Education versus training

At TASCHA, we talk a lot about computer skills training: how to operate a mouse, surf the Internet, save a document to enhance digital literacy among community members for the purpose of promoting social and economic development and inclusive communities. Because our work has focused on economically poor people (a contested term of course–feel free to critique in favor of alternative frames, including but not limited to, marginalized, disadvantaged, and underserved) it has been clear to us that computer access and skills are one component among many that enable people to succeed economically. A fancy piano and lessons may enable a musician to play, but may not contribute much to good songwriting. Similarly, computer training can promote skillful computer use, but do not guarantee much beyond that.

Don't mistake the technical proficiency for the soul that inspires the use.

That is where training ends and education begins.

Paul Krugman’s recent NYT column “Degrees and Dollars” begins to get at this issue. He doesn’t dive into difference between training and education, but he does dive into a different, important issue: that computers are not eliminating low wage jobs, they are eliminating all jobs based on routinization. From the column (which quotes a great 2003 paper by Autor, Levy and Murnane):

Computers, they pointed out, excel at routine tasks, “cognitive and manual tasks that can be accomplished by following explicit rules.” Therefore, any routine task — a category that includes many white-collar, nonmanual jobs — is in the firing line. Conversely, jobs that can’t be carried out by following explicit rules — a category that includes many kinds of manual labor, from truck drivers to janitors — will tend to grow even in the face of technological progress.

Krugman’s larger point relates to education funding. I want to take it in a slightly different direction. I often make sense of these issues as I think about my own children. How can I help them prepare for their lives? What should their homework be? How should their work be assessed? (Leave no child behind, especially mine!) I want less training and more education. It is important to sharpen skills, but the economy needs (and rewards) workers who can think and add value beyond the routine. It is important for training programs to hone skills that enable creativity to be more easily expressed and applied. Learn how to use the tools, yes, but also develop the ability to think creatively. Many training programs we have studied embed ICT training within a much larger educational mission.

Training teaches you how to follow the rules; education helps you understand when and how to ignore them.