The failing doctrine of shareholder value maximization

In the last decades of the 20th century management as a profession has fallen into a deep crisis. The preceding decades had revealed a promising development: From the beginning of the 20th century, companies hired professional managers who supervised companies on behalf of the owners. As dedicated professionals they took into consideration the long-term interests of all stakeholders.

However, the rise of neoliberalism – in politics and science – put shareholders in the role of the owners of listed companies. Increasing shareholder value became the primary task of a company’s management.

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The income of top managers – worldwide – increased explosively during the last years of the century because their remuneration package consciously consists of a large part of shares (options). The idea is that shareholders’ interests were guarantied if they coincided with the financial interests of managers. Professional managers sold – so to say – their soul[1].

Recently, a prominent business school has disclosed the unsustainability of this view. Cass Business School, part of City University of London, initiated for two years the Purpose of the Corporation Project[2]. This project was completed in Brussels on 28th September 2016 in a meeting of scientists, politicians and business leaders from Europe and the US.

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Maximization of shareholder value is inherently a short-term policy. It has several effects that harm the profitability and even its existence in the long term:

  • Declining investment in research and development
  • Irresponsible risk-taking
  • Externalities like loss of confidence from society, undermining monetary stability and exploitation of the environment
  • Cost reduction resulting in restructuring and related closure of business establishments (mergers, acquisitions, buyouts)
  • Tax evasion, limiting the resources for investment in infrastructure

The only viable perspective is a “corporate purpose” in favour of the creation of value for all stakeholders and to contribute to social welfare and environmental quality.

The final report is build on five so-called Modern Governance Statements regarding business law, management, accounting, economics and public policy. These statements are based on an extensive review of literature. A significant number of scientists have discussed and approved each statement.

Here is a selection of edited quotes from the five statements:

  • Almost in any country, the answer to the question ‘who owns a company with a legal personality’ is ‘the company itself’. By no means shareholders do.
  • Companies can raise capital, for instance by issuing shares. Shareholders are entitled to receive dividends and to raise their voice in a number of clearly defined subjects.
  • In almost all legislations the fiduciary duties of the management of a company include its long-term survival.
  • No law requires management to pursue maximum profits for shareholders. If they do, it is because they succumb to pressure from activist shareholders or for their own gain.
  • In the ’90s monitoring the reporting of companies passed from national governments and parliaments to the International Accounting Standards Board. As a result, the focus of the reporting narrowed to the provision of information to investors and the calculation of the assets based on market value.
  • The idea of a social partnership between civil society institutions – including businesses – went lost.

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The final report of the Purpose of the Corporation Project[3] kept two options to managers and shareholders: Whether persisting the current direction, which will ultimately result in the disappearance of the company or redesigning the company as a social institution serving the interests of all stakeholders.

How? Here is a selection of the recommendations in the report.

  1. Values (“Purpose”)
  • Companies explain their values and goals and define their responsibilities with respect to all stakeholders such as employees, customers and shareholders and society and nature al large.
  • Management establishes the implications of the purpose for strategy and (investment) policy and also how to reduce associated risks.
  • Companies accentuate their intentions with regard to the achievement of social objectives by adopting the status of B(enefit) Corporation.
  1. Operating as a community
  • The intensified control of the employees has resulted in loss of their engagement and quality of their work as well.
  • Employees who organize their work independently perform better and feel more satisfied. After all they have product and market knowledge and maintain relationships with suppliers and customers.
  • New organizations deploy less hierarchy, reduce of the number of managers and transfer management tasks to employees.
  1. Revision income stimulus
  • Top management will receive a fixed salary that is part of the remuneration structure of the company. All incomes are transparent.
  • Variable remuneration applies to all employees and is linked to the achievement of long-term objectives and the satisfaction of the customers as well.
  1. Participation of stakeholders
  • Representation of employees, clients and shareholders in the board and in the General Meeting will strengthen the relationship between the company (management) and its stakeholders
  1. Search for patient capital
  • Distinguishing between different categories of shareholders will stimulate stewardship by shareholders with a long-term interest.
  • Making shareholders’ rights dependant from the duration of their involvement in the company.
  1. Protection from hostile takeovers
  • In order to protect their long-term policy, companies deploy mechanisms to prevent hostile takeovers, for instance by transferring shares to a foundation.
  1. Reporting
  • The method of reporting is geared to long-term policy. The Integrated Reporting Framework is an alternative for common accounting rules who intend to inform investors in the first place
  • The main goal of reporting is disclosure of value creation in the broadest sense, including in relation to non-financial capital.

