'Soon the thought interrupted again. Quality? There was something irritating, even angering about that question. He thought about it, and then thought about it some more, and then looked out of the window, and then thought about it some more. Quality?… It wasn't until three in the morning that he wearily confessed to himself that he didn't have a clue as to what Quality was, picked up his briefcase and headed home…and when he woke up the next morning there was Quality staring him in the face.'
Robert M Pirsig, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Quality is difficult to define and is an elusive concept. Naomi Pfeffer and Anna Coote have even described it as 'a slippery concept' (1991). It is slippery because it has such a variety of meanings and the word implies different things to different people. While everyone is in favour of providing quality education, the arguments start when we attempt to define what quality means. It is necessary to have a clear understanding of the various meanings or there is a danger that it becomes a mere catchphrase, a word with high moral tone but little practical value.
A possible reason for the enigmatic nature of quality is that it is a dynamic idea. The emotional and moral force that quality possesses makes it difficult to define accurately. In fact, there is an argument against attempting too precise a definition. There is the danger that much of the vitality of the concept can be lost if it is subjected to too much academic analysis. Westley and Mintzberg (1991) make the point that this happens to many important concepts that are freely used in practical settings: