The recent Gonski report into secondary education funding is an important contribution to the challenges of providing a fair and meaningful opportunity for all Australians to an education. It does not, however, discuss what that education should be.
Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas, a small fraction of the over 400,000 American workers at General Motors in the 1950s, or the hundreds of thousands at General Electric in the 1980s. Many more people work for Apple’s contractors: an additional 700,000 people engineer, build and assemble iPads, iPhones and Apple’s other products. But almost none of them work in the United States. Instead, they work for foreign companies in Asia, Europe and elsewhere, at factories that almost all electronics designers rely upon to build their wares.
The decline of the manufacturing base in developed countries is, one must assume, permanent. Government policy can hold it back for a bit, but it cannot be reversed under any of the current approaches.
Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhonemanufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”
Whatever the ethical implications of this shift, the social implications are profound. How to shepherd in an economy that can support a middle class? How must our education system evolve so as to provide the next generation with the tools to survive in a services based economy. With the advances in cloud platforms and systems, even the services economy will be increasingly shifted to lower cost, highly agile economies.
The pressure to demonstrate value to this economy will be severe. Each person will increasingly be competing with each other, globally, for the right to a wage and a standard of living in ways that we cannot predict. The skills to succeed in this world are not being discussed widely and certainly not being taught systemically.
One would think that discussing how we fund schools is only the smallest of the challenges we face in education. When one of the biggest company in the world only employs 43,000 people in the US, the alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.