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The Mission of Public Education

Increase Productivity or Build Potential?

· Leadership

The so-called “decline in education productivity” is in reality a failure of both education and business leadership at the highest levels to honor the mission of basic public education.

The mission of education is not to “fix people” or train them in the top skills that business needs to increase its performance. The ultimate purpose of basic education is to give students knowledge of the world around them, to foster learning experiences that respond to cultural and developmental needs, and to build the skills to live as full, happy, productive, resilient, and responsible citizens.

A quality and equal education places the student’s success as the primary goal, by ensuring the learning environment stimulates students individually and in groups to continue to think and learn about the world; to develop the relationships to work with others; to apply, extend and interpret facts; and to acquire the applicable skills (what many call employability skills), competences and attitudes that will enable them to realize their own and their society’s full potential.

Enough chatter! Focus on realizing potential

It is not the role of K-12 schools to compensate for the failure of business to invest in its own educational needs. The public basic education system is responsible for empowering children to become active participants in the transformation of their societies, focusing learning on the values, attitudes and behaviors that will enable them to learn to live together in a world characterized by diversity and pluralism (adapted from UNESCO).

Business is responsible for making the connection between learning and working tangible. For a business of any size, investing in the skills education of its workers for the short, mid and long term is critically important so it can respond to the evolving demands of the external competitive environment. A business manager can’t and shouldn’t wait until competition forces the issue by requiring dramatic changes in the way the company operate.

Federal and state educational leadership is responsible for preventing undue influence of business in the public education system and for ensuring funds are used effectively and efficiently so that education makes a contribution to the well-being of society and the economy. Government funding for education and training in the private sector can best be used to support job creation and skills development, remediation and upgrading in micro and very small businesses.

For companies that are not micro or very small in size, investment in education of its workforce does not require seeking government funding or support. Nor does it require reducing spending in other critical areas. Bigger companies can, with the will of its leadership, easily restructure their internal economics by reducing the pay gap between their upper management and their average worker. After all, according to Forbes Magazine, CEO pay averages 361 times that of the average worker. Reducing that gap to, say, 200 may not please the CEO but it will in the longer term be more beneficial to the company and therefore the CEO.

Like oxygen and water

Business undoubtedly needs well-educated, self-disciplined, motivated young people. Business-education relationships such as mentoring programs, scholarship awards and apprenticeships can give individual students incentives to achieve better and more. But schools need to be able to focus on the business of educating well-rounded citizens motivated to continue learning and improving their basic skills, whether in college or vocational school, and to contribute to society productively.

Realizing individual potential is what most contributes to improving personal lives and helping a society perform at its best. The better individual potential is realized through basic education the more economic growth and stability is achieved. The more that potential is developed through in-house business education programs, the better business performs.

Education is as important as oxygen is to survive; it is important to people of all ages and has no limit. Business, on the other hand, is more like water. It’s essential for an economy’s survival, because it drives economic stability and growth. It provides the jobs that strengthen economic health and the services, products and tax dollars that directly contribute to keeping the community in good economic health. But if you can’t breathe you can’t drink water. That’s why education should be driven, not by business needs and priorities but by the realization of student potential.

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC

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