"Education in the 21st Century: Trends and Directions"
Summary of Keynote Speech by Mr. Gary Keith, Counsellor, US Embassy
- Some policy makers contend that higher education users should pay the cost of the instruction. Those proponents tend to view higher education as something that benefits the individual rather than viewing it as a public good, something that benefits the whole society. This mindset had prompted a move to tighten budget for higher education. Academic systems and institutions have tried to deal with financial constraints in several ways. The privatization in some public institutions and tuition increase, these are two majors responses to decreased direct government supports. In many parts of the world, conditions of
study had deteriorated due to this limitation, enrollment separatism, better resources including faculty have not caught up with the needs. Academic infrastructure including libraries and laboratories have been poorly maintained in many parts. Less had been spent on research.
- Changing of classroom methodology: Forty years ago, the focus in many US universities was that a large percentage of students in class took notes of what the professor had said. The professors tended to dictate what they had learned during their own university days. And the lectures had been sprinkled with references to important research and texts issued in the intervening years. Amid this setting students usually tried to memorize what the professors and the textbooks said. All in all, in classrooms of that era, a one-way transfer of information was typically occurring. That approach of teaching became less sustainable when it became apparent that the body of knowledge being transferred from a professor to a student became
obsolete too quickly, especially in scientific and technological fields. As a result, US University class-rooms witnessed the gradual shift in learning methods, students shifting from memorizing information to analyzing information. Professors then began to treat knowledge less like a product to be delivered and they would be teaching students how to learn during a lifetime.
The students are increasingly being taught on how to fish in the swift current of this information river. So over the last several decades the classrooms have become more interactive. There would be taking and giving in exchanges between professors and students as well as among the students. The professors’ role is less that of the transmitter of knowledge and more that of facilitator of learning. Students are increasingly assigned to small group projects so that they can develop collaborative skills that will serve them in the working world later.
- Education and work are activities that should feed one another. Educators and business leaders rarely discussed, and they had little to agree upon. There are prerequisites for successful employment. The demand for education throughout the life cycle is becoming apparent, because of rapid changes in technology and a creation of employment category that did not
even exist ten years ago. Workers and employers must be continually educated to upgrade their capability. The speaker suggested the practice of Community College System as one example of institutions which support the life-long learning and
upgrade the workers’ education to meet the local employment opportunities.
- In United States certificate programs and short term courses of study are rapidly developing. In the United States alone they will increase their spending by additional 15 billion dollars over the next five years just to maintain current employees’ training levels. Even government and armed forces in the US are being forced to think and act in newly creative and innovative ways. The US army plans to provide lap top computers and distant education courses to officers to pursue their further education even when they are working in the army through distant education. This project will help them recruit more soldiers. The army already has distant education programs but most courses are in military subjects but by contrast the new programs will allow soldiers to pursue their educational goals.
- Another worldwide trend is the privatization of higher education in Latin America and some parts of Asia and the fastest growing part of academic systems are private institutions. As I mentioned, public universities in some places are closed
since these have been privatized in the sense that they are increasingly responsible for raising their own funds. I was talking with administrators of the University of Washington who told me that they only received 14% of their budget directly from the
state. And the other 86% is from other sources including tuition of courses. And the position of University of Michigan was similar to other universities, 83% was from the various sources like grants and tuition but only 17% came directly from state.
- Accountability is the watch-word in contemporary higher education and it is demanded by funding sources that grants be used to measure academic productivity and to control funding allocation. A university president’s role has turned to that
of a professional administrator. In the US a university president no longer tends to concentrate on day to day academic issues affecting the faculty and studies. Instead a president’s day and night are increasingly spent in trying to raise revenue for the university.
- Educational exchanges, internationalization, curricular and campus activities are the prime ways to ensure that students and faculty learn to think and work on a global basis. In the US which generally receives the highest number of foreign students in the world (about 500,000 US is not very international on account of campuses.) In April of this year President Clinton issued a memorandum about the policy of US towards the international education, the essence of the policy is summarized in the following passage “It is the policy of the federal government to support international education. We are committed to encouraging students from some other countries to study in the US. We are committed to prioritize study abroad by US students, supporting the exchange of teaching, scholars and citizens at all levels of society, enhancing that institutions with projects that build international partnership.”
Community College System
- In United States the community college system has emerged as an appealing way for students of all ages to prepare for future work to update their skills for a new challenge that they face in the new current world. A few weeks ago, Governor James Hunt, of the North Carolina visited Thailand. He said that forty years ago, North Carolina was largely an agrarian state with a
dying textile industry and one of the most poorly rated educational systems in the US. Governor Hunt noticed that the challenge facing North Carolina in the 1960 when the system was started was similar to the challenge facing Thailand now. The need was to train a large world population with agricultural skills to gain the skills they needed to work in manufacturing and service sectors. So back in the 196Os, North Carolina government officials decided that education would be a key to the state’s future. They began a dialogue with educators and with business people and they could reform their educational system to make it more responsive to changing needs of the work force.
- North Carolina determined that community college system would be the sole organization in the state responsible for all adult education, except for that of university level. Their community college system has played the major role in changing North Carolina from a relatively poor agricultural state that lagged behind many states in education into a new a state that is a
leader in information technology, biotechnology, and many industries of the future.
- I think that the community college system of North Carolina State is exciting because they bring together the business people, educators, and government officials. They’re really talking and they’re getting concrete results. This community college system is fully state-funded with very few federal funds for its courses. The college received support for buildings and
campuses from the local community. And the operating cost comes from the state. So tuition is inexpensive. All the teachers have Master’s Degrees, but a high percentage of teachers were not academic. They come directly from industries. Some
top teachers come from high schools. North Carolina’s Community College System has fully open admission. But first students must be evaluated and they can only take courses for which they are ready. The first step is to place them at the level at which they can succeed. Some start at a very basic level. Others are already prepared to learn at the college level. Twenty five percent of the product of these community colleges go on to the university after two years. Most students however are simply seeking a high quality two-year degrees preparing them for the specific generally technical occupations that are often high paying- like being a biotech assistant, computer programmer, a nurse, a legal assistant etc.
- Industries prefered graduates with specific technical skills rather than a general occupation academic degree. The system is non-residen-tial but the campuses are within 30. minutes drive of every citizen of the state. There are 59 colleges and 114 campuses both large and small.
- Every college has business and technical advisory committees made up of local employers who advise on a skill needed in the community. The committee makes key decisions on courses and curricu-lums. There are no college administrators for making this key decision all courses are driven by employment needs of the community.
- As you can imagine, the community college system in that state is a heavy user of distant education, because small campuses can-not support enough faculty to staff all the courses needed in the local community. In fact, the state auto-matic
teller system allows five-way-interactive video so that it’s double . in its uses. They offer a wide variety of technology and techniques that they can employ with satellite tech-nology, video, and Internet as well as traditional correspondence courses.
- I was surprised when the president of the North Carolina’s Community College System who visited along with the governor told me that learning is sometimes found to be better via these technologies rather than via traditional classrooms, because he said some students are intimidated by the teacher or by the class, whereas on Internet they tended to ask more questions, and have more involvement with the teacher.
- Now the average age of students in this system is 3 1. And it’s rising as more workers need retooling a new skill later in life to adjust to changing industrial technology. So this life long learning is not just for particular set of years. Older students also attend courses to enrich their life to acquire skill needed for their hobby, to enhance their earning capabilities. The community college system there is the key in attracting new education. The state promises that any industry not creating at least twelve new jobs will have their new workers trained for free. The state decided that it had the target training for real jobs. They believe that it’s waste of time to offer general training for which there’re no immediate employment prospects. If someone loses his job in one industry then training is offered in whatever industry a job is available. So for example, they train textile workers who are losing their jobs to go into office work or to set up their own small businesses, or to go into new technology. The key to them is having a clear idea of employment opportunity available locally.
- Even though the system is large, it is flexible because each college provides the courses needed in a particular community. The central offices of these community college systems do not order any college to teach any particular courses. Each college has a board and a business advisory committee which determined which course should be taught and when. They not only initiate courses but they shut them down when they feel there’re no longer any real employment opportunity available. Often factory owners sit down with the community college to plan for all their workers. In fact 25 percent of all the students are in program custom-designed for specific employers.
- Almost all instructions are hands on and very interactive, even those in plant training. If necessary in some programs, students learn until they have the skills needed, and not for just specific allotment of time. This was called ‘competency based
- At each of these colleges, there is a small business center to help businesses succeed. Often they are run by former businessman who know how to set up a business-to do business planning-to do accounting-managing human resources based on their personal experience. The center however also has full access to courses in the college for their clients. So these business centers refer people into accounting or technical courses.
- The system is largely subsidized by the state. How can it be sustainable? The state has learned, there’re very high returns on investment in helping small businesses because successful business people pay state taxes. Unsuccessful one must apply for unemployment benefits. Japan had been so impressed by North Carolina’s College System, that it has invested 9 billion dollars in the state industries.
- The community college system links very closely to high schools as well. Many high school technical education programs are designed to dovetail with courses taught in the community college, when small high schools can’t provide teachers for advance courses that their top students want. So the community college allows them into college courses and a high school gives credits towards graduation for these courses.
- The most important aspect of this system is that every thing is under one roof, so to speak, no bureaucracy. All adult education after high school except for university is done through this community college system-medi-cal education, program for business and enhancement of life. Every thing there is through community colleges. It is the most comprehensive system of its kind in United States. Elsewhere there’re competitions for resources, different attitude and infighting among agencies, but in general not in North Carolina. North Carolina is genuinely acknowledged as one of the most progressive work force development state in our country. In fact it is even regarded as the most innovative community college in the United States and that nomination did not come from the governor of North Carolina-it rather came from the governor of Kentucky who visited a dozen of states looking to study how various systems were run.