The Purpose of the Corporation Project has provided a new benchmark for corporate governance, the financial world and professional managers. But it is also a new benchmark for the relation between society and business. Finally, it is a signal for shareholders to avoid short-term thinking.

[1] In 1993 CEO’s of the top 25 companies in the US earned 195 times the salary of an average worker. In 2012 their salaries were raised to 354 times the salary of an average worker. Institute for Policy Studies
1112 (16th Street NW, Suite 600)
Washington, DC 20036

[2] Overview of the background of the project: https://goo.gl/vNJQjr

[3] The final report reads like an up-to-date introduction to corporate governance: “Corporate Governance for a changing world: Final Report of a Global Roundtable Series” https://goo.gl/bdEaQp

 

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Agility and the future of universities

Higher education is the subject of sustained criticism. 81% of US employers are referring at a skills gap[1] and 51% believe that graduates are underprepared for the labour market[2]. Young teachers in particular complain being overburdened and underpaid. Students are contesting growing performativity, alleged commodification and subsequent rigidity of the curriculum, lack employment and in the US towering debts.screenshot-5At first sight, students’ and employers’ interests are opposed. The recent Reimagining Education Conference at Wharton University revealed quite a different perspective[3]. According to Santiago Inigues, dean of IE Business School (Madrid), most employers mention specific skills (coding, accounting, marketing, language) but in the first place they prefer broad education (‘Bilding’), including critical thinking and problem solving skills, ability to communicate, to work in groups, to handle conflicts and language proficiency. Employers won’t believe it, but these competencies are exactly the intended earning outcome of liberal arts colleges.

Unfortunately, liberal arts colleges have a brand trust issue. Participants of the conference agreed that many do not deliver what they promise. There is ample evidence that quite a number of its students lack any progress in problem solving and critical thinking skills during their undemanding study[4].

On the other hand, those who want to acquire specific skills like coding, marketing, accounting or foreign languages should avoid universities. A growing number of dedicated institutions like Fullbridge and General Assembly offer competency-based courses on line, blended or face-to-face. These courses are better and cheaper than the offer of any university whatsoever. According to Jaime Casap (Google) companies like his’ are monitoring job applicants’ competences and are not or only remotely interested in their subject, grade or university. Universities seem to have lost their way.

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What went wrong? According to Martin Luckmann and Christiana Prange universities are no longer what their name suggests: Universitas magistrorum et scolarium literally means community of teachers and students[5]. Instead, universities have become a credit-point producing industry, delivering grades of variable but mostly mediocre importance. The problem is not that teachers aren’t competent in their subject: They fail in supporting the development of students’generic academic competences or in plan language, as academic educators[6].

imagesLuckmann and Prange compare the current approach to learning in universities with the development of enterprise software. The implementation of massive all-embracing software in companies seldom results in satisfying solutions. The same applies to a curriculum that has to serve hundreds of students at once. In software development the agile approach is gaining ground, which in essence is based on interaction between developers and customers, taking customers’ needs and wants as starting point.

images-1In the same way, agile universities will put the interaction between students and teachers in the centre. Therefor they rely in a large degree on self-organization. A rich variety of teaching-learning interactions appear, mostly based on co-design. Students are getting acquainted with a broad range of disciplines and learn to search, apply and deepen relevant knowledge in projects, favourably in collaboration with parties outside the university.

The agile university has not to be more expensive than conventional universities. Getting acquainted with theoretical knowledge can be self-organized by deploying free available high quality open educational resources. Lecture halls are superfluous. Instead, universities will become networks of academic workplaces, varying from townhouses to sophisticated labs. The agile university has no fixed study length. Students will combine study with other work or invest in their own development.

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Graduates of the agile university have been stimulated to adapt their study path to their emerging interest in an intensive exchange with fellow-students, teachers and people outside the university. Their acknowledgement with the agile method will enable them afterwards to be adaptive in a large range of situations where their professional or personal opinion is demanded.

