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the knowledge economy « Previous | |Next »
March 13, 2009

Today knowledge is held to be the key to the economic success of developed countries such as Australia, so much so that the ‘knowledge economy’ is the frame within which governments in OECD countries view education policy. The Rudd Government’s rhetoric is about increasing productivity and prosperity and how these depend on increasing investment in education and training.The World Bank says:

[School] education is a gateway to the opportunities and benefits of economic and social development. … Furthermore, globalization and the increasing demand for a more sophisticated labour force, combined with the growth of knowledge-based economies gives a sense of urgency to the heightened demand for secondary education … Quality secondary education is indispensable in creating a bright future for individuals and nations alike.

Globalisation and increasing economic competition have sharpened this concern about education over recent years. A recent Australian Government discussion paper, Skilling Australia, points out, if current education participation continues as is, in 2020 Australia will have three times the proportion of low-skilled workers than countries like Finland and Singapore, which have the best-performing economies.

Despite official concern about this and reports into teacher education very little has changed in any area of education. There is is stasss.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:04 AM | | Comments (21)


Talking to a teacher about this yesterday, we came to the conclusion that you can provide all the quality education you want, but you can't make kids consume or use what you you provide.

Less and less kids take education seriously, or see education as the reason they're there. Why that might be so, and what could be done about it, had us stumped. We figured maybe the recession will change things, with less money around and more competition for good jobs.

There is a desperate need to professionalise the teaching workforce. At the moment teaching is not a profession.

is what the education system teaches out of synch with the digital economy?

A comment made to me by a 25+ year veteran student counsellor during my public school prac placement was that students from public schools and private schools had the same problems, but that it was their parents who were different. Parental expectations regarding education seem quite different between the two settings. Perhaps it is not just curriculum and teacher education, but also parents out of synch with/non-participants in digital economies and knowledge work that also contributes.

Some think their kids can get away without a tertiary/trade education and work in some local service industry indefinitely. Thus this thinking filters down into their offspring.

I think that's part of it. Technology is a huge chunk of kids' lives, but a minor, minor part of their education. The school version of the digital world is a little, safe, unrealistic bubble compared with their experience outside of school.

I think it would be more true to say that what the education system teaches, and its institutional nature, is out of synch with kids.

I'd also agree with what Jared says about parents. Here on the Gold Coast, some of the wealthiest people started out as 14 year old labourers. There's also a way of thinking that says it's not real work unless it involves sweat and callouses.

None of these things has to do with teacher training, teacher quality or teaching methods.

Comparison with Singapore is highly misleading.

The country is not training 50% of its future work force at all. Its fertility rate is currently 1.08 children per adult female, just over half what is required to maintain population at its present level. Either the population will shrink, or half of its future workers are being trained in some other country (perhaps some will turn out to be from Australia).

Finland does do better with a fertility rate of 1.73 but it will need to import significant numbers of people (perhaps from Turkey or Algeria).

Australia's current fertility rate isn't a whole lot better (1.78) although it has increased in recent years. Due to our active immigration program the population is increasing, but this means that if we are to be a "clever country" (or some similar revolting cliche), far more attention must be paid to improved training of immigrants, especially those from a non-English-speaking background. Their children will be something in excess of 15% of our future workforce.

Peter Stock's comment about parental expectations is relevant too. Immigrant parents from some cultures set very high educational expectations for their children. Others have very little expectation at all. Some children will succeed regardless of parental expectation but what is required of the system to nudge those who could succeed but are not?

Again, I ask "why didn't people listen to Barry Jones when they had the chance to act?" (Answer: they were Wacheting themselves Auf)

I suspect the problem might be clearer if we looked at who capitalizes on Australian ideas. Investment in ideas is probably the limiting factor, both directly, and via feedback, to enthusiasm to create ideas.

Having the latest gizmos at schools is even perhaps counterproductive. Where we'd slave away for 2 days doing a biochem assay at uni, in industry there was a machine that went "ping" and spat out a result in two minutes... but if we'd had that "ping" machine at uni, we wouldn't have understood what the hell we were doing. (As Arthur C Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"... and we don't need to teach people magical ideas).

The other thing is the proportion of people doing uni courses from the BA/BSc/BEng type, that generate ideas for products, to BBus/BComm etc. Hopefully the economic downturn might correct this.

Finally, it seems the curriculum has altered so that premiers can boast about year 12 pass rates. Most obviously, my daughter got VCE maths and had never been taught even the most basic calculus. (without calculus, you couldn't get year 11 maths in my day, even the veggy version. In my dad's day, calculus was year 10, for the "intermediate certificate").

