The Double Helix of Learning and Work

5.4. Funding Schemes
How will the costs of the new system be covered? Will they be higher, as sometimes appears to be the case, or will the possible schema reduce budgetary pressures on public spending? Let us first review the relevant experiences and tendencies.

So far as education is concerned, the most debated initiative is that of the voucher system. The definition is simple: the government makes a payment to a family in the form of a voucher. The family gives the voucher to a school of its choice. Thus, the tuition fees for the children of this family are covered. The school cashes in the voucher with the Government from the tax-funded budget. The beneficiaries are the family, especially the children, the school, and even the state.

The most important change is that both public and private schools can be chosen because the government subsidizes the schools in proportion to enrollment. Consequently, schools are encouraged to compete with one another. Only the best succeed in bringing in more students and more funding, according to the funds-follow-the child principle.

In fact, the voucher scheme is a continuation of the system of loans for compulsory education. It enhances responsibility towards the principle of Education for All. Several arguments plead in favour of this new system: (i) child protection following from the Education for All principle, but also providing for those suffering from parental neglect; (ii) internalization of beneficial externalities, since support for education reduces poverty and encourages econom­ic growth, increases lifetime income, and has constructive social effects. One can argue that the State actually makes a long-term investment in a manner that is quite similar to the theory of human capital and the knowledge economy; (iii) The principle of equal opportunities is universally acknowledged and constitutionally enshrined. Children should not be deprived of upward mobility through education only because their parents are not wealthy.

In reality, most of the methods used in the voucher system are selective and somewhat biased in favour of the underprivileged categories (single parents or the disabled) and of families with reduced revenues. Other fiscal measures exist by which to attain the same goal as that of the voucher system, such as tax reduction (an education tax rebate); however, vouchers are also designed to help persons who pay lower taxes; (iv) The voucher system enhances the pool of available resources by reducing the waste of intellectual potential. This factor, however, does not lend itself to precise measurement. We can only guess how much is lost by not allowing individuals to develop to their full potential; (v) An application of the voucher system challenges schools to compete.

The new system soon encountered many objections and gave rise to heated disputes at theoretical and practical levels. It was said of voucher schemes that (i) they were generated by a free market philosophy and thus encouraged the pursuit of selfish material gains and minimized public benefits; (ii) they undermined the public educational system by reducing emphasis on quality and orienting young people towards private education; (iii) they would cause private schools to be subjected to the same kinds of controls as public schools, thus sapping their independence and specific merits and making them more and more bureaucratic; (iv) they would prevent poor families from deriving true benefits, which, rather, would go to the middle class. Segregation would thus deepen (as in the inner cities in the United States), and the educational gap would widen. Other objections pointed to the dangers of higher costs and the misappropriation of budgeted allocations, which are primarily needed by the public schools that are faced with specific problems.

The disputes over the voucher system grew even more acrimonious when the arguments turned political and doctrinal. In the United States, a country in which the debate has produced the largest number of initiatives for the adoption or the rejection of the voucher system, it turned into a dispute between the Democrats (contra) and the Republicans (pro). Legislative action was initiated in twenty-six states.

The issue has also given rise to constitutional disputes. The United States Supreme Court ruled against the granting of subsidies from public funds to schools run by religious denom­inations; however, it refused to make a ruling in a parents-versus-state case on the use of vouchers. The NGOs were divided. One of them, People for the American Way, claimed that the voucher programmes weakened public education, that taxpayers’ money was spent on explicitly religious instruction, and that the new system obstructed further meaningful efforts to improve the quality of public schools. In exchange, the Children’s Scholarship Fund announced an interesting initiative: 45,000 privately funded scholarships for which there were 1.25 million applicants.

It would be a mistake to consider the issue only in light of the highly publicized debate in the United States and therefore to underestimate the scope of similar or related initiatives in other countries.

The application of the new system is not confined to industrialized countries.

It is now time to ask ourselves to what extent the approach was able to provide worthwhile support to the kinds of structural reform that are required for lifelong learning, curriculum itinerary, and the double helix of work and education.

First, the system is based on consumer choice supported by public funding, even though the funds are mainly allocated to maintain the functioning of suppliers. Second and most importantly, its guiding principle is personal advancement, qualification, and fulfillment. The individual decides how to use the available means in those areas that stimulate his or her interest, participation, and satisfaction, while giving him or her access to new opportunities and chances. Third, the system can apply to all age levels. Moreover, the contribution from the state budget becomes an add-on rather than a substitute to one’s own earnings when necessary.

Having seen the terms of reference for lifelong education and active participation, let us now briefly examine what happens with the financing of the post-work period. States have a vital interest in providing old-age security. Pension systems are currently subject to serious debate, especially in those countries in which the aging population is on the rise.

