With the unemployment rate hovering near eight percent and employers claiming they cannot find enough qualified workers to fill openings, it becomes obvious that they system is broken. Are our schools failing our students? Are our students failing to grasp their lessons? Are our employers failing to communicate their needs? Clearly, we need to re-evaluate our educational system. But in order to do so, we must first establish some definitions.
If you say the word “education”, some people may think first of ivy covered walls. Others see children in a classroom. If we are to transition the meaning of education from the transference of information to students to the preparation of a student to function in the workplace, we must realize that education begins with the first attempt at teaching baby to say “Dada” and ends only with death. Each component of that education is critical to the success of the individual and is the responsibility of nearly every corner of our society.
If this premise is true, then we must also consider the technological advances in the last 100 years. A person who intends to retire in 2013 remembers life without television, party line telephones with live operators connecting calls, the first space ships, and slide rules. A handheld calculator from a dollar store is more powerful than the computer that controlled our first space ships. Is it possible that technology has surpassed academia’s ability to keep up? Not only is it possible, it is likely! There is almost no comparison between the educational needs of a high school graduate joining the workforce in 1967 and the high school graduate of today. But our school systems have not developed in a manner that is commensurate with those needs.
So what are we as American’s to do to rectify the situation?
Our first step is probably to recognize the role of technology in our daily lives and embrace not only the convenience it brings, but also the knowledge it provides. Certainly it is completely intertwined in all aspects of our lives, from work to home. We depend on it to communicate, to educate us, to share images and thoughts, to navigate on trips. A five year old playing “Blues Clues” online doesn’t even realize that he is also learning. Colleges are offering more and more programs online as an alternative to traditional classrooms. Virtual classrooms save money for the institution and offer a convenient option for working parents and other people that find attending on-campus classes a challenge.
The trap that accompanies this love affair America has with technology is that it is becoming easier every day to depend on its benefits without considering the support that technology requires. When we depend upon machines to perform the mathematical functions we need, we forget how to perform those functions without them. The five year old playing “Blues Clues” is not aware of the need of the binary system to drive the computer. In fact, when was the last time you stopped to think about the fact that the computer is based on electricity being on or off? This translates to the zero, one counting done in the binary system. Without a generation well-versed in basic math skills, we will not have programmers to build and maintain the technology we crave.
Who is responsible for the next level of education?
Who is responsible for making this commitment to education and what form must that education take? The short answer is that all of society is responsible. Parents must commit to educating their children in basic skills such as language and counting before they ever attend school. Modern parents are also teaching their children to use and enjoy technology in the form of computers, video games, and phones. The next level of education must be the school systems which must recognize that technology must be incorporated into the curriculum if America is to be competitive in the world market. But basic skills cannot be ignored. Higher education must continue to provide classical educational opportunities coupled with advances in technology. We must also expand the offerings of technical schools to keep pace with that need.
But one more crucial contributor to the commitment to education must be the industry itself. Consider, for example, Motorola University. Initially a simple training program offered internally in the 1980s to help assemblers advance to electronic technicians, this company-owned program saw the development of Six Sigma, a business management strategy that focuses on process capability studies. This methodology spread to many notable companies such as Honeywell, General Electric and IBM as well as about two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies. Many companies are realizing that in order for their products reach the sales figures they desire, they must educate their customers to the best use of the products. Subsequently they maintain web sites and technical support staff to provide that training.
Technology develops so rapidly that companies often take a “ready, fire, aim” approach to the distribution in order to be the leader in the industry with new and innovative products. Who can reasonably expect a college graduate to know all about the technological advancements that have taken place just since he has been attending college? Many companies are expanding their search for qualified personnel overseas. Perhaps they would be better served by in-house apprenticeship programs that would train new hires to their specific needs. Another option might be to re-address such programs as gave birth to Motorola University: in-house training opportunities that rival the offerings of technical schools.
America has a rich history of innovation that has changed the world. From the first reaping machine and sewing machine, oil wells and typewriters, America led the way. Henry Ford introduced the Model-T Ford, but more importantly, initiated an assembly line system that built a car from the ground to completion in just 93 minutes. This changed how the world worked. It is no small wonder that American inventors created television and the zipper. More modern accomplishments include the operating system first developed by IBM to accommodate running software programs. Microsoft came along and started writing software. America has seen hard times in the past and has survived them with their unflagging belief in possibility. To get through this one, we will need critical thinkers and innovators that are willing to look at new ways to do things. As a nation we will need to make a commitment to education and the ongoing development of technology in order to maintain our position in the world marketplace.