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Transformation of Education - 1

Donald G. Perrin

The November Editorial began to explore necessary changes for education to weather the economic downturn. The short-term goal was to maintain educational services for all who need them. The long term goal was transformation to a sustainable, more efficient, and higher quality system to compete globally and to meet the needs of the 21st century. The short term solution was a band-aid approach. Pre-school through 12th grade public schools would recruit volunteers from out-of-work parents to increase overall productivity. Colleges and universities would use distance learning to extend educational services beyond their on-campus capacity. A band aid is not a solution – it protects something while healing or reconstruction is taking place.

Business, industry, military, government, health care, and living at home have undergone significant transformations during the past century as a result of innovations, new technology, socio-economic changes, and natural disasters. Innovations and technology include automobiles for the masses, airplanes, bullet trains, freeways, telephone, radio, motion pictures, television, audio /video recorder-players, computers, computer networks, the internet, Google, cell phones, digital cameras, Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS), automation, and robotics. Political and economic changes result from paradigm shifts, wars and natural disasters. In some instances, change is so radical that the way we live and do business is changed forever. Flattening of world economies, interdependence of countries, and instant communications have positioned us as partners in seeking solutions for regional and global problems.

Business has excellent diagnostic tools that can guide educational change and development. One example is Peter F Drucker’s Theory of the Business (Harvard Business Review, September-October 1994). It had two important messages. One was that strategies that worked in the past might not work in the future. He presented case histories that showed how corporations who did everything right (based on past experience) faced failure!

He demonstrated that success is related to the ability of an organization to respond to changes in the environment. Success requires a close match between the mission, environment, and competencies of an organization. Performance is degraded when these areas are out of balance.

The mission defines focus and boundaries for the organization. If the mission is too broad or unbounded, the organization is inefficient and less competitive. This caused near demise of IBM in the 1990s. IBM refocused its mission on what it did best – service and mainframes. The increase demand for services was sufficient for the company to reinvent itself.

Customer needs shapes demand. If its mission does not serve the needs of the environment, an organization becomes irrelevant and unprofitable. Since the environment is continually changing, the organization must continually adapt its products and services to be cost effective and maintain or grow market share.

An organization provides goods and/or services to the marketplace based on demand. Its effectiveness is dependent on quality, cost, and responsiveness to customer needs beyond the capabilities of its competition.

If we overlap these discs, we see a small common area where all three overlap and larger common areas where each pair overlaps. To the extent that all three areas overlap, the organization is relevant. Quality of service, profit, and communications will be greatest when the three discs overlap completely.

If the mission does not match the environment, it lacks relevance and demand is weak. If competencies (supply) do not match environmental needs (demand) the bottom line is diminished.

How does this relate to education? Is our mission relevant to the environment, and are our competencies equal to the mission? Is education “out of sync” with the world of the 21st century. The mission of transformation begins where we started in last month’s editorial, by defining the problem and identifying alternative solutions that are relevant, affordable, sustainable, and replicable, with custom modifications, for all education and training. Perhaps there is not one solution but a cluster of options to serve different requirements of the education and training community. Then we train the trainers and teachers, produce the programs, install the technology; implement, evaluate, revise and replicate successful programs. We need to forever monitor the environment to upgrade our competencies and fulfill our mission. And since our products and services are designed for people who will move into future jobs and industries, our curriculum must be forward looking and supported by market surveys, forecasting, and management science tools.


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