government in my province has been placing its emphasis in the
field of university education on job training. As it has decreased
funding for wussy Liberal Arts programs, it has increased funding
for university/business partnership programs. Recently, it announced
part of its funding to universities would be tied to how well
students who graduated from the institutions subsequently found
jobs. Not enough graduates with jobs, less funding next year.
Premiere of the province said this was necessary because we didn't
want too many "deep thinkers"; we wanted people with the skills
to staff industry. (I don't see a contradiction here but, then
again, I'm a victim of a wussy Liberal Arts education.) I don't
blame the provincial government for this stand. Governments of
all stripes these days are bought and paid for by big business,
whose campaign contributions are necessary for a political party
even to begin to contemplate winning an election. Naturally, any
government, once elected, will do its best to reward its patrons.
No, it's business I cannot understand. When it cries out there
is a dearth of qualified computer programmers (to use but one
example), government naturally moves to change the education system
so more people graduate with those skills. The results are well
known: Five to 10 years from now, there will be a glut of computer
programmers as universities will churn out more skilled grads
than the market can handle. (Which is not bad for business, actually,
as a labour pool too big for the market tends to drive the cost
of skilled labour down.)
the short-term benefits of turning universities into vocational
schools may appeal to business, it is not in their long-term interests.
As many pundits (economic and otherwise) are telling us, we are
moving away from an industrial economy to an information economy.
Whereas making physical objects used to be the engine of the economy,
they tell us now a major factor of economic growth will be the
creation and distribution of information.
has important implications for education. Since information has
a short shelf life (think of how quickly software is updated),
learning specific skill sets is of limited value. The skills you
graduate with today may well be obsolete tomorrow. Many people
now argue that future workers will have to be skilled in "learning
a living"; that is, they will have to be able to pick up new skill
sets as required by the day-to-day demands of their jobs.
"Life-long learning" is another term used for the same idea. In
practice, what does this mean? It means the ideal worker will
have a set of intellectual tools which allows her or him to think
critically about what skills are necessary to perform a given
task, and the intellectual flexibility to acquire those skills.
Critical thinking? Intellectual flexibility? Oh, no! The ideal
worker sounds like somebody with a wussy Liberal Arts degree!
fact, many corporations tacitly recognize this shift to an information
economy, offering their employees educational seminars and other
programs to upgrade their skills. It has been argued that the
existence of this phenomenon is an indictment of the impracticality
of the current education system. Nonsense. As we move deeper into
an information economy, most businesses will have to help their
employees upgrade their skills throughout their careers in order
to stay competitive. It's an economic imperative, stupid.
Liberal Arts programs at universities will benefit nobody, not
even corporations. Instead, we should envision an education system
with three arms: vocational schools for specific skills training
(since, after all, doctors, engineers and others will need specific
basic skills); Liberal Arts institutions for critical thinking,
and; lifelong learning institutions -- whether at colleges, universities
and technical institutes or corporations -- that allow employees
to continue to upgrade their skills throughout their careers.
A healthy economy will require all three arms be as strong as
possible. Corporate executives who demand the education system
to be tailored to their short-term needs are not acting in anybody's
long-term interest, including their own. You would think they
would realize this but, then again, most of them don't have the
benefit of a wussy Liberal Arts education.
© 2000 Ira Nayman All Rights Reserved
is a Ph.D. student in the Graduate Program in Communications at
McGill University. He is also the author of a dozen screenplays
and many original television series. He hopes to be teaching next
September, and to have some of his work produced. All serious
offers will be considered.
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