by Dr. Sylvia Charp Editor-in-Chief Words like restructuring, reinventing, reorganizing, reengineering and reskilling are being used both in education and business to better prepare our students for the Information Age. Whenever K-12 or university education is discussed, quality and productivity are mentioned. In a recent paper, "Reinventing Education: Breakthrough Quality at Lower Cost," by Richard L. Measelle and Morton Egol, partners in Arthur Andersen, the authors state "the revolutionary changes in the world of work demand that our schools go far beyond the 3 R's to create a new, broader set of basics that enable them to cope with the complexity wrought by accelerating change -- including the ability to engage in systems thinking, to utilize technology in learning, to work cooperatively in high-performance teams and to actively acquire new skills as needed." In November 1992, they contributed to a high school in St. Charles, Ill., designing a learning environment to accommodate up to 30 students. A variety of approaches and technologies are used. It will be interesting to follow this "School of the Future" Initiative and see if, and how, it can be replicated. What Is NOT True Information is expanding work, productivity and schools. The central elements focus in quality education for all, prudent use of technology, good planning and research. However, some assumptions exist that are not true. These include: Most graduates will be employable and do not need continuing education. What is learned in the classroom is applicable throughout a career and lifetime. Education, in general, is providing basic skills, knowledge and attitudes for success in the work environment. Teachers can be automatically transformed from lecturers to facilitators of student learning. Technology will, by itself, enable students to access and properly utilize a wider set of data more quickly and without proper assistance, and to link their school experiences with real work experiences and with other systems. Models Found in Other Nations Installation and reform of education and training programs are on-going. However, the need for life-long learning is a relatively new concept. The process of continuous training in Japan is often cited as a model for the U.S. to follow. Every Japanese employee, it is stated, very often up to and including top management, is involved with training as a regular part of his or her job until retirement. Training is treated as a long-term investment and continues for the lifetime of an employee, and extends beyond the specifics and immediate needs of the job. Korea is another example. Its commitment to education has resulted in a highly educated population and a system of over 200 technical colleges and universities. As in Japan, Korean companies invest heavily in training. Law requires large companies to provide employees with training. As a result, all Korean workers receive at least one or two weeks of training per year. Changes in U.S. Workplace Literacy Unlike other industrial countries, the U.S. has no umbrella programs. Typically, adult-education classes have been regular college courses offered during non-work hours. With the increased use of distance education this procedure has been modified and a variety of courses are increasingly available at places of employment. Growth of technological tools are changing worker-training programs. Large companies, especially, are spending millions of dollars to train and retrain workers. To mark the 50th anniversary of the invention of the computer, the University of Pennsylvania is holding a series of events. A conference sponsored by the Wharton School of Business and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences was held January 11-12, 1995, in Philadelphia to discuss the future of education, primarily at the university, in the telecommunications age. A participant, Raymond Fonseca, dean of the Penn Dental School, said the school was developing computer simulations that allow students to "operate" on the mouth -- a more efficient and better learning experience than working in labs with mannequins and plastic teeth. He also stated dental knowledge becomes obsolete every 10 years. Using technology, future graduates will be updated every year they're working as dentists and get new degree levels every five years. Technology in Adult Literacy Technology is also making an impact on adult literacy programs. In a spring 1994 survey conducted by the National Center on Adult Literacy (NCAL), located at the University of Pennsylvania, 515 adult literacy programs from six states (Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, North Carolina, Illinois and California) were examined to better understand the experiences and attitudes of adult literacy programs in implementing technology. Findings indicate technology is used widely but on a limited basis. For example, 82% use computers for administrative activities, 66% for instructional activities, 31% for student assessment and 25% for network activities, such as e-mail and file sharing. Lack of financial support is the largest obstacle, with a lack of adequate training for staff and instructors cited second, and inadequate time for staff to learn how to use technology named third. A large number of programs use older low-end computers and cannot take advantage of multimedia software or communication tools. In addition to greater financial support, many programs need information on available technologies, effective use of computer technology for instruction, and assistance in software selection. More Than Job Skills Education in an Information Age requires focus on improving the entire system, not merely the individual issues of access, training, financial responsibility, curriculum integration, electronic networking, assessment, transferability, etc. Worker skills must mean more than job skills. We need to develop better academic and work goals first. Proper use of technology will continue to play a significant role in our economic growth. Let us attempt to correct the false assumptions and establish a vision for educational excellence in the school and workplace so that assumptions can become realities.
This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.