Disclaimer

Any master plan that intends to reinvent a university or faculty as an agile workplace will fail. The development of agile learning places requires agility itself, carefully taking into consideration local personal and characteristics, opportunities and constraints. Eager proponents at best facilitate teachers and groups who want to change teaching and learning practices. Their example will be followed, criticized and improved and agile workplaces will emerge. The result might be excellent, albeit in an unpredictable way.

[1] Survey American Society for Testing and Development (2012)

[2] McKinsey (2012)

[3] My account of this conference is based on a World Economic Forum publication: Education vs work skills: what do employers really want? http://weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/education-vs-work-skills-what-do-employers-really-want/

[4] Read about the lack of progress in critical and analytical thinking skills in my post ‘Why universities underachieve’: http://wp.me/p3lna5-4n

[5] Luckmann and Prange wrote a though provoking contribution in Global Focus, the magazine of the EFMD: Agile Universities http://globalfocusmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Issue_2_2016_agileuniversities.pdf

[6] The obvious exception are universities with an elaborated system of tutoring like Cambridge and Oxford

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How much knowledge do we need more to save the world?

 images-2Knowledge has become ubiquitous. The same applies to stupidity, greed, fundamentalism and the quest for power. Definitely, it applies not to peace, happiness or wisdom. In spite of undeniable progress with respect to income, medical care, education and technology last decades the world did not become a better place. The ubiquity of knowledge has not been very helpful. On the contrary, knowledge has been a steady accomplice in the decline of the earth.

The production, distribution and use of knowledge

The number of academicians has never been higher than today. Moreover, knowledge is produced in many places outside universities: company research labs, high-tech start-ups, research institutions, think tanks and newspapers. Not to forget tacit knowledge that is emerging in practice. The growth of knowledge has gone far beyond anybody’s capacity to absorb. The time when academic knowledge could be stored in textbooks is long gone. The best scientists prefer to explore their own niches, sometimes between disciplines, using a variety of methods. Unfortunately they stick together in rather homogeneous clans.

imagesPrinted or electronic sources in which knowledge is stored are ubiquitous too. The sheer number of scientific publications is doubling every 9 years since 1950[1]. Unfortunately, many publications are incomparable due to differences in assumptions, variables, definitions, methods and size of research populations. Besides, potential beneficiaries from scientific research rarely read scientific publications. The chance that they will find information that is useful to them has decreased significantly during the past decades[2]. The fact that some publications explicate their practical relevance in a few sentences at the end is by no means a solution for this problem.

A new perspective

Fortunately, some politicians, entrepreneurs and public servants do be open for academic support for the benefit of themselves, their company or institution and for society. At the same time, a growing group of scientists regrets the arduous contacts between science and society. The solution is mutual engagement: Groups of scientists team-up with representatives from for example companies, NGO’s and not-for-profit institutions and try to match research interest and practical needs in collaborative projects.

Higher education

unknown-3Many teachers assume that students have to be saturated with disciplinary knowledge first before its application can be practiced. This outmoded idea has proven not to work because of the abundance of scientific knowledge, the blurring of disciplinary borders and the situated character of ‘real problems’. In stead, students acquire meaningful knowledge only if they learn to deal with unstructured problems from the first day they enter university. The development of a more structured knowledge base can wait and might be reserved for students who aspire a career in academia. Disciplinary bachelor programs might be replaced by the study of societal problems like environment, migration and integration, healthcare, energy and the like.

Knowledge in general is abundant but is meaningless for saving the world. In the meantime, knowledge that is developed and learned within the context of understanding and solving real problems is badly needed.

[1] A rather conservative estimation of the growth of the number of scientific publications: http://goo.gl/UkQbtj

[2]Pearce, J. L., & Huang, L. (2012): The decreasing value of our research to management education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 11(2), 247-262.

 

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The lecture is the iconic symbol of wastage in higher education

Close your eyes and imagine a large industrial site at the end of the 19th century. 1000’s of laborers are sitting behind sewing machines. Still keep your eyes closed and imagine a lecture hall, again rows and rows of students who hurry to copy the words of the teacher.

The resemblance is clear. The difference too: The industrial site is history. The lecture hall is present-day[1].

