quadratic equations within a limited time frame knowing you are going to be tested on them does not create a healthy environment that harnesses true complete understanding of the curriculum. Imagine those students with learning disabilities that go undetected, standardized tests such as the EQAO cannot detect their disabilities. Its test results create a false representation of those students and deem them as failing or not meeting standards.

In addition, students such as myself who excelled at other subjects but did poorly in math because they did not feel trigonometry or quadratic equations were necessary tools in the real world , felt the pressure to fit this idea of the “perfect student.” Treating education as commodity by serving expectations outside of students does not help them learn but only hinders them. The education is foreign to them and those already having difficulty with learning are left to feel “stupid” not realizing there could be other reasons they are not understanding the material. Education as a commodity does not validate students or their abilities but treats them as units filling them with “purposeful” information in order to fit a certain standard.

The commodification of education has a profound impact on students. Students become estranged from their learning experience within the public school system. The various methods of out come results and standardized testing enable the commodification of education. This creates a “purpose” for student that many may not set for themselves.

Education is an area in life that is continuous whether a student learns within school or outside of school. Education must primarily serve the best needs of the students. The first step towards this is recognizing students are real people with learning needs. A student is more than entity to fill with certain information to fit a certain mold. Education in public schools should be personal, purposeful, continuous and beneficial when used in the right context. As Neil Postman writes, “Schooling becomes the central institution through which the young may find reasons for continuing to educate themselves” (Postman 1995) this must be the first goal of public education.


Osborne, Ken. Education A Guide to the Canadian School Debate- Or, Who Wants What and Why? Penguin Book Ltd: Toronto, Canada 1999

Postman, Neil. The End of Education-Redefining the Value of School. Alfred A. Knopf Inc: New York 1995

Robertson, Heather-Jane. Great Expectation-Essays on Schools and Society. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: Ottawa 2007

See Also

Privatizing Education in China

Privatizing Education in New Orleans

Privatizing Education in Sweden

Disaster Capitalism in Brazil's Education System

New Orleans: Natural Disaster or Disaster Capitalism?

The Impact of Disaster Capitalism on England's Education System

The Impact of Disaster Capitalism on Hong Kong's Education System

Disaster Capitalism in the United States

The Erosion of Public Schools in Ontario

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