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Train of thought

Education professor attends UNESCO conference about preparing next generation of a quality workforce

Richard Lynch, professor of occupational studies in the College of Education, traveled to China in November to attend a conference sponsored by UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. He discussed the conference with Columns.

Columns: Tell me about the goals of the conference.

Lynch: This is a major initiative from UNESCO. There is great concern in the world, in both developing and developed countries, about preparing the next generation of a quality workforce-the people who do our plumbing, repair our homes, fix our cars, take care of our medical needs. The conference dealt with the knowledge base that underpins the workforce. South Korea, China, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Thailand, everywhere-if they are to advance economically, culturally, and educationally they’ve got to have a well-trained and educated workforce.

Where are you going to get the teachers, and how do you train them? That is the focus of ­UNESCO’s initiative-­education from an international ­perspective.

I got invited and involved because I’ve done a lot of work with the standards that teachers need to be successful. What do highly accomplished teachers know? How do they come to know it? And what it is they do that makes them highly accomplished? That’s captured the attention of an international audience, so I was asked if I would represent the United States at this international conference.

Columns: So the conference was dealing with training the teachers who will then train the people who will do these things.

Lynch: Yes. What is the curriculum, how are teachers trained, what knowledge base do they need, to be successful in their respective countries. And can that be consistent throughout the world?

There were about 35 countries. The United States, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom, and so on were there, but it was dominated by developing countries-Indonesia, India, Egypt and others.

It was interesting to sit around the table with these people. Many were the leading thinkers and educators in their countries. We were simply talking about education and the common interest that we all had in seeing to it that young people are better educated. The way out is through education. It’s the application of our work in other places, the technical and vocational education components of it, and of course that’s what we’ve been doing in this unit at Georgia for years.

Columns: You and others presented papers, but was there also some kind of summation at the end? What happens next?

Lynch: There was a plan of action. An international association of professors and researchers and economists and educators will come together periodically to share knowledge and information. We are thinking about an international master’s degree, delivered online throughout the world, that would be accepted by leading universities and facilitate graduate student exchanges, professor exchanges, joint research and development. There is an international center in Bonn, Germany, that will probably head this up, and I will be the North American representative.

Columns: How long was the conference? How many people?

Lynch: Three days-about 75 participants.

After all of these years of working in this arena it was exciting for me to see this move to the next level internationally-to see the potential of the work that we’ve done here, and its application in developing countries, and to learn from those countries.

I kept remembering my history readings, about the development of the U.S. education system 100 or 150 years ago, and how the vocational and technical system in the United States evolved. We’re beginning now to look more at the post-secondary level for technical education in the United States, but in developing countries the concern is keeping youngsters in elementary and secondary school and giving them adequate job skills to help support their families. They have to begin in the high schools or even earlier, and tie technical education in with academics. They wanted to learn how we’ve done it. They were concerned about changing the way in which they deliver education. They asked a zillion questions.

Columns: Will there be some kind of meeting next year?

Lynch: Without question. The intention is to do regional conferences-possibly five regions, with more regional context and flavor.

The focus is the next generation of medical workers, technicians, people in agriculture, people who can repair the infrastructure. How do you integrate what is typically thought of as education-the core subjects-with the technical and vocational applications that are needed to build those countries. The critical question is how the education system responds. How did we respond to it in the United States, in the United Kingdom, in Europe, particularly Germany, where there has been a longstanding apprentice system-and how much of that is transferable to developing countries. How do you train the teachers in developing countries where you don’t have a particularly solid economic base to begin with? Do you have a philosophy to train all youth, including girls? How about those from less advantaged groups or minority groups? All of that was brought to the table.

Columns: You’ve worked with these kinds of issues in the United States, but you don’t traditionally examine the international aspects, do you?

Lynch: My work has been primarily focused in Georgia or the United States. I’ve done a lot of work in Georgia with the post-secondary technical education system, our statewide system of 34 technical colleges-new programs that should be offered to meet the economic development needs of the state, writing standards to underpin new programs.

Columns: And that’s the sort of thing that is immediately transferable to a developing country. It must be satisfying to find that what you’ve been doing is applicable elsewhere.

Lynch: It was a learning experience for me-and a great challenge. Taking what I know and trying to figure out how it works in the context of a developing country-that is a challenge. How do you work with potential teachers, with people who work on educational policy in those countries? It was an eye-opening experience.