Knowledge Economy part 4

As a history professor, my friend is very curious about what happened in India so he asked: “In your view India is very successful in building the Knowledge society by skipping the industrial phase but why did they make that kind of decision? I told him: “The answer is simple. In order to go into the industrial phase you must invest in the infrastructures such as having good electricity, highways and transportation systems to get raw materials to the manufactures and products from the manufactures to the market. You must build sea-ports and airports and invest in machineries and equipments for industries. All of these require significant investments but in 1991, India economy was so bad and could not afford it so Indian government decided to invest in education which was much cheaper than infrastructures. By focusing in quality education, the government invests in the future and as a result, now India has very high skill workforce that help create the knowledge society and economic prosperity. With the money from export services such as outsourcing, India starts to improve the infrastructures and ready to industrialize the country. I believe in the next ten years, India will have many factories that operate and manage by high skilled Indian managers and eventually will become a very powerful industrial nation.

My friend nods his head: “So actually India did not skip the phase but only reversed the order”. I agreed: “Yes, but they did it wonderfully and that was the right decision at that time and even today. If you look at the industrialization of China then you will see that the result was not the same. China followed the development evolution theory by improved the infrastructures to established the industrial economy. China has great highways, good transportation systems with many seaports and airports, well established electricity, water for factories. Chinese government invested significant amount of money into large infrastructure projects and with these in place, China draw a lot of foreign investment and eventually over twenty years, become an industrial nation with the fastest growing economy that sell products all over the world. Unfortunately, China did not focus on education at the time of economic reform but focused more in infrastructures so when all things were in place, China did not have the knowledge and the skills to operate them. If you look carefully, you will see that most large factories in China are foreign owned, equipments are imported oversea and most high level managers of factories are foreigners. Not being recognized as having high skilled workers, developed countries only view China as a large low- cost labor for their factories. Today when global financial crisis happened, countries stop importing then suddenly China is in a bad situation: foreign companies begin to withdraw and close their factories putting million of workers out of jobs. What will happen next remain to be seen but you can draw your own conclusion.

My friend become quiet for a while then asked: “So you think education is the key for economic prosperity because it gives country both the knowledge needed and the skills to be self sufficiency but you also mention about the lifelong learning as an important aspect of the knowledge society, why do you think people must study all their life?” I told him that last week, a student also asked the same question – I have spent more than 18 years in school, now I have a degree and a job offering. I am ready to go to work, make money, buy a car, get married, and enjoy life but then you tell me that I need to continue to learn for my entire life. Why should I need more learning?” My answer is: The traditional view of education stated that school is a place where students go to obtain knowledge, to receive degrees and use the knowledge that they learnt in school to make a living comfortably for the rest of their life. However, that view has been obsolete for quite sometime because today with globalization, with high competition among countries, there is no such thing as permanent jobs or lifetime employment because knowledge changes every few years, if you do not keep your knowledge up-to-date, you could be eliminated from the job market.

Today, technological changes are challenging the traditional education because economic progress is largely depending on the knowledge and skills of its citizen. To eliminate poverty country must develop education strategies to deal with the globalization trend. They need to establish programs to improve their education systems. Of course, there are many theories and many answers from education experts but I believe that the building of the knowledge society is inseparable from lifelong learning, just as the knowledge economy cannot be developed without continuous learning. The rigid traditional education systems based on a set of academic knowledge must be reformed to provide people with lifelong learning opportunities that connect the education system with the needs of society and the economy. In order to do that we must review the goals of education, its content, its methods of knowledge transmission, as well as the mission of the school and the role of the teacher.

We are living in a world of rapidly evolving knowledge so education system has to be organized, structured and transferred to every citizen so they could apply it intelligently. I use the word “Citizen” and not “student” because the new education system should not only design for people of school age (5 to 25) but also for adult who want to learn. School should not be a place where teacher teach and students listen passively but must be a place where learning happens, where teacher facilitate the learning by coaching students with the necessary skills so they can apply in their career. To promote this kind of education, schools must establish relationship with industry by making their programs in alignment with the demand of industry and adopting flexible forms of learning. Current economic development requires the interface of education, economy and the labor market. Education should be ready to react to the changing needs of economy, just like modern economy should be open to learning and scientific innovation. To ensure lifelong learning government needs to create a new education system that would cover the formal education system, the non-formal learning and the informal learning in order to develop different knowledge and skills in a variety of school, industry, and the community. Modern life requires a new approach to education of its citizen. In a rapidly changing society, education is an ongoing process and should be continuously updated and upgraded. Working people should be given a possibility to choose different plans of learning for improving their knowledge and skills.

To enable the working people to improve their knowledge and to adapt them to the changing market, several conditions must be met. First, continuous education requires funding, therefore, government must have policies and direction to encourage continuous education and invest in adult education. Second, a closer partnership of the education system and the industry would help to fund resources necessary for improving the knowledge and skills of workers. To provide people with lifelong learning opportunities, government will need to provide more access to the vast educational knowledge with proper guidance and counseling services.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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