New Skills for a New Era: Ideas for Preparing Professionals for Service in Twenty First Century Agriculture

By Thomas, Terrence; Faulkner, Paula et al. | International Journal of Applied Educational Studies, April 2009 | Go to article overview

New Skills for a New Era: Ideas for Preparing Professionals for Service in Twenty First Century Agriculture


Thomas, Terrence, Faulkner, Paula, Gray, Benjamin, International Journal of Applied Educational Studies


Historical Perspective of the Role of Knowledge and Education in Work

It was Arthur Lewis (1962) who wrote that there are two types of education, consumption education and education for productive use. He argued that the former form of education does nothing to improve the productive capacity of the individual; it is learning for learning sake. For example, an extension agent studying the classics will learn to appreciate fine writing and the way of life of people living during that era. And while he will probably develop a sense of aesthetics that allows him to enjoy his life more fully, this type of learning does nothing to improve his skills in coaxing farmers to learn and adopt new techniques. The latter type of learning, or, education for a productive purpose, leads to improvement in job performance and productivity, i.e., learning for work.

Drucker (1993) defined three periods in the evolution of our understanding and application of knowledge or learning to work. First, is the application of knowledge to tools, processes, and products, leading to the Industrial Revolution, and the consequent Industrial Society. Second, is the application of knowledge to work (i.e. to the process of work) which has led to large improvements in efficiency; and third, the application of knowledge to knowledge itself (i.e. applying knowledge to create new knowledge and more useful knowledge.) This third evolution, in our thinking about knowledge, has led to the information revolution and the evolving knowledge society.

Drucker (1993) believes that the productivity revolution achieved by applying knowledge to tools, processes, product and work is at an end. He points to the decline in the number of workers now engaged in making and moving things, noting that 40 years earlier they were in the majority in every developed country. He submits that increasing the productivity of manual workers in agriculture, manufacturing, transportation and mining cannot, by itself, create wealth. From this point forward, it is the productivity of knowledge or, the non-manual workers, that is important. Already, we are noticing a decline in the number of manufacturing jobs, especially in Midwestern states in the United States, leading to the designation of these once flourishing areas as the "Rust Belt." Further increases in productivity and wealth in the future will be generated by the "knowledge worker," and will be achieved by applying knowledge to knowledge. According to Drucker, this involves supplying knowledge to find out how existing knowledge can best be applied to produce results, and applying knowledge systematically and purposefully to define what new knowledge is required, and whether it is feasible and what has to be done to make knowledge effective. This conception of knowledge, in relation to work, is defining the new skills-set that a knowledge worker needs in today's knowledge-based economy. In this regard, Botha (2000) describes knowledge as the most valuable asset for creating a competitive advantage for companies. Knowledge workers create value by applying their ideas, analysis, synthesis, judgment and designs (Horibe, 1999). Consequently, in the new global knowledge society there is a great need for employees who can manipulate information to produce benefit for the company (Haughey, 1999).

The Industrial Revolution established a clear role for education and knowledge in improving the efficiency and quality of work, and in creating wealth. Since then, educational systems have become more responsive to the needs of economies for skilled labor. Consequently, a model of education was developed that produced the skills and attitudes needed in an industrialized workplace (Bowels & Gintis, 1976, Reich, 1992; Collins & Watts, 1996). This model educated employees to operate in a relatively stable environment, one where employees mastered well-defined fields of knowledge, and progressed through a stable bureaucratic career structure to the pinnacle of their profession. …

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