“Massive” Skill Shortages: Questionable education culture and system needs these reforms and why

Before elaborating on the above themes, let me mention that I have around twenty years of teaching experience from primary to secondary to university to corporate levels.

I also importantly have twenty one years or so of learning experience at those same levels, combined and beyond. An educator’s experience as a student should be also partially instructive of how they see the education world.

My general view on both is too long, too much of the wrong stuff and not enough of the needed regarding the labour market, current and future.

I will outline after a largely annotated overview,  key recommendations in particular to make the education culture and system more relevant to the employment needs of today’s graduates.

First, the incidental part about being a teacher for too many years is more related to my case where I personally should have separated myself long ago from most of the public system and academia. In too many places, they are largely doing a very incomplete to dreadful job of preparing so many students for the job market. That is a personal experiential lense, if not bias but so be it.

I will, however not go on here at length  about the excessively politically correct atmosphere and tremendously anti-conservative/anti-business overall tilt within the educational field. It is so well described in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal though at times exaggerated. But a more pro-business attitude would drive the system to be more sensitive about labour market needs of large to small businesses that would sustain economic growth for the large part.

The main problems are far from being only related to those who wish to simplify the source of the problem down to”blame the instructor”. Too many instructors are actually  the front-line “casualties” of both deficits in a poor education culture and a poor education system and they, thus require a degree of sympathy.

I remember one administrator at a university who could not understand the main challenges teachers faced in what they knew was a culturally and pedagogically mismatched curriculum to most students until he instructed a class, himself. There is too much of this kind of nonsense taking place.

However, in theory if one one has too much disdain for something, one should remove oneself and/or make suggestions for reform from within. However, the nature of the self-perpetuating mediocre educational institutional “beast” in too many instances is to isolate the serious critic, even the constructively positive one.

Some institutions will even punish them and/or degrade teachers’ reputation if they are unable to push the  square peg  curriculum into the classroom round whole. No wonder teacher burnout is high and why many are not attracted to the field and leave prematurely.

Worse, the system too often holds no one accountable (or the wrong people) for major mistakes. I have seen this with one Canadian vocational college that wasted millions of dollars on poorly thought out programmes in the Middle East and with the head of it simply moving on and getting his dream job in another college.

Too much of educational leadership approaches useful critics like the way a hospital would treat a person with a bad or even deadly virus with the critic being considered like a dangerous patient -to be isolated. The education system is largely very good at this, partly explaining why it is so bad overall. It takes healthy criticism very badly at one level or another and treats it like a disease to be eradicated where possible.

I can only feel fortunate that most of my own teachers, albeit at a top independent school were dedicated and good. This occurred  despite the authoritarian aspect of what I call the “regime”. Critical thinking there including those against the implicit “aristocratic” tendencies could be even rewarded with a stick back in those days.

Regarding such institutions, I once asked a headmaster at a top school what areas of weakness he could identify for improvement within. He simply said the provincial government should do better. So sad and he knew I was both an educator and essentially a “shareholder” of that school. This is another example of the very bad approach to critical thinking within the educational field. The reaction is too often overly defensive than reflective, and not enough proactive at times.

For that headmaster’s statement “Being comfortable about being uncomfortable”,  should fully apply to administrators not just students at times when they struggle without arriving  at easy success with worthwhile tasks – or even “fail” .It is a word I am not sure one can be allowed to use in certain educational circles: a word nowadays in the politically charged atmosphere of liberal education that seems almost to have been banned.

How bad exactly  are the problems with the education system as far as the labour market is concerned? The European Commission for decades has identified a massive gap in skill shortages, partly explaining overall high unemployment through most of the continent. How could such a catastrophe take place for so long, if the educational governance was truly fully effective in meeting its challenges head on? (References are a plenty)

The education system and culture have to be seen as explaining in serious part this problem. Though part  of it is  due to bad governance , a part also relates to culture.  Too many heads of families do not want their sons and daughters to go into jobs often in high demand such as vocational professions of plumbers,  electricians, carpenters, construction workers  and so forth. That is symptomatic of anti-blue collar snobbery. It is not only discriminatory but  it needs to be remembered that many of these jobs pay better than what a good number of university graduates earn.

I will also elaborate on the anti-science, college major attitudes by too many students that in part help to over fill law schools and add to our collective litigious culture, especially in the West and especially in the United States. Just look at the huge billboards in the US of lawyers drumming up litigation. Rather there is a growing question of whether more law schools should be closed or shrunken. This concept  of shrinkage could be more widely applied to other overbloated faculties.

