The OECD Report on Technology, Productivity, and Job Creation noted that growth in productivity in OECD countries has been slower in the last two decades that it was in the 1960s and early 1970s ñ despite the increase in the knowledge base and the widespread diffusion of information and communication technologies in the 1980s and 1990s. One of the reasons offered is that changes in institutional behaviour have not occurred in a way that permits potential benefits in productivity to be realized. The point is highly relevant in the context of education and development and the use of information and communication technologies. Simply laying a technological veneer over curricula and institutional models designed for an industrial economy is obviously inappropriate.
There is no shortage of suggestions as to how educational systems can be made more relevant to the needs of the societies they were established to serve. Certainly, making them more accessible is critical. It is much of what this conference is about. However, of equal importance is the question of ìAccess to what?î The following thoughts should be considered:
- What is learned must be relevant to the needs of people in an economy. Educational providers need to be in touch with labour market requirements. And the spokespeople for those requirements need to be included in the decision-making process through which educational offerings are defined.
- Effective learning must be judged on the basis of the outcomes that result rather than on the inputs required. Historically, educational systems have held time constant and let learning vary. We now have the need, and the opportunity, to change the variables ñ we can hold learning constant and let time vary.
- Ways must be found to facilitate learning rather than to simply supply instruction. As the development goal of creating life-long learning as part of the foundation for a sustainable economy is achieved, there will be a need for institutions, or perhaps new organizations, to facilitate learning on an individual basis. Individuals will need to have access to services which assist them in defining learning goals, assessing and accrediting the skills and knowledge that they have already acquired, develop learning plans for filling in the gaps, and providing the necessary certification on the basis of evidence that the requirements have been met.
- The valuing of innovation within educational organizations must be increased. Historically, innovation has been something that has occurred on the margins of educational institutions. For example, within universities it is common to find programs being offered to meet labour force requirements that bear little or no relationship to the standard curricula taught within the institution. In the future, institutions that will be contributing to the development goals of the economies within which they are located will be those that have been able, through changing reward systems and other core processes, to make innovation the core of their mission.
- We need to accept that the boundaries are changing. The world of education has historically operated with a number of boundaries which make little sense in a continuous learning environment. The demarcation between elementary, secondary and post-secondary, technical vs. academic, formal vs. non-formal, education vs. training, and graduate vs. undergraduate are, for the most part, predicated on the assumption that learning is for the young and largely occurs in a linear fashion. The learning requirements of the knowledge economy will be more random, will be demand driven, and will require combinations of technical competence and conceptual understanding that will defy our past attempts to label them as training or education.
Reforms such as these are likely to be traumatic for our educational systems. Their decision-making structures, and the vested interests that imbue them, make changing their product line, and the way that product line is produced, very difficult. Unlike other sectors of the worldís economies, they have, to date, largely been protected from the realities of global competition. However, with both public and private educational providers making educational content accessible on networks that will be accessed from anywhere in the world, that environment is about to change.
Governments know that what will make the most difference to their development objectives will be the general education level of the population at large and the skills and knowledge of their labour force (Porter, 1991). Educational systems that are unable to change to meet these requirements will leave their governments with no alternative but to find new ways to make the learning available. The global knowledge economy, and the information and communication technologies that pervade it, provide the context for global learning strategies and partnership models that were unimaginable even a decade ago. The challenge will be to do that in ways that are sustainable and culturally sensitive.