It’s a public holiday in Canterbury today, so I’ve had an opportunity to browse and ponder a few articles that have come via my RSS feeds. Linked to my musing about the advice I should give my daughter in a recent post, I was interested to read about a recent report from the US titled “Are They Really Ready To Work? Employers??? Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st. Century U.S. Workforce” (PDF file). TechLearning uses the heading Workforce Readiness Crisis for their commentary on this report, while the Partnership for 21st century Skills group (who commissioned the report) lead with Most Young People Entering the U.S. Workforce Lack Critical Skills Essential For Success.
Or what about this one; Are College Students Techno Idiots? – from Inside Higher Ed reporting on a recent report released by the Educational Testing Service (US) which finds that students lack many basic skills in information literacy, which ETS defines as the ability to use technology to solve information problems.
“Crisis”, “lack critical skills”, “idiots?”, – these are powerful and emotive words. The picture painted here is grim, and focuses our attention again on what Neil Postman refers to as The End of Education in his book subtitled, “redefining the value of school.”
Predictably, each of the articles tells just one side of the story – but the beauty of the web is that you can also read the reviews and comments that people have left to help get a better understanding and, perhaps, more balanced perspective. But the challenge remains the same – just how seriously are we taking this “crisis” – and how many cohorts of students will we graduate before we come close to sorting things out (I’ve got three more children to come through the system yet!).
Yesterday I spoke with a teacher who is helping coordinate a group of local secondary schools to form a cluster for the purposes of participating in an ICT professional development programme. The enthusiasm was evident, as was the extent of preparation etc. But the major concern revolves around the priorities as seen by the principals and senior management of the participating schools – whether to invest time and effort in the ICT PD programme, or in the other, competing priority they’ve identified – behaviour management. (MMmmm he muses, let me see – choice between preparing these young people for their future, or learning how to control them in class??)
Now I don’t want to demean the situation – let’s face it, the issue of disruptive students and inappropriate behaviour is not insignificant in our secondary schools, and is has a major impact not only on those who are mis-behaving, but everyone else as well who has to wait while the problems are sorted etc. But all of this serves to illustrate how the tyranny of the urgent so often becomes an excuse for not addressing the more important, long term issues we must find solutions to.
The problem seems to me to be one of relevance – we keep coming back to the fact that we operate a school system designed to meet the needs of the past, barely the present, and certainly not the future. Technology is certainly has a major part to play in this, and as Postman says in “The End Of Education”;
“Technolgoical change is not additive, it is ecological. A new technology doesn’t change something, it changes everything!”
Obviously this isn’t fully understood yet in our education system, judging by the advice I read today for principals and teachers regarding their options for online professional development. The focus here is on an additive attitude to the acquisition of ICT skills, based on a transmissive approach with a measure of rewards and incentives thrown in.
I’ll end this little rant with a quote passed on to me by my friend and mentor, Tony Mander, from a recent book by John Lienhard:
So with Menocchio in mind, let us look about us once more at over a billion computers that have been thrown into the world during a scant two decades. Like Sebastian Brant, we tell one another, ???Gee whiz, look at all the information our children can now access???. The real changes that the computer is bringing about ??? changes in the way we see reality ??? remain invisible.
We hardly yet have an adult generation that has known the personal computer from birth. At this writing, you and I still see the computer against the backdrop of the not-computer. We typed before we word-processed. We learned the algorithms of arithmetic before we used hand calculators. We memorised facts, algorithms, and spellings.
All of us see the personal computer against the backdrop of a world without it. What we cannot see at all is how a mind will work when it has never known anything else. What did they say about books in 1501? In the end, whatever was said was irrelevant because it was ??? ipso facto ??? useless commentary. For everyone looking at the new books in 1501, the future was as hopelessly unpredictable as it remains today.
Lienhard, John H. How Invention Begins: Echoes of Old Voices in the Rise of New Machines. Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 171