How bad will this pattern of mismatching students to positive employable majors and the high skill shortage get in the West? Take a look a what follows regarding just the future of Ontario, Canada’s largest province. It should alarm. Re http://www.conferenceboard.ca/ infographics/skills-gap-info.aspx

The situation in America is quite a concern, as well with a general understanding these days that there are too many academic based universities and an over-supply of them at the lower standard level. In some countries this is taking place all while a good number are with standards in the range  of Harvard or Stanford or Oxford. And tuition costs have exploded in the last decade in too many places.

These substandard, post-secondary institutions live on too much of the federal and junior governments’ largesses of subsidies and student loans. Interestingly, many economists worry even about their future impact on the economy as student  loan default rates putting into ever potential crisis a  giant debt mound guaranteed by taxpayers. Yes, the US Congress filled with too many lawyers was behind that mess, too of almost  saying that no kid  should be left behind from getting a university education, if they want one.

We need less university educated students as a percentage of society, not more in the US and probably most developed countries. Anyone who says this by the way in education circles is committing career “self-immolation”  given the true lack of freedom in many liberal institutions for truly open debate that does not totally mimic mainstream liberal core values.

Importantly,  in the US, state/regional accreditation agencies are unwilling to pull the plug even partially except on the very few. The rationale is hard to explain. The system in summary seems corrupt of decent standards and willing to fail, too. Too many administrators do not care enough and legislators just largely talk about it and do little or even remain silent and disinterested.

Possibly, the mainstay view of the powers that be is that these low performing universities must be regarded as safe places that are too big and important to fail,  including their students. With Congress and state legislators adding their voices along with senators expressing their views about the horrendous economic impact of closing a university, the status quo is maintained in the US and similarly, in other countries with such self-serving, expedient think.

What I really do not understand is why these poorly performing universities are not at least put into or through (more rapid) full-scale conversion. Why for example,  are not humanity faculties shredded or better still courses from such departments added to new vocational and applied science  programmes including useful programmes in the health sector.

I have argued that engineers to business management students need to get with it, be it in areas of psychology, sociology and modern to even classical philosophy or foreign languages. The degree with which a vast array of stakeholders intersect with society and corporations and the rest of the world  means we need professionals that are not only highly specialized but holistic.

Such an educational approach might better help many students in their integration than being part of  the current path to national economic  and societal disintegration, especially in certain communities.. I feel I benefitted  in personal development with five years of applied sciences but followed by many non-science courses including a masters in a non-science area..

So even in a restructuring the humanity departments, they need not be eliminated. But instead they need to widen their type of clientele by teaching future scientists and applied scientists,about issues such as bio-ethics to poverty to environmental degradation. This needs to be done in a well structured way not as an aside to major science, applied science and management programmes.

Then there is the issue of work and education visas. There is nothing wrong with encouraging a degree of foreign student placement particularly from Third World countries in greater development need.

Such graduates in most instances should go back where possible to helping their countries, all part of uplifting and stabilizing humanity. But most want to stay on or go to other well-off countries and gain much higher salaries. This is not largely positive and is especially true in high tech and applied sciences. This pattern should be stopped though OECD treaties and scholarships structured  to be highly encouraging  and helping to put to arrest the debilitating brain drain in the Third World.

Coincidently, also not positive for a country like America with so much underemployment is that there is a huge importation of foreign workers in the critical fields of high tech. While there needs to be a certain degree of globalization in such work places, America should be turning out more high tech expertise of its own  to enable it take more, but not all of these jobs . So why is it not?

I believe one reason is there is not enough of a pro-science culture to encourage entry into degrees in appropriate areas of math, engineering and sciences. As someone who has a top level applied science degree that was highly demanding to obtain, I can tell you why a lot of students want to avoid such programmes. They are damn hard and do not by themselves guarantee good jobs because of economic cycles, etc.

They are also time consuming, lengthy and often require knowledge and skills not so well taught in most regular high schools. Science and engineering graduates prefer to work in fields that pay much more than teachers. So there can be deficits in the quality of this kind of teaching, as well

I found it also fascinating than even in the broken economic system of the Soviet Union, so many of their leaders had technical degrees in areas like engineering and agriculture or related. Maybe, it was because their economic system was so flawed that they needed everyone focused on material and food production.

Of course, you need science to create space stations to proper telemetry for space rockets and missiles in the huge Russian military complex. No wonder the US respected Gorman report rated Moscow University in those day as being the second or third best post secondary institution in the world.

The Russians actually had uncompromising educational standards in those days at least in the math and sciences but unfortunately within a rotten economic structure. If you were not up-to-scratch, then you were out and no one cared about keeping class numbers up nor revenues to satisfy educational corporate beancounters.