The classical system is based on the premise that workers are taxed today in order to pay for the old people of today, i.e., the pay-as-you-go plan. The system does not allow for a correlation of the immediately available resources and the obligations already assumed. The working generation takes responsibility for supporting the retired generation. Early retirement has only worsened the situation. The list of shortfalls is so long that the mandatory, publicly managed, tax-financed pillar for redistribution has to be supplemented with two other pillars: a mandatory, privately managed, fully funded pillar for savings and a voluntary pillar for people who want additional resources in their old age.

Such diversification is being implemented in many countries. It reduces the risks for the retired since it introduces several types of management (public and private), of financial sources (of labour and of capital), and of new investment strategies at domestic and international levels. Since the 1970s, advanced studies have been undertaken by the Geneva-based Association for the Study of Applied Economics and by the Risk Institute concerning grad­ually phased-in pension schemes and chance enhancement for the after-work period of productive life.

The topic of flexible retirement plans reveals a link to the double helix of work and learn­ing. Such schemes stretch across longer periods of active life (4-10 extra years at one end and 11-16 years at the other). The question of pensions proper will thus shrink in size and be applicable to a smaller category of people (those over 76). The additional decade will be taken care of by means of a different type of security arrangement pertaining to the right to work and lifelong education. Consequently, the contribution of the state budget needs to take into consideration a uniform approach to people aged 16 to 76, one that is related to vouchers rather than to pensions.

Two circumstances make life considerably easier for public budgets: the decreasing number of those who are relying exclusively for their living on the three-pillar pension system and a drastic reduction of the complicated and cumbersome unemployment benefits schemes. The latter will eventually become part of the social security safety net, usually applying to people who have become marginalized or incapacitated. The blurred distinction between the public and the private sectors, already instituted in the field of education, turns into a partnership for the management of the education-work system for the period between ages 16 and 76. The main contribution of the private sector will no longer come from taxes collected into a general budgetary system but from targeted investments in knowledge creation.

Education, unemployment benefits, and pension schemes are all based on taxation accounting for a staggering proportion of GDP. If one adds to that sum the expenses incurred by companies to cover social demands other than wages, the resulting figures become really huge. Hence, the conclusion that the introduction of the double helix concept gives rise to a financing system of “lifelong basic rights” which emphasizes the duty of society to provide individuals with entitlements, that will be much less costly than traditional ones, owing to its unifying vision, common mechanism, and synergetic approach.

Its advantages are much more diverse. More flexible and cost-effective formulae are emerging everywhere. The R/D perspective is a clear case in point.

5.5. Assessment
Each system has its merits. Daily assessments, a system of incentives, and a final grading scale (from 1 to 10, or from 1 to 20, ratings from unsatisfactory to very good, letters from F to A) are used all over the world in primary and secondary education. A cumulative system of credits, without differences in terms of quality, should become predominant in universities.

In order to achieve integration, lifelong education should have its own single financing system, with no differences at the ends or in between. The credit system offers relevant serv­ices. A person can gain points without interruption, thus obtaining impressive continuity in his or her learning activity. In fact, credit accumulation should not stop at the end of one’s active life (at age 76), it should continue in third-age universities.

If one considers a credit average of forty points per year of study for those involved in learning or learning for work and assume an additional eight years of college and university through age twenty-four, one will obtain a total of 320 credits. Let us further assume that, after fifty-two years of active life, mostly spent in industry or in small business, or even in front of one’s own computer at home, an average of five points can be assigned to those who leave their work environment to return to the Alma mater system of continuous education. Doing so would account for another 200 credits. The equivalent of another five years will be dedicated to on-the-job training, adult learning, or to courses organized by the company (a plausible hypothesis if one takes into account the fact that the updating of knowledge requires at least one year out of five, therefore 10 out of 52).

Here is a possible credit accumulation for a 75-year-old individual: 320 plus the 400 credits obtained through lifelong learning yielding 720 credits.

Another nearly 300 credits are available for those who are more ambitious. According to one’s voluntary choice and spontaneous interests (political science for engineers, aesthetics for doctors, hobbies for workers, mysticism for psychologists are examples that can function in any combination), a learned subject might yield as many as 1,000 credits. That total would correspond to 1,000 modular subjects, 1,000 weeks devoted to lifelong learning, or twenty compact learning years. Is this a great deal? Should not the pride of having collected 1,000 credits be as justified as the awe or envy one might feel toward a successful millionaire? Why should the wealth of knowledge mean less?

Those who will be called upon to develop in minute detail the open system that is painted herein with a wide brush will have two major issues to debate and resolve. One pertains to the passage from one helