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THE ILLITERACY EPIDEMIC





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SCHOOLS OF THE FUTURE

The schools that will shape our nation's future in the 21st century – are being planned today, at a time when education is again in the national spotlight. Nearly 30 reports issued by commissions and individuals have made it clear to the American people that their nation will be "at risk" unless they pay attention to their schools. During the past several years dozens of panels, commissions and other experts have made recommendations on how schools can become more effective. Continuing to improve America's schools is the key to the United States' future. Schools must make their plans for the future with an understanding of the key issues that will affect education.

A major responsibility of schools in the future will be to prepare students to enter a rapidly changing job market. American workers will need to be more highly trained than at present.

Schools will be responsible for preparing students who are adaptable, who are able to respond quickly to the changing requirements of new technologies. Schools will train both young and adults; adult workers will need reeducation and retraining.

In the future, schools and business will need to work closely in a new business/education partnership.

Emphasis on such "traditional" academic subjects as reading, writing and mathematics will increase.

New technologies, such as computers, videodiscs and cable television will change the look of the "schoolroom." In the future, students may spend 1 or 2 days each week studying at home. Increased and well-planned use of these new learning technologies will enable machines and humans each to teach what they teach best.

Because of the additional responsibilities that will be imposed on teachers, they will archive greater status in society. In the future, they will be paid salaries that are comparable with other professionals. They will work in schools that offer continuing opportunities for professional advancement and training. As a result, education will once again attract the nation's brightest and most qualified students.

 

THE ILLITERACY EPIDEMIC

In 1889 a person was judged literate if he could sign his name. In the machine economy of 1939, it meant completing the sixth grade. Today, the Information Age of computers and high technology requires a bare minimum of reading and writing skills at the high-school-graduate level. Changes in workplace needs are so dramatic and unpredictable that people must be ready to adapt to jobs that did not even exist when they were in school.

There are 25 million Americans who cannot read or write at all. An additional 45 million are functionally illiterate without the reading and writing skills to find work – and that number is growing by more than 2 million a year.

Illiteracy is compounded by the attack on English as a national language, yet civilizations rise by literacy and a common language. Knowledge becomes accessible to all.

America, above all, drew inspiration from that ancient tradition of liberty and knowledge. Yet, curiously, we also have an anti-intellectual tradition of those who give the impression that they "know better." But in the post-industrial era, when the majority of people in the work force make a living with their minds, not their hands, it is education – more than coal or steel or even capital – that is the key to our economic future.

How can we restore America to preeminence by having the most educated work force in the world by the year 2020?

The first requirement is to organize schools that address the realities of modern life. Today, 60 per cent of women with children over the age of 3 work outside the home. Single-parent households and dual-income families need year-round schools providing an extended school day and enriched day care to teach their children and keep them safe.

America also must fund preschools on a massive scale. A human being is capable of learning more in the earliest years than in the rest of his or her lifetime.

The second requirement is to establish performance standards. Not enough is expected academically of American students, our most successful competitors, the Japanese, have much higher levels of educational achievement because they have a longer school day and school year and because more is required of students. As a result, Japanese high-school graduates academically are equivalent to the average American starting junior year at a good college.

 

Open Learning

 

Definitions of "open learning" are many and varied. This is partly because a wide range of open learning systems has developed from a variety of origins. These systems have then been adapted to suit the needs of particular learning centres. However, a generally accepted definition describes an open learning system as: "one which enables individuals to take part in programmes of study of their choice, no matter where they live or whatever their circumstances."

Open learning is a way of study which lets individuals learn: 1) what they wish, 2) in their own time, 3) in a place of their choice, 4) at a pace that suits them.

In many ways, open learning contrasts with traditional "closed" class or group-based systems. These require that enrolments take place at a set time, often at the start of the academic year. After enrolment the course lasts for a given length of time with regular, usually weekly or daily, group meetings. During these meetings, an important part of the tutor's role is to pass on knowledge of the subject to the learners. The tutor is in charge of the course. He or she decides what is to be studied and for how long. Generally we can think of this way of learning as a tutor-centred approach.

In a true open learning system, the learner can start a course whenever he or she wishes. There is no class to "keep up with" and so the speed of working entirely depends on the individual's wishes or personal circumstances. If study becomes difficult or even impossible for a time, the learner can stop working until ready to carry on again. There is no need, either, to travel to regular class meetings since the package of learning materials should contain all necessary information on the subject or skill being studied.

Unless there is a set examination syllabus, the learner can decide Which aspects of the subject he or she wishes to cover.

This does not mean that tutor or trainer help is no longer required. A few years ago some open learning enthusiasts believed that learning packages could stand alone without any further support. Very high drop-out rates strongly indicated that they were wrong. However, because the learner already has the subject material in the course package, the subject tutor's role is altered. He or she is no longer the main source of knowledge or information, but provides support, guidance and counselling for the learners as they work through the subject materials.

In general, an open learning approach is student-centred. The individual is in control of the content, pace and location of his or her learning process.

 

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