Graduates Lack Technical Training, Study Warns
"Unless the decline of high-order skills among high-school students is reversed," warns a new report from the Education Commission of the States, "as many as two million students may graduate [in 1990] without the essential skills required for employment in tomorrow's technically-oriented labor force."
Stressing that the nation's labor market is shifting increasingly from blue-collar and unskilled jobs to professional and technical positions, the report asserts that "unemployment is likely to increase unless the educational delivery systems can react fast enough to train workers in the critical skills." It notes that by 1990 there will be 12.1 million new white-collar job openings, more than twice the number of new blue-collar jobs expected, and workers in blue-collar employment will account for only 31 percent of total employment in the U.S.
"Information Society: Will Our High School Graduates Be Ready?" was prepared by Roy Forbes, director of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (naep), and Lynn Grover Gisi, a research assistant and writer with naep Its intention, the authors say, is to "stimulate research and communication among the groups concerned with technology's impact on education."
The Forbes-Gisi report reviews labor-force projections, summarizes recent National Assessment findings, and outlines "recent corporate, educational, and legislative actions" designed to address the problem.
Arguing that the computer chip will replace oil in the U.S. economy, and will form the basis for a new information society, the authors say that the "basics" mastered by the high-school graduates of the future will have to include more complex skills than minimal reading, writing, and computing. Among the higher-level skills the information age will require, they argue, will be "evaluation and analysis; critical thinking; problem-solving strategies, including mathematical problem-solving; organization and reference skills; synthesis; application; creativity; decision-making given complete information; and communication skills through a variety of modes."
But it is precisely these skills, the report states, that most of the nation's high-school students now lack. "The data from the National Assessment provide convincing evidence that by the time students reach the age of 17, many do not possess higher-order skills, including problem-solving, analysis, critical thinking, and evaluation. For some skills, as few as 15 percent of the students are able to demonstrate competence. Not only is the percentage of students who possess higher-level skills minimal, it is also declining," says the report.
The "elements of the problem," says the report, are:
Foreign competition. The age of high technology is rapidly changing the roles of production, and other countries are responding--faster than the U.S.--by upgrading their educational programs on a national level. The U.S. educational system, says the report, "poses unique problems by its inherent commitment to diversity and emphasis on local and state control."
Unless the U.S. can keep pace, the report contends, its "position as a leader of technology and competitor for world markets will be severely threatened."
Students. Technology used for educa-tional purposes has the potential to reshape instructional delivery systems, the report says, and that may result in a decentralization of learning from traditional schools into homes, communities, and industries. "Future students of our technologically oriented society will emerge from many diverse sectors, with each requiring a variety of different needs," the report states, and students "who are not technically career-minded will need an understanding of the basic principles underlying" the operations of the technological devices "pervading everyday lifestyles."
The report restates a growing concern that "a new disadvantaged class may emerge: those who do not have access to technology in their schooling."
Responsibilities and relevance. Education must become more relevant to the world of work, the report contends, and that requires "informational feedback systems on the successes of students who have completed the required curriculum. Quality control has focused on the inputs into the system--teachers and textbooks, for example--and not on the outcomes. Thus there has been no attempt to incorporate long-term information into the management system's program planning." The report's authors agree with a report of the Southern Regional Education Board that American schooling no longer lacks the basics, but rather the "complexities that make for mature learning, mature citizenship, or adult success."
Curriculum and skills. "In a time when it is essential for students to gain an understanding of the concepts and application of science and math," the report says, "enrollments in these courses are declining." Skills that transcend traditional mathematics and science courses must be taught, the report states, such as problem-solving, creativity, and analysis.
Instructional technology. The report notes that "much remains to be discovered about technology's capacity for improving the learning process," and it cites as a partial cause the lack of available software. Lack of funds is also a major problem, according to the report. "The dilemma that confronts education is this: How can schools become increasingly responsive to demands for instructional technology when, at the same time, they are faced with cutbacks in funds?"
Teacher shortages/training. Future teachers with technological skills must be provided with more incentives to remain in the teaching profession, the report says, noting that their salaries are not competitive with those in industry. In addition, the report says, teachers themselves must be instructed in the new skills if they are to prepare students to function in a technological so-ciety. Few teacher-training programs, the report notes, offer computer-related courses to undergraduate education students. (See Education Week, May 5.)
The report cites a number of "recent actions to remedy existing discrepancies between technology and education," such as proposals in California, Colorado, and other states to intensify high-technology research and training and to improve public education.
Only cooperative efforts involving all segments of society will solve the problem, the report states. In particular, it calls on American industry and labor to play a greater role.
"Because educational revenues will be insufficient to fulfill all of the demands made by changing populations of students, training programs, and up-to-date equipment purchase," the report states, industry will be called upon "to fill the gaps."
State governments can contribute, the report says, by providing more tax incentives to industry to make donations of equipment and to share their staff members with schools.
The report lists a number of contributions industry could make--such as on-the-job training programs and summer internships for secondary-school students--and concludes: "Industries cannot afford to pass up these opportunities and others because their future existence will depend upon it. ... Clearly we are not cultivating the raw materials, our future workers, who are vital not only for economic progress but ultimately for economic survival."