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My thesis is: The essence of higher education is under pressure. The reason is that universities failed to adapt their educational methods to the large growth of the number of students. As a consequence, the small classrooms of the past made room for the lecture halls of the present.

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge – who largely stayed unchanged – demonstrate what the essence of higher education might be. Once or twice a week students meet their personal tutor. During each meeting, tutors challenge students with assignments based upon scientific or societal problems. Subsequently, students read a lot and they write down their findings. In a next meeting the tutor is giving feed back, elucidates new viewpoints, suggests additional reading and occasionally initiates research projects, relating theory and practice.

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The description above allows me to define two essential pillars of scientific education:

  1. The active acquisition of scientific knowledge, which goes far beyond the capability to reproduce it.
  2. The growth of students’ competence to analyse, reflect and solve real live-problems, and to think and judge in a critical way

Onderwijs - academically adriftThe majority of contemporary universities are realizing these outcomes only partially. Research in the US has revealed that about 40% of college students did not make any progress with respect to analytical and critical thinking skills in four consecutive years[2].

As far as universities are aware of their own failure, the usual reflex is blaming government because funding largely stayed behind the growth of the number of students. I do not expect any substantial change in this respect. And maybe it is better that universities economize themselves first.

So, universities face the challenge to improve the quality of their education and to deal with a growing and ever more differentiated student population, while funding is remaining largely the same. If they fail, they risk disruption in the next decade. This challenge will be solved only, if universities innovate, in particular by deploying ICT.

Availability onlineUniversities can economize by flipping their classrooms radically and supporting their students in choosing appropriate open educational resources like MOOCs (= massive open online courses). At this time, MOOCs cover any part of scientific knowledge. The best scientists are involved in their development and educational technologists have designed the best visual support. The only expenses relate to delivering feedback at student’s assignments.

MOOCs or other digital sources are able to contribute significantly to the active acquisition of knowledge, the first pillar of higher education. But what about the second pillar; developing the competence to analyse, reflect and solve real live-problems and to arrive at critical thinking and judgment. This pillar definitely goes beyond the capabilities of open educational resources.

Onderwijs - Aalborg 5

The one way to develop this competency is engaging students in independent work, like writing theses and doing projects. Projects might be executed in small groups and students learn to deal with real problems and their owners. This independent work must cover a substantial part of students’ time. Of course students need expert teachers’ supervision. After having reduced their activities with respect to knowledge transfer significantly, teachers will have ample time to act as project supervisors and most will love it.

Finally, government might play a role the transition of higher education. This is supporting the execution of transition plans to be submitted by higher education institutions.

[1] This blogpost is based on my contribution to a round table discussion about innovation in higher education at August 30th in Maribor (Slovenia) in presence of the minister of education.

[2] See my blogpost Why universities underachieve http://wp.me/p3lna5-4n

 

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Will Self-management replace managerialism in higher education?

Onderwijs - schaalvergroting ROC Leiden

The megalomaniac building that paved the way of a Dutch educational institution into bankruptcy 

In the eighties of the 20th century managers started taking over power in educational institutions[1]. Their ambitions were towering: More well paying foreign students, higher scores at international rankings, monitoring systems to control the duration of studies, institutionalized quality control systems. Numerous mergers, ostensibly for reasons of efficiency, impressive buildings and private drivers fuelled the egos of the new managerial class. New Public Management offered the exquisite administrative instruments they needed: integral management, hierarchical leadership and performance indicators to control middle management, teachers and students.

Meanwhile, the results have become visible: Occasional successes but many failures: Towering debts – often as a result of real estate projects – rising admission fees, calculating and consumptive students, overloaded – mostly not tenured – teachers, dominance of research over education, and growing organizational clutter[2] and overhead. Traditional well-known small-scaled colleges, where teachers and students formed close-knit communities, went lost.

Change is in the air. Students and teachers are revolting against the commodization of the educational system, universities in particular. They fear one-sided vocational orientation, uncritical collaboration with commercial firms and decreasing academic quality. Besides, a long row of scientific publications gives strong evidence that the mergers and acquisitions are increased costs, rather than bringing savings[3].