If the curriculum is fluffy, promotes mere regurgitation, etc, then it is totally unfair to blame teachers.

Lyn is right. Kids don't take education seriously anymore. Well perhaps 50% of them don't anyway. These kids just sit in the class and learn very little. School is nothing more than teenager daycare and a place to socialize.
Teachers learn quickly to teach the ones that wish to learn and develop ways to minimize the distraction of those that don't.

But the future has jobs for these people like working in shops that calculate change for them, driving trucks that tell them where to go and stop and making sure the factory computer is switched on and dusted.
Thats ok as long as you accept that the education system we have now will play a big part in the future social structure. The gap will widen greatly between haves and have nots is my belief as the gap between intelligent workers and dumb ones widens.

Our family experience backs Dave's argument. The first question any self respecting kid asks is, why? That curiosity should be treated like a gift, but it's not.

I was doing first year stats at uni at the same time my daughter was doing it at school. I was taught why, she was not. Not at school anyway. How means nothing unless you know why. If why is your priority, kids who can work out how for themselves have a chance at doing well, as they should if you're trying to promote creativity.

It probably is unfair to blame teachers, but kids do, because they know damn well most teachers can't answer the 'why' questions.

My understanding is that the primary system works for one third of kids. For another third it's not enough (like kids who ask why) and for another third it's too much.

By high school, some of the top and bottom third will have joined the middle third, but for roughly half, school is, as you say, daycare for teenagers. I don't know what can be done about that when schools are so big that you have no choice but to standardise everything.

Personally, more integrated systems strike me as a good idea. I don't know how struggling kids would respond, but my kids loved being snuck into uni lectures. Why could the odd sessional not be snuck into schools?

Inbetween the school and the university stands TAFE --the vocational sector which is still seen as an inferior university rather than as something different. But how is it different?

It does seem to be all about dumbing down apprenticeships and traineeships for a dying manufacturing industry.

Is this right?

Kids being able to start apprenticeships while in high school is the best new thing in recent years.
Its quite motivational too I think. Should be more of it.

Gary, I'm not sure what TAFE is supposed to be. And I wonder if TAFE knows what TAFE is supposed to be.

You notice that kids are very pleased to get school based traineeships and apprenticeships. It does seem to be a good system.

Yes indeed! Nothing like the smell of money to spark their interests a bit.

Lets not forget with our very academic analogies of the school system that by the time a kid gets to Year 10 they have had 10 years in the job,5 days a week and lots of pressure from other kids and teachers who are not always right or even good or smart.

doesn't economic recession equal youth unemployment--they cannot get the first job.

Gillard has removed building ad manufacturing trades (bricklaying, plumbing, welding and carpentry), from its list of skills in critical shortage due to the mining boom. So it has reduced the skilled migrant intake.

Nothing about the digital economy or the knowledge society. Vocational education is still about trades.

that's crucial---once people are unemployed, how hard is it to get them back into full time employment. As John Buchanan, the director of the Workplace Research Centre at Sydney University, said on Lateline:

It's very easy to throw someone out of work, it's a lot harder to get them back into work. It's taken Australia about 14 years to get back to the level we were coming out of the 1991 recession.

At the personal level obviously there is considerable suffering and considerable disorientation as this is a deep crisis will impact heavily on the traditional "battler" (blue collar) suburbs.These will feel the brunt of the downturn.

So there'll be rising levels of depression, and all the mental health issues that run with that.

There already is rising levels of depression. Some are genuine. Many are just people who are sad.
But yes there will be lots more sad people about.

maybe the emphasis is on vocational education and trades because the impact of the recession will impact heavily on manufacturing and construction. Still it is interesting that IT is not mentioned

Is the ALP biased against high technology? Were there any IT specific measures in the Rudd stimulus package?

Rudd Labor is not that interested in the local IT industry----but then it's not a very strong industry in Australia.

Senator Carr appears to be solely concentrated on blue collar/car manufacturing sector in Victoria. The IT industry is not seen as an emerging industry in its own right--just a service provider to other industries. Knowledge-based industries sit in the background, whilst the car industry is heavily subsidized and probably cannot survive without this subsidy.

It appears to be a case of protecting a shrinking Australian manufacturing sector versus a transition to the “knowledge economy. in this scenario the answer is the answer is simply to build the “right car" so that the car companies can build and sell more cars again? No mention is made of building the right trams for public transport.

The car industry in Australia seems doomed to me given that China is still turning out 830,000 or so cars per month and subsidising it too.
Very soon the market will be awash with new very cheap cars and no buyers.
Yes its a good idea to start building green public transport vehicles.