This attitude would be better applied in today’s West. Consequently, there should be less support for “degree mills” by the private sector for profit. There are too many of them,  primarily interested in cash than standards and  good Wall Street analysts’ views.

Russia’s heavy promotion  of the sciences had them leaping ahead of us in space until the latter 1960s. Their  thrust back then into science led to a new thrust in the West on science education and research. We need to do this again even more big-time while the Chinese and Russians upgrade their science education and coincidentally, modernize their military and seriously.

Yet interestingly few law makers and leaders in the West have degrees in applied sciences, sciences or maths. Possibly and coincidentally, Germany which has always placed a premium on sciences (like Switzerland) has a leader with a top level science degree. Re https://evidencefordemocracy.ca/en/ content/where-are-all-mps-phds that underscores only 4 percent of parlementarians in Canada have science degrees. The situation in Britain looks even worse https://duncan.hull.name/2015/05/08/ scientist-mps/ though this is not a thorough rigorous assessment.

Outside Frau Merkel’s unusual spontaneous welcoming of  excessively large numbers of refugees and neo-con US geopolitical pressures, Chancellor Merkel largely approaches more domestic problems with a scientific method based on facts, as well as pragmatism.

In the face of there being too many faculties like law schools, especially in America, producing excess surpluses of lawyers and commensurate litigation, this possibly makes getting elected as being attractive. After all, understanding law related to legislative processes and the debating skills learned in law school can help lawyers outperform science degree holders (more socially introverted) in terms of publicity and media attractiveness that helps them get elected.

However you speculate about various cultural and policy limits on promoting science education in many western countries, we need more scientists and applied ones “humbling” themselves from their labs and well paying jobs going into  the public system inclusive of the public service, legislatures, courts to schools. Pro-science leadership at the top that really understands science and how to better popularize it is  in part critically essential for pro-science cultural changes to come about again at the grass roots.

With leaders with science backgrounds in the public spheres being more visible, it could help to push and encourage the public and students to have a greater interest in science and science policy including the understaffed health sector and high tech sectors so dependent on foreigners.

It might also help to turn a too often irrational education system into a more empirical and fact based decision making one in generating better results, overall for both the labour market and the holistic development of the individual  student.

Recommendations:

  1.  A massive change in education culture towards vocational and science and applied science jobs, inclusive of more women -starting with political parties more consciously getting pro-science and science background advocates into politics.

2)  Appointment of more cabinet ministers with science backgrounds and ones with/ in (science based) vocational training.

3)  Quotas on university loans by sector and major. More money and quotas available for vocational fields and applied science fields with demonstrative employment futures.

4) Higher salaries for quality science teachers for high school.

5) Humanities and other fields to be more injected into science and applied science curriculum including communications, languages, psychology, economics, environment and ethics, etc .

6. Conversions of some universities in whole or part into vocational centres and/or government and/or corporate training upgrading centres.

7. Provide retraining centres so professors can learn how to adjust to meet new requirements of both effective teaching as opposed to dull lecturing and make more labour market and student relevant deliverable curriculum.. This may require extensive retraining or in lieu, early retirements.

This could help to facilitate restructuring towards more applied science and scientific innovation orientations and the bringing in of the new blood that is being blocked by tenure and university stagnation.

8. In conformity with the above, build new science and research and teaching education infrastructure where it improves productivity, not just for construction job creation in the locales affected.

9. Implement more widely, apprenticeship programmes. This reflects a need for much more collaboration with industry and even government departments. In fact do not allow more student entrants into college programmes than what the market will bear.

10. Study the German and Swiss models of education in better developing a more science oriented culture and education system.

Conclusion: However you look at it, too much of the education system is underperforming for cultural, policy and structural reasons. Faced with this sense of bad trends in too many schools and universities, though far from all, a full shake up in some instituitions including the policy making ones is needed.

The above suggestions need more thorough exploration and (accelerated) implementation from the perspective of an educator with extensive classroom and  a fair amount of administrative experience.

The data is supportive, as well as the public mood in many countries. A society with an education system that is poorly performing or far from optimal in the main developed countries is a very expensive and dumb idea.

Let’s make overall, education much  smarter. We owe it to the kids and we owe it to the current and future economy. It is seriously under threat because of our less than optimal approach to how we  both look at education and reform it. We are treading water at best.

P.S. For some ideas on critical thinking, check this out from Credit Suisse  that I recently received:

https://m.youtube.com/watchv=xpi1Mdt54r4%3Faa_cmp%3Ddisp_cadv_glob_161109_ca1607 _pr005_ag04_bt02_cf02_eng_me00001

 

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