In our last article, we discussed the Central Illinois Workforce Board’s recommendations to Congressman Ray LaHood on closing the educational skills gap that many young people experience as they seek to transition from high school into higher education or the workplace. The board identified five short-term recommendations and one long-term recommendation that would begin to address the many challenges we face in preparing young people to compete in the 21st century global economy. The shortterm recommendations include:
• Foster a sense of urgency by helping Central Illinois community members understand the economic challenges the country and the region faces
• Champion dramatic improvements in career and technical education, beginning in grades Pre-K to 8
• Significantly increase business participation in Pre-K-16 schools
• Increase student participation in career and technical education programs in the high schools
• Support ongoing, creative-funding initiatives, particularly in career and technical education
The long-term recommendation was to examine systemic changes in the K-12 school system to maintain global competitiveness. To accomplish this task several challenges have been identified.
A culture of lifelong learning must be developed, beginning with lengthening the K-12 school day/year to be more aligned with the global education and training system. As our region and country seek to compete in a global knowledge economy, lifelong learning and education will be essential tools. In addition, our K-12 educational system will have to be totally reinvented to be relevant in the 21st century. One major area for radical change will be the length of the school year.
Today, we inherit an educational system that was born in the late 1800s. During that time, our economy was primarily based on agriculture. As a result, children went to school during the fall and winter and took the summer off to work on the farm. Today, this tradition continues with our children going to school about 180 days per year while other competitor nations send their children to school up to 240 days per year. In a knowledge-driven economy, children are being expected to know more and more information over their lifetime in order to compete with better-prepared children throughout the world. A challenge for our country will be the reevaluation of this antiquated tradition.
Ironically, those most opposed to a change in this area are middle-class parents who think their children are “doing fine” and look forward to an extended summer vacation. Another complicating factor is the plethora of school districts within each county and state, each with independent authority. As we explore the concept of creating 21st century “learning communities,” we face an uphill battle across the socio-economic and political spectrums, which are rooted in traditions that are over a century old. As we move into the future, some of our traditions and institutions that have served us well in the past may have to change.
In future issues we will continue to explore challenges to make our children’s education globally competitive. IBI