Much has been written about the rapid rate of change that is characterizing our society at the close of the 20th century. Nations around the world are experiencing dramatic shifts in their political, economic and social structures. The U.S. is no exception and the result has been increased demands on our countrys individuals and institutions, including education.
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Political and Economic Background
With the end of the Cold War, the political agenda which had provided the basis for American foreign policy and many domestic issues as well was suddenly gone. As we have tried to redefine our role in the international arena, Americans have begun to see ourselves in a new world, one demanding a greater understanding of many cultures and histories. We have also begun to focus more on our domestic policies, looking at how we can reform our education, health care, welfare, campaign finance and other systems. Much of this is in response to dramatic shifts in our economy and social fabric that are demanding new policies.
Within the U.S., our nations economic base has shifted from industry to information. This change brings with it a demand for new skills and emphasis in the work place. To make an automobile takes 40% ideas, skills and knowledge and 60% energy and raw material. To make a computer chip takes 98% ideas, skill and knowledge and 2% energy and raw material. Human capital has become crucial to the success of American business.
Meanwhile, national economies are becoming increasingly internationalized with greater movement of capital, products, technology and information. This brings American industry into direct competition with industries from around the world. Standards for skills, products and worker knowledge are derived not only from our domestic agenda, but from our needs for competing in this international arena.
The World of Work
Indeed, the very concept and expectations of work and career have changed dramatically in the past 15 years. A new study from the Canadian Policy Research Networks illustrates the point. It finds that while computers have created more jobs than they have destroyed, companies have used computer-based technology to eliminate unskilled jobs without giving the displaced workers the training needed to move into the new high-skilled jobs. The report states that in low-tech companies, 15% of all workers are managers and professionals while 36% are unskilled. In high-tech companies, the numbers are 31% managers and professionals and 10% unskilled workers. (Toronto Globe and Mail, January 15, 1997; quoted in Edupage, 1/16/97) With corporate downsizing and organizational restructuring, workers are increasingly making multiple career changes. These new trends accentuate the importance of lifelong learning and adaptability.
The nations economic shifts have social parallels. There are shifts in family structure, increased child poverty, inadequacy of social welfare and social service programs, and what some have called a decreased sense of civic responsibility. All of these combine to exacerbate existing inequities in our society, reflected vividly in the education system. One has only to read Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities and his descriptions of the schools in such areas as East St. Louis, Chicago and New York to see the extent of this problem.
|Demands on individuals and organizations in this new climate|
In our daily lives, we are inundated with information. From the news media to advertising to the world wide web, the amount of information available to individuals in todays society is staggering. This has prompted some to say that we are moving beyond the information age into the knowledge age. They point out that we are already well immersed in the information age and that what we really need is a way to sift and sort this information, a way to gauge what is useful and what is not.
The defining characteristic of the Knowledge Age is perpetual change. Unlike previous transformations, the transformation to the Knowledge Age is not a period of change, followed by stability. It will usher in an epoch of continuous change on an accelerating time cycle. This means that the kinds of knowledge that will serve each individual and our society as a whole are constantly evolving. Consider these facts:
Present and Future Change
(from Leadership and Technology, published by the National School Boards Association's Institute for the Transfer of Technology to Education.)
In this section:
|Change and Education||Change Inventories||Education Systemic Change Tools|
In the Toolkit:
|Toolkit Home Page||Why Change?||Why Technology?|
|Planning||Policy||Curriculum and Assessment|
|Community Involvement||Facility Planning||Funding|
|Prof'l and Ldrship Development|