Guest Editorial (untitled)
by Lee Dr'egemueller Commissioner of Education, Kansas If the purpose of education is to prepare our citizenship to live, work and learn in a global economy, then we must examine the components that will produce a highly resourceful citizen. Certainly the quality of life in our country will be dependent on how we interact with other peoples and cultures, how creative and productive we are in our work and how we can integrate the school, the home and the workplace in lifelong learning. This mission means that our lifelong, seamless educational system must prepare students for the dramatic and pervasive changes that will occur in the workplace. Flattened organizations, team projects, off-site work, televideo conferencing and care learning centers are already in business and industry settings. Paramount to the work changes is the role of learning. No longer confined to a classroom in a school, "learning will be literally the work of the majority of U.S. jobs and will what virtually all adults -- whether employed, unemployed or 'on welfare' -- will do for a living by the early years of the twenty-first century."1 Merging of School, Home and Work These visible transformations in the world of work indicate the future integration of the workplace, home and school. Responsibilities, functions and activities that once occurred exclusively within each domain are crossing over into other environments. Corporate workers have home offices, students and older learners take cable-access courses, and parents bring their young children to day-care learning centers at work sites. No longer can the school, the office and the home be separate from one another. These three once-distinct entities are breaking apart, combining and overlapping in new ways.2 The major connector of these three entities -- home, school and work -- is technology. Planning for this technology will have to focus on how the school interacts with its interdependent partners of home and work so that the total system grows as each of the partners grows. Thus the direction for planning must be to build the learning community and to focus upon connectivity. This means that the communication systems, networks or infrastructure among the community partners, and how they are connected to the world, become the top priority. The communication tools that are hung on the infrastructure can be determined by the school's mission, the learner's need to meet the outcomes and the information needed to increase school or work productivity. Learn From Business' Errors Examining the existing school's ability to meet the technological skills required for this integration, one finds a gigantic gap between the school, home and the workplace. Few students and teachers have access to computers that would allow them to increase productivity and to be trained for today's workplace. Few classrooms have telephones that allow them to increase productivity and to be trained for today's workplace. Without telephones and computers there is no way for our students and teachers to connect to the home or workplace. When planning for statewide or districtwide technology, the tendency has been to focus on only the schools or the classrooms, not on the teachers or the students. This narrow focus resulted in computer laboratories rather than a telephone and computer in each classroom, which is networked with the community and the world as provided by Internet. Currently, as the cable and telephone companies complete fiber networks to the home, the schools must invest in the equipment and the networks to become an active participant in the information infrastructure. In our planning, education can learn from our business partners. Business reacted positively to the technologies and the global competition, but did not anticipate or adjust to the human factor fallout. Without restructuring schools around interdependent partnerships, investing in the infrastructure connectivity issues, anticipating the new technologies and the impact they will have on the school and home, schools may experience more traumatic changes than businesses did in the last decade. Much of the current downsizing in business occurred because of new technologies, new communication systems and redesigned work. These resulted in new skills being required of workers, fast response to customer interests and needs, and a focus upon change. The human costs have been layoffs of unneeded employees with outdated skills, often reducing pay and quality of life. To avoid a similar fate, schools must use technology for students to learn. Technologically connecting the school with the home and work will make learning relevant and useful. Learning will have no boundaries, as students can connect with others to access information, ideas and experiences from within the community, across the state and around the world. Lee Dr'egemueller is the Kansas Commissioner of Education and a member of the Council of Chief State School Officers. References: 1. Perlman, Lewis J., School's Out, New York, NY, 1992. 2. Pesanelli, David, "Plug in School," The Futurist, Sept./Oct. 1993.
This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.