Free Trade and Today’s Classroom in Need of More Harmonization? Some nations really need to get their act together

Why does one country over another get more benefit out of free trade deals? Some would say the better side has better deal makers. Some would say luck. I would say not to forget the quality and quantity of modern education to meet those challenges associated with opening boundaries to commerce and investment. Some details and suggestions follow here on that score.

A number of nations emphasize memory and rote skills in the class including followership behavior (parrot the teacher, etc) which to a certain degree have their place in being lent to old style factory production or basic service industries. But even in the modern factory to fast food franchise today, such an approach is proving of limited use.

However, in the modern world where more and more lesser developed and newly industrialized countries are trading evermore with advanced country juggernaught Americas or even Germanys, certain pressures are becoming more evident if the next boom in emerging markets is to take place.

One is being much faster and ready to serve customers who operate on compressed time lines, in multiple time zones and with needs for varied tailored services to even just survive. Irregular delays, cultural insensitivity and language incompetency, unpredictable and repeated production breakdowns and lack of empowerment and initiative of workers to fix them are decided negatives especially for companies wanting to survive globalization or seize new free-trade opportunities.

Too much time is wasted when the boss must be always around to think for his subordinates and to give authorization for too many decisions that should be well handled below supervisors. And some bosses have not even been properly schooled to think rationally and analytically to get at the true crux of a problem that is an essential first step that empowers them to solve it.

These managers, as well must go higher up too often and take up the precious time of “superiors”. There is even the question whether the idea connected to the word “boss” has limitations in the modern management environment if not obsolescence. The teacher can reinforce the old “boss” concept or this new concept of greater efficiency essential to competitiveness and moving a country to grab jobs in industries with a future.

Therefore, inflexible work rules by government, workers not trained or brought up in an education culture of promoting critical thinking and initiative make new country entrants to trade agreements prone to being soused by new foreign competitors.

Authoritarian thinking in excess in corporate and business sectors does not support the above. And above all and to repeat the client must be king or queen but not outside decent global ethics and concepts of sustainability. Changing such a mindset to a better paradigm can be reinforced by teachers. Do they want to and can they given the way they are trained or want to be trained in certain places, remains a point for increased reflection?

So it sometimes surprises me when teachers in certain places are not sufficiently incentivized given their potentially critical role in preparing the nation to meet free trade and even to ensure the nation just competes well enough with its neighbors.

Is that because they are given insufficient status in society, self-image problems, cultural parameters, bureaucratic and political narrow mindedness and lack of resources and proper ethics to properly support them? Or is it because of laziness?

In short the average classroom in too many countries and neighborhoods is retrograde in bringing on-line new workers and managers in dealing with the sometimes brutal competitive adjustments required in entering new free trade zones.

Therefore, the new teacher to be or teacher in service training must start by giving way to control of learning to students and encouraging them to think more for themselves in problem solving. They must permit more individual voice while maintaining positive aspects of student-teacher respect. This is not an argument to give the classroom wholesale over to the students which can be a recipe for chaos.

But good learning must evoke participation and initiation by the learner more frequently so they understand that they as individuals are also part of a global team held both responsible for the results they achieve and the overall team. Overly teacher reliant is like overly supervisor or superior reliant? It makes for a less productive worker or professional, except in the most traditional, very low labor cost work. Not even taxi drivers can maximize their survival and success with this mechanical, top down way of thinking.

To this end the modern classroom must embrace not only certain constructivist approaches, it must use the best possible technology further equipping learners with having prowess in self and group learning, achievement and quality assessment including accessible washback in which they can follow up and if necessary with a facilitating teacher. Students should be the center of the problem solving where possible and active, and the teacher less and less so.

Not only should learners be equipped with the best possible strategies to promote better (self) learning and adjustment beyond the class, they should have know-how to access the best available technologies to do so.

This should be done at no or limited personal expense to student and teacher and be continuously encouraged by their teachers to do so. That includes on-line to distance learning and constructive Internet usage. All of this must be supported by quality national techno-infrastructure and resource support. Thus, there is further reason to eliminate fund diversion and government waste.

In my humble view the average class is not empowering students sufficiently or fully to meet the challenges of free trade and globalization especially in certain countries and too many neighborhoods in both developed and “non-developed” countres . Worse, indeed, too many resources are diverted away into non-productive areas.

