Many choosing skills training over academics

By Pat Watson Wednesday October 03 2012 in Opinion
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Education and skills training are now so tied to employability and income, it’s no wonder that there are heated debates on what kind of preparation will serve the best interests of today’s economy.


The main argument centres on the dichotomy of universities preparing people to be immediately employable upon graduation or, on the other hand, whether these institutions of higher learning should maintain their role of being places where people can develop critical thinking and steep themselves in advanced scholarly knowledge.


This is a central concern since we are now in the throes of a world paradigm of Market dictatorship.


For better or for worse, and I would argue the latter, Market force has replaced another standard, in which social and family relations were primary, the basis on which people used to make decisions about how to be.


The shift from being families and communities to becoming consumers really took off with the Industrial Revolution, when production grew at a faster pace than people’s need for the things produced. Wants became conflated with needs and the market moved into its current position of primacy.


Now, just about everything society engages in responds to, or is in service to, the Market.


Add to that the acceleration of all the various forms of electronic technology, and the requirements for specialized skills and training emerges.


Universities, as such, aside from their professional schools – for medicine, engineering, and law, for example – do not offer this kind of technical training.


Here is why institutions such as Ryerson University, formerly Ryerson Polytechnic Institute, George Brown College and similar training and education facilities have emerged in importance over the past generation. Those aiming for jobs first now go straight to these colleges and polytechnics.


The academic pursuits that universities offer are now in a state of tension, as universities try to identify where they properly belong in all of this.


But the question to ask is not whether universities should be changing to meet the Market, rather the question has to be about what consumerism and the predominance of the Market is doing to society.


Are we, as humans on this planet, really just a system of needs that can only be satisfied by purchasing the next thing?


If we are thus, then the focus on acquiring skills that satisfy the Market is our best answer.


However, what we should take into consideration is what we sacrifice, in the same way that family and community life were sacrificed to the Industrial Revolution.


If critical thinking and knowledge enrichment as an intellectual pursuit are put on the back burner in exchange for advancing marketable skills then we could find that we have the unintended consequence of short changing our humanity. If we sacrifice our creative thinking and attentiveness to human history to the god of the Market, then we should expect that we are heading toward becoming a more soul-less society.


Or, we could foresee a society in which only the most privileged will allow themselves the freedom of intellectual pursuits.


Most of us earn our keep through the work we do for a wage, and the Market now dictates the work that is required, which in turn dictates the skills with which the workforce needs to be equipped.


So what is it to be? Why bother learning about the humanities – history and literature, philosophy and religion – when there is hardly any job ad listing asking for them? Instead, job ads have areas of specialty, such as accounting and finance, technology and logistics.


What is happening, as ever, is that without making time for clear-eyed, critical analyses of where we are headed as a society and similarly clear decisions about where instead we need to go in the best interest of humanity, we will just keep being led by forces that generally put the mass of us into a bind of daily living.


Is this really the best we can do?


A note on staying in character…


How does a person like Rob Anders keep being elected to a position of official responsibility, even if this Conservative is just a Member of Parliament backbencher? This MP, who was the only one to vote against giving Nelson Mandela honorary Canadian citizenship (he called the respected South African leader a terrorist), put his foot in it again, stating that federal New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair forced former leader Jack Layton into the last federal campaign and thus hastened Layton’s death. Anders has apologised for his statement, but the damage is done.


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