Alvin Toffler on Education

Futurist Alvin Toffler believes our current education system, which developed during Industrial Age society, remains unchanged, even as we have already fully transitioned to a post-industrial society. Below is a transcription of Alvin and Heido Toffler’s views on modern education.

Alvin Toffler:

The best way to understand our basic education system is to go back to how it got started, in the 1800s in the U.S., most young children were farmers working in the world.

When someone proposed that America institute a system of education for all young people, the poor parents said, “No! We can’t allow our kids to go to school. They need to work, otherwise we’ll starve since there won’t be enough hands to work in the fields.” So they opposed public education. The people who favored it were wealthy, and the people who made it happen were Business.

In the late 1800s, the business community said, “All these kids are coming into the factory, but they are coming from the farms and they’re not good factory workers. They come late to work and you can’t count on them. What we need, ” they said, and these are the actual words that they used, “and want is a system that will create ‘industrial discipline.”

What was industrial discipline? Industrial discipline meant you showed up on time and you did the same work again and again just like an assembly line. What happened was we designed schools that actually resembled the factory. If you look at the schools today, they simulate factories; kids have to arrive on time. Why is that? Because in the fields coming late won’t matter much, but if one person comes late to the assembly line there might be a thousand workers doing nothing while waiting for this function to be done before they can work. The cost of a worker coming late is extremely expensive.

Now you train children to arrive on time. You have to be at school at a fixed time. In the U.S., we have hundreds of thousands of kids taken by bus to school. We’re preparing the children to commute to work in the factory.

Now, more and more people aren’t working like that. They are working at home or they are working at different, even strange, hours and you don’t need everyone showing up at exactly the same time. So what we have are schools that are literally designed to provide the work force for an industrial age economy and they do that very well, but that’s not the kind of economy that we have anymore. Therefore, the entire system is obsolete and I was waiting for years for Bill Gates to say something. About two years ago he said the right words: “We can not reform the education system, we must replace it.” He is right because the system is designed to prepare for yesterday, not for tomorrow. Now that is an extremely difficult and painful thing to do. You have millions in the U.S. working in the schools and it’s very dangerous in that they may lose jobs. It doesn’t mean that the teachers are bad. My sister is a teacher and I don’t hate her because she’s a teacher, but the system she’s working in is a disaster today. Therefore, we are going to see battles about education in country after country until this system is broken and replaced.

by fighter_eiji | 2014-08-25 12:19 | English
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