Work, Society, Family and Learning for the Future


Download article (.pdf) | By Martin Carnoy | Published in What Schools for the Future?, 2001


Carnoy describes how the information revolution and globalising economy have significantly transformed employment patterns and provoked a crisis in the relationship between work and society: As OECD societies move away from salaried employment toward outsourcing and temporary labour, socialisation through work - a dominant feature of the industrial era - is disappearing. Intense competition over costs and productivity forces employers to adopt the flexible new arrangements that effectively leave workers in a social vacuum, creating a need for alternative forms of social organisation and sociability.

Searching for solutions in societies that have lost their traditional sources of social interaction, M. Carnoy gives schools and learning a central position in the settings of work, family, and the community.


Work, networks and learning

Counterbalancing the isolation associated with the new patterns of employment, individuals also gain new possibilities to join egalitarian social structures based on knowledge and information. The knowledge economy relies on flexible workers, who can move from job to job, adapt to new employment cultures, and take part in learning networks and organisations. Learning is the focus. The most successful workers combine individual learning skills with cooperative skills, such as knowing how to motivate peers to contribute to group work. Finding that post-secondary education systems now underemphasise group-work skills, Carnoy urges institutions and job training programmes to define networking and interaction skills as fundamental.


The family and household

Carnoy stresses the need for substantial social support for the family in knowledge-based societies, to enable the reconstruction and revitalisation of the family as a platform for sound development. In addition to more support in such areas as day-care, schools, and transportation, Carnoy stresses the need for increased parental education and training. All of these forms of support are critical to ease the strain on single-parent families and families where both parents work, with dramatic implications for the quality of family life and childrearing in knowledge-based societies.


The community in the information age

As the workplace loses its central position, other spheres of social life must meet the needs for human integration, interaction, and development. Although challenging, it is necessary to build social communities on a neighbourhood basis, to reconstruct and link communities with the processes of flexible production. Because community centres traditionally reach restricted groups, pre-school to secondary-level schools are key for organising at the neighbourhood level. With support from government and society, schools could become central for social networks, interaction, and solidarity among families and beyond, including the elderly. Schools must be more open to the community, and this requires support in terms of innovative management, resources, and physical facilities.


The key role of the state

The welfare state, though financially troubled, remains crucial for building new social networks to meet potential crisis situations and provide the linchpin for sound development in knowledge-based economies. To do that, the state must recast priorities in several areas: a greater focus on educational, training, and informational infrastructure; redefining support for families as centres of learning (both child and adult) rather than consumption units; and decentralisation of government services to local levels. Most importantly, Carnoy argues, the state needs to institute more effective policies to reduce poverty and equalise learning, recognising them as high-return investment strategies.


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