Saturday, December 5, 2009

Education and the needs of businesses

An article in this week's Education Week reports on concerns that "the push for ‘21st-century skills’" by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, or P12, "is an attempt by technology companies to gain more influence over the classroom."

The article notes that, "for Ken Kay, the president of P21, such criticism amounts to a 'cheap shot' by those who don’t believe that the education system should be more responsive to business needs. "

This prompted me to post the following comment:

There are two sorts of "business need" that come to mind. One is the need of technology companies to sell their products to schools. The other is the need that companies in general have for a skilled workforce.

I can't help wondering to what extent the P12 group has surveyed actual businesses. The last time I checked in, businesses were bemoaning the scarcity of those with basic numeracy and literacy skills.

The only relatively new skill that I can think of that schools should be teaching is computer programming--and by this I mean actual programming courses; not courses in Power Point, Photoshop, and Excel. Why do so few schools teach, for example, Basic, Pascal, C, and Java?

In defense of p12, a subsequent commenter wrote:
Included [in necessary 12st Century Skills] are team building and project management, skills that help workers in am [sic] ever expanding workplace with ever shrinking human interaction.

Are businesses really crying out for K-12 schools to teach "project management" and "team building"? My suspicion is that they're more interested in "team players," in the sense of players who are skilled enough to get their part of the job done properly, without other team players having to do it over again for them.


Marcy said...

I've been working with a lot of college business students the past few months on a temp librarian assignment and what the business faculty are telling me is that the students need more critical thinking. They are aghast at what passes for thought these days.
We are seeing a lot of students coming out of high schools who thought they wouldn't need libraries anymore, so they got rid of them. So students know how to use wikipedia and google, but not well. They don't know the difference between an opinion blog and an article in the Journal of Popular Culture.
Faculty are not mentioning a lack of specific skills, but lack of an ability to put what they know into a coherent thought.

Katharine Beals said...

The irony is that the k-12 establishment thinks it is teaching precisely this kind of skill: the difference between fact and opinion; an ability to pull things together into higher level thinking. Hearing what you're hearing, for them, would only justify an intensification of current practices.

I imagine that actual businesses, as opposed to business professors, would mention a lack of specific skills (esp relating to literacy and numeracy), in addition to what passes for thought these days.

Marcy said...

Very likely, though I work in a very hands-on, business-oriented, private university, so the faculty are pretty tied into the local business community. I believe a lot of students take care of remedial math/English before they pay our tuition so we don't see the lack of specific skills.