Commentary

Industry's Role in Preparing Children For Life 'Beyond the School Gate'

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Cooperation between industry and education has existed quietly for many years, but recently, commission and task-force reports have begun to examine the effectiveness of such partnership programs. For the most part, the activities arising from these alliances have been found to be limited in scope and to have only a short-term impact.

I believe it is now time to recognize that if industry has a role in education, it is in helping schools improve the academic and vocational curricula so that they are more responsive to both student and employer needs.

The schools' failure to understand the main objective of industry's involvement in education has resulted in the continuing mismatch between what jobs demand and what job-seekers can offer. The majority of youths in our schools are simply not prepared for the working life that awaits them beyond the school gates.

The primary reasons for this unfortunate mismatch are best understood by considering the ways in which current partnerships in education are practiced:

  • To date, there has been little, if any, effort to bring together the current education-reform movement--which is seeking school improvement--with industry-education partnerships.
  • Most industry-education-partnership activities in schools are brief and episodic and, therefore, rarely have a long-term impact.
  • Investment in most partnerships is too low, and the objectives set are often extremely limited.
  • The commission reports and forums on partnerships in education focus primarily on short-term student-oriented projects, which are generally thought of as the "good reasons'' for partnerships. And while no one disputes the value of these useful and necessary activities, at the same time they have little bearing on school improvement in general and in the long term.

Those of us in industry who are involved in industry-education cooperation are tired of the redundancy in current partnership literature given out by many education policymakers. Since 1960, they have sought to define and differentiate between "cooperation'' and "collaboration'' between schools and industry. They continue to cite case studies of supposedly exemplary models of industry-education cooperation. And yet, they continue to miss the central reason of it all: the obvious need for industry to be actively involved in increasing education's capability to meet current and anticipated workforce needs.

But at last, many educators and industrial representatives involved in partnerships are becoming aware that the joint venture with which they are involved needs a new direction and needs help in order to achieve it.

The challenge facing schools in meeting the needs of the workplace is complex and demanding, and it cannot be met by the schools alone. For instance, both curriculum development and the upgrading of instructional materials and equipment would benefit from the participation of industrial partners. And in moving toward relevant career education, all school personnel will require inservice training in integrating the academic and vocational programs. Only by looking at all these issues will school improvement be achieved and the sucessful transition of young people from the school to the workplace be facilitated.

The entire effort will require generous support from industry's volunteer resources, including personnel, facilities, equipment, and material. But it is clear that those resources alone will be inadequate to bring about such a fundamental change in the school program. A substantial allocation of school dollars will also be needed.

Finally, if the necessary resources do become available, improvements in school reform will be achieved only if there is a formal structure in place. Industry-education councils have existed, in a limited way, in a small number of communities for more than 20 years, and experience shows that they can be effective. There is no doubt that by establishing industry-education councils on a nationwide basis, school improvement would advance in a substantial manner.

We have wasted far too much time rehashing what is already known about what works, and what doesn't work, in industry-education cooperation. We have also failed to implement fully what has proven to be effective. We now have the climate and interest to create these needed alliances, and we cannot risk getting drowned in the rhetoric that would perpetuate inadequate and ineffective partnerships. It is now time to make industry-education alliances really powerful and to achieve what we know is urgently required: school reform that allows our children to enter the workforce successfully.

Vol. 06, Issue 24, Page 24

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