More democracy and autonomy must be paired

Worldwide students and academics ask for more democracy. More democracy often is identified with empowering representative bodies, without necessarily easing the regulative power of the government of universities. If this is all, the lack of freedom in the workplace and the pressure of bureaucracy will persist. As a consequence, democracy at institutional level must include a satisfactory level of autonomy in the workplace, where research and teaching are organized.

Onderwijs - rendementsdenkenHierarchical personnel management and extensive planning and control systems enabled late 20th century companies to produce massive volumes at low prices for relatively stable and continuously growing markets. Nowadays, the environment is changing at high-speed, requiring flexibility and development of new products in short notice. The labour force is well educated and prepared to take or share managerial responsibility. At the same time most workers feel disengaged under conditions of vertical control.

The demand for self-management is growing worldwide and goes beyond educational institutions. A growing number of publications have created an inspiring picture of the 21century organisation. One of the first protagonists of self-management was Ricardo Semler, who asked for more happiness and relaxation at work[4]. Lars Kolind has disclosed his own experience in a self-managing company[5], Brian Robertson has described his creation of holacracy, an elaborated model of self-government[6]. The absolute bestsellers of Laloux[7] and Getz[8] offer descriptions of companies and other organizations that have implemented self-management.

The ultimate goal of the transformation process of educational institutions, as part of a broader movement, is better education and research under responsibility of teachers, researchers and students practising distributed management, supported by a capable staff and enabled by engaging leaders. Less bureaucracy and overhead will increase money for education and research.

[1] Wikipedia is describing managerialism as belief in the value of professional managers and of the concepts and methods they use. It is associated with hierarchy, accountability and measurement.

[2] Decluttering higher education is a challenge. Read my last blogpost: http://wp.me/p3lna5-5G

[3] Ben Martin: What’s Happening to our Universities? From: Science Policy Research Working Paper Series, University of Sussec 2016. https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=2016-03-swps-martin.pdf&site=25

See also: David Matthews: Centralising Universities ‘ignores evidence of what works best’ in Times Higher Education February 15th 2016 https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/centralising-universities-ignores-evidence-what-works-best

[4] Ricardo Semler: Semco style, 2013

[5] Lars Kolind & Jacob Botter: Unboss, 2014

[6] Brian Robertson: Holacracy, 2015

[7] Frederic Laloux: Reinventing organizations, 2015

[8] Isaac Getz and Brian Carney: Freedom, Inc., 2014.

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Decluttering higher education

Some time ago, The Economist published a column entitled Decluttering the company[1]. Over the past 25 years quite a few companies have successfully introduced lean. Still, many organizations ignored the transformation to lean and they are starting to suffer from organizational clutter[2]: Countless meetings, lots of emails, expanding regulations and an increasing number managers are keeping employees from their work and inhibit their creativity. Harvard professor Teresa Amabile: Clutter is taking a toll on both morale and productivity. Creativity felt markedly if working days were punctuated by meetings.

Organisatie - complexiteit 7

The publication of the column in The Economist resulted in a flood of consenting comments[3]. According to Katharina Watson the situation is even worse in education: The most debilitating form of clutter is organizational complexity. The Boston Consulting Group approves her view by asserting that the organization of schools has become six times more complicated over the past 50 years: The number management layers, the number of managers and the number of coordinating bodies have increased, the bureaucracy has been strengthened, the number of objectives to be achieved simultaneously is doubled and the demand for internal communication has exploded.

Organisatie - complexiteit 2Ask any university teacher who is her or his boss. Some – probably those who have been employed the largest number of years – shrug their shoulders as though the answer matters. Others might count ten bosses at least: the chairman of the department, the head of the school, the managing director, the program director of the bachelor, the program director of the master, the director of education, the director of research, the chairman of the faculty council and the dean. Not to forget the chairmen of the education committee and the board of examiners. And we’re only talking about bosses at faculty level.

In the 80’s many educational organizations implemented a matrix structure. At that time, advisors warned to be aware of its complexity. In the meantime, three or four-dimensional matrices have become normal.

