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'Human capital' call for schools

THE value of learning for its own sake took another knock this week, Neil Munro writes. Appropriately, the Executive's latest key message for schools and others came from an economic not an educational blueprint.

The Executive says that "the human capital infrastructure" must be a key component of its new framework for economic development, published yesterday (Thursday). This means education and skills training at all levels from schools to lifelong learning.

The document endorses "the critical contribution of school education to economic development" and goes on to suggest that schools must embrace lifelong learning by equipping pupils with core skills that include computer literacy and a capacity for creative thinking.

Such changes will alter the role of teachers "towards the facilitation of self-directed learning", seen as an important means of improving pupils' capacity to learn. "This might increase the casefor greater diversity in the skills of those working with children in schools", although the paper does not spell out what this means.

The Executive appears to have undergone a subtle shift in suggesting that students need to develop "thinking skills and aptitudes for lifelong learning, rather than simply exam-passing skills".

It does not say, however, how such a change sits alongside the increased pressure on schools to generate year-on-year improvements in pass rates. The document itself underlines "the continuing need to enhance the levels of attainment in schools" and says the rate of progress may not be enough to meet the demands of the economy.

The key skills deficiencies requiring an educational answer are said to be lack of basic literacy and numeracy in the workforce, weaknesses in specific sectors such as the software industry, too few technician-level skills and little entrepreneurial flair.

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