Inside Business: It's no time for lectures

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The Independent Online
For as long as anybody can remember, business people have complained about the quality of their recruits. Just as policemen get younger so, too, the youngsters coming through the education system get less literate and less numerate.

However, there is little doubt that the situation has become worse in recent years, and the Government's recognition of this can be seen in its attempts to drag up standards. The problem is fundamental and only an overhaul will do.

Like the business community itself, the education system has suffered from complacency, lack of drive and not a little arrogance. Indeed, it could be argued that a large part of the problem has been the long-held view that teaching is something far too precious to be dirtied by contact with industry.

It is because that view is still around that last week's report from the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce is potentially so important.

Written by Valerie Bayliss, a former director of youth and education policy at the Department for Education and Employment and author of last year's RSA paper "Redefining Work", the "Opening Minds" document challenges just about every aspect of the way in which schools are currently run and outlines a new competence-led curriculum and assessment system that fully integrates information and communications technology.

Reflecting that teachers have added their voices to those in the business community who have been expressing concern about what young people learn and how they do it, the report - subtitled "education for the 21st century" - calls for a debate on the purpose of education and repeats the theme of last year's document, that there is no point in preparing people for a world that no longer exists.

Indeed, it expresses the RSA vision of wanting an education system that will help every young person to develop the skills needed to become a successful, active citizen.

"Reforming the curriculum so that it is competence led instead of information led is the most effective way of doing this," the report says.

This is all very sensible, and many leading companies have realised this for a long time. Having discovered that sitting people in training rooms listening to lecturers does not necessarily deliver the results they are seeking, they have been using workshops and applied information technology to deliver more relevant and powerful training for some time. Some, such as Unipart and Motorola, have even gone as far as to establish their own forms of corporate university.

It is a shame that the education system is apparently still having to be convinced that this is the way ahead. But, rather than wasting time in pointing fingers, we should be encouraging more of the sort of initiative that Pizza Express launched the day after the RSA report appeared. It is working with primary schools to help pupils find out about food preparation and storage, and developing projects with secondary school children doing design and technology.

It is not exactly a big deal, but anything that aids the integration of education and work has to be welcomed.