Organisatie - complexiteit 3The strong increase in complexity of higher educational institutions is accompanied by the diversity of tasks that academic personnel are performing simultaneously. Ask any university teacher to write down her or his tasks during an average week. The result: six to ten lectures or working groups in bachelor and master programs spread over three to five courses, the development of new courses, supervision of bachelor and master theses, meetings of committees, discussions with PhD students, delivery of information to prospective students, participation in teacher training, attending meetings and consulting colleagues, regional contacts, deliberations with foreign universities, tutorials with students, answering emails, and joining social media forums. They also do research, which involves various activities as well.

Universities can learn from lean. In essence, these six principles might help:

  • Concentration of academic staff members’ work in two programs in the same time at most, for instance the bachelor and a research project. After a couple of years, these programmes might rotate.
  • Collaboration with a limited number of colleagues to built a tight team that is responsible for as many as possible activities associated with the program in order to reduce external dependencies.
  • Granting responsibility to these teams with respect to the majority of program-related activities and budget.
  • Enabling the team to self-organize their work and to chose a leadership style, for instance the election of a team leader or the deployment of distributed leadership.
  • Frequent organizing by the team of deliberations with students to maximize their participation, and engagement and to learn from their opinions.
  • Strengthening of team member’s engagement by spending of a certain amount of time to quality improvement and innovation.

Education yearns for simple structures: less managers and more content-related collaboration between teachers. The quality of education and employee satisfaction will be the winners.

[1] http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter

[2] http://ccweek.com/article-4083-communications-clutter:-the-enemy-of-creativity.html

[3] http://info.chromeriver.com/blog/bid/353773/What-s-Organizational-Clutter-and-Why-Should-You-Care

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Teachers: Be educators!

The number of competency-based education programs within universities in the US has risen to more than 500. Recently, a manifesto was published, featuring the ten most important design rules for competency-based programs[1]. One of these rules will be highlighted here, because of it relevance for all forms of education.

This rule is: Teachers reflect and discuss in depth how graduates are supposed to behave professionally, intellectually and socially. With other words, which competencies students ought to reveal upon graduation. In still other words, what is the role of the school and its teachers in educating young people?

Onderwijs - frontaal onderwijs 2

The rule mentioned above seems obvious; still common practice differs: Many schools cherish their traditional subjects and the autonomy of the individual teachers in their classrooms. Here teachers transmit the same subject matter year after year, mostly with the help of textbooks whose content is traceable to decades-old and often out-dated scientific knowledge, if any. This kind of teaching is accompanied by a reproduction-oriented learning style aimed at attaining the exams. After leaving school most content will be forgotten. Beyond the classroom it appears to be a load for the memory and not a light for the mind.

Fulfilling the above-mentioned rule requires that teachers engage actively with the redesign of the curriculum. This is a collaborate effort and cannot be accomplished by individual teachers alone within the context of their own discipline.

Onderwijs - silos in onderwijs

This does not mean that teachers have to abolish their subject-related expertise. The design of the curriculum has to balance the acquisition of disciplinary insights by students and their integrated use in the analyses of real-life problems. Students cannot be left alone in this process of integration, as it is the most difficult part of the educational process by far. Problem-based and project learning, community-based learning and role-play are in place; activities that can only be accomplished by collaborative work within teaching teams. As a consequence, teachers must collaborate also in the supervision of their students. Their role in the governance of schools will change as well. An inspiring example is the Evangelische Schule Berlin-Zentrum, Teachers developed the curriculum and the governance structure of the school is based on self-management[2].

Onderwijs - ESBZ

In secondary education in Finland subjects have been abolished in order to enable a debate on what education is about. Before the University of Maastricht opened its doors, the same happened and teachers collaboratively designed a new curriculum with future competences in mind.

The worst that could happen to teachers is the assignment of a state-commission to this job. In that case, the profession of a teacher is reduced to a classroom executive playing a statutory role. Unnecessary to say that under these circumstances improvement in student’s learning outcomes will be minimal.

Teachers must instead take responsibility for the whole educational process within the school and as a consequence recover their authority and leadership not only as individuals but also as a team.

 

[1] The report is called: Shared design elements and emerging practices or competency-based education programs. http://www.cbenetwork.org/sites/457/uploaded/files/Shared_Design_Elements_Notebook.pdf

[2] See for an extensive description of the school and its educational principles: Frederic Laloux: Reinventing organizations, p. 93. Visit the website of the school at: http://www.ev-schule-zentrum.de/aktuell/

 

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