John Florez: Jobs, education becoming unlinked

Published: Saturday, April 20 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

We are led to believe the economy, productivity, job creation and living standard are still linked together. It happened to be true until the 2000s.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

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Just as the steam engine gave rise to the industrial revolution, so is technology now driving the digital revolution. Both have disrupted the institutions we created to advance our way of life. The difference: Technology is more rapid and is doubling every 18 months.

What is not understood is that, with change, our institutions also must change to keep pace with the times. Thomas Jefferson understood this, " ... Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind ... with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times." Our education institution is one of those that must change. It was designed for the industrial revolution, but not for today's digital revolution.

We are led to believe the economy, productivity, job creation and living standard are still linked together. It happened to be true until the 2000s. Since then, technology has grown exponentially, but job growth and median income have declined. According to Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, professors at MIT Center for Digital Business, in their book, "Race Against the Machine," they are now de-coupled.

Technology destroys old jobs, creates new ones, and increases productivity. Many cling to the belief that with business growth there is job growth, but now there is a disconnect. Productivity increases while jobs decrease. Many see the solution to the decline of jobs and disparity in the median income of Americans as being due to lack of education; however, businesses are buying more machines, using more technology and hiring fewer workers. Machines and computers are now replacing humans in many mid-skilled jobs, including some requiring a college education. Robots can now diagnose illness and complete legal documents. The jobs left for humans are those that require innovation and creativity, problem solving, sensitivity, working with others (crowd sourcing), and communication.

The exponential growth of technology is challenging our institutions and our old theories about our economy, jobs and the American dream — that if you live and play by the rules, you can succeed. Technology has improved the lives of all, but not equally. Education is no longer a ticket to the middle class; and listening to those who want to maintain the status quo, only more of it, is part of the problem. What technology has done is made us all immigrants to a new world trying to cope with change.

Some leaders complain our schools are not producing workers with the skills needed for today's digital economy, yet continue to support a system designed to prepare students for the industrial era that called for repetition, rote memorization, testing and was organized by bells. The classroom and curriculum has not changed much with the teacher imparting information and students absorbing it.

The technological revolution challenges our theories and institutions starting with education. Technology now has the ability to empower the individual and our schools must teach students how to problem solve, become innovative, entrepreneurs and learn how to crowd source. It gives the individual the ability to access information, communicate and share information with others around the world.

Technology opens opportunities for teachers to explore new ways to cultivate the innate talent, curiosity, imagination and creativity in students. One of those is "classroom flipping," where the teacher records a lesson students can review at home and then discuss the subject in class the following day.

Until our education system creates a culture of risk taking and innovation, our schools will continue to be driven by data warehousing and testing for an economy that no longer exists. Let's educate a new generation of entrepreneurs that can create jobs yet to be invented.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at jdflorez@comcast.net.

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