Where Is Education Going?

Suppose I run a factory and am looking for unskilled labour.   If you saw one of my ads, would the job requirements look like this?

  • The candidate must have at least some skills in:
    • Reading  (there will be some written instructions)
    • Writing (There will b e simple reporting requirements)
    • Arithmetic (Some tasks will require computation)
  • Punctual
  • Obedient
  • Neat & orderly
  • Follows instructions well
  • Works quietly
  • Can work with a small group
  • Respects authority

I doubt any of those requirements for my unskilled factory job would surprise you.

From a different point of view, suppose I suggest that things people teach are the things they want to see more of. 

The school list is very similar. Take another look. School teaches more than facts. It teaches behaviour.

Public education came to the front in the early part of the industrial age. Factory work required different skills than did agriculture or forestry.  There existed a need to educate children to work effectively in factories and the system that arose perfectly exemplified the needs of industry.  As it should have.  Manufacturing was the growth sector.  Agriculture was beginning to shrink.

Leap forward 150 years.  Today about 10% of the workforce is in manufacturing.  Down from 30% in 1950.  Should there be substantive change in the education system’s deliverables?

Today the distribution of goods at retail and wholesale and the provision of “other” services, medical and related for example have grown immensely.  Finance has about quadrupled.  Construction has not changed much.  Manufacturing peaked and reduced by two thirds.

Education is too important to accept an unchanging system.  In today’s world, the ability to communicate effectively about complicated and rapidly changing subject matter is crucial.  Yet many young people, in writing at least, appear at first glance to be illiterate.  Would it be wise for the educations system to emphasize what matters?

The ability to research subjects today is beyond anything we children of the ’60s could have believed.  The little wooden drawers full of cards in the library served as our Google.  Despite the richness of the material available, many young people accept facile and superficial ideas without challenge.

Critical thinking is a dying skill.  It is hard to imagine that a population with critical thinking skills would be so easily taken in by marketing people, politicians, community leaders, scientists, television commentators, and internet paranoids.  Even a modicum of judgement dismisses the foolish claims.

The trick is to have the judgement skills and then seek more realistic assessments.  More than 20% of the population have a lottery win as part of their retirement plan.  That does not speak well for their judgement.  Worse yet, more than that believe the government has their own money.  That won’t end well.

Education has two parts. A message and a way to deliver it. The old delivery lacks modern production values. It does not matter how good your message may be if no one listens to you.

Religions could take that to heart too.

Contact: don@moneyfyi.com  

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

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