Certain government leaders are particularly aware of this and must figure that such diversions are not compatible to improving competitiveness as the Davos Forum and other think tanks have underscored. Free trade in the case of where these problems are too endemic can be a big wake up call to reform – or to economically “perish”. Or at best of the worst is to stagnate.

The ever increasing global free flow of information exposing these problems in the face of government policy inertia and bad funding management undermines morale of both students and teachers alike and reduces social cohesion to buy into or to believe that government sincerely is into positive educational reforms. These are universal problems though some jurisdictions and districts experience more than in others.

Quality education is not even simply more spending, it must be a needed and desired end that takes into consideration not only current global realities but what is needed for the next generation. Let us face it in this regard in preparing for the future, too many classes are dinosaurs though far from all.

Many teachers under trying circumstances are heroic in moving education forward. Though others need to better assess how they could do much better even within the limitations of what they have to work with.

Most importantly; together, poor, non-contemporary and non-appropriate education is a disservice to the young people of whom too many find after graduation that they do not have the right skill set, technically and in terms of emotional quotient.

The real pity is that there could be with all the financial cheap money better directed to improved education from Wall Street to London. If these financiers were more creatively socially responsible in more ways they could help worldwide youth become better educated to fill numerous available technical positions.

This in itself rather than pure economic growth could better lower youth unemployment in a sustainable fashion that seizes freer trade opportunities, now and in the future.

For example, hundreds of thousands plus more jobs go unfilled even in Europe because there are insufficiently skilled young people to fill them. Employers often also just simply retrain people while they hoped the schools and colleges would produce better prepared ones for the labour market.

Who do I blame? It can be from a culture where hard work is not sufficiently recognized in the context of the free trade forces being launched. Or where critical thinking and initiative are not supported or rewarded enough. Or from negative authoritarian tendencies of certain players applied when students and constructive, forward looking teachers try to achieve positive change.

It can happen when teachers are not properly incentivized to achieve real useful career prep for their students and where over testing systems that emphasize going to cram school and much memorization. Or where paper and admin work is not reduced and information systems put in place to eliminate waste and duplication.

It can happen because parents are too freaked out by their own responsibilities and their own harsh employment situation turning them into “human firecrackers” that destabilize the learner. Still too many learners come to school simply primed to distract, rather primed to learn. A nation cannot afford to have hungry students for even food, proper love and respect at home if they are to enter class in a ready to learn fashion.

There are many reasons but the question is whether many public education systems have been sufficiently self-critical and honest in identifying, developing and implementing practical solutions in the run-up to the free trade agreements they have put their name to.

In my decade plus of teaching and doing teacher training in the public sector, I find this to be an excellent question to be posed by countries signing free trade deals with highly advanced ones. And as to whether certain countries through insufficiently reformed education think they can rise above simply being havens for cheap manufacturing labor and dumping grounds for pollution and other social negatives not so much permitted in the West.

The answer is they cannot and countries like China with investment in alternative energy and having moved some of their universities to world class status have begun to recognize the need to move faster along the developmental and supportive education curves as South Korea recognized many decades ago. It is no coincidence that the latter essentially has gone from a poor country to be nearly classified as a fully developed one.

As an investor and global security writer, I am especially aware of the issues of youth and their attachment to issues of global security. My research paper at Harvard was on youth and world order, effectively.

The evidence is that youth are a potentially key building block in the foundation to both current and future stability and prosperity where they are sufficiently empowered and that could very well apply to the school and classroom environments. One view from famed scholars is when the needs of youth are not well met they can become a “detonator to change.”

In the current age too much violent political dysfunction with too many youths involved should be making the classroom a solution not a problem to their ills and so takes on even more importance.

Of course each country needs to interpret how this empowerment can move ahead in a culturally harmonious and pedagogically effective manner. There is no room for curricular imperialism from the outside in this day and age, well past the colonial period and with increasing disrespect for western neo-colonialism especially US centric types.

Certain countries need a much more honest public dialogue about what to do with education. From this, reforms need to be adjusted to meet the true imperatives of accelerating cross border commerce and investment to create jobs and growth.

Otherwise it could be sayonara to such new entrants and/or an overly extended rocky experience in the new free trade order. And the victims will be young people, the business sector and overall labour.

The education system must be given the vital and modern tools and the freedom to ensure their effective use. Or instead, free trade agreements will become wasted panacea or at least much more painful and more limited in bringing about resulting benefits than intended. That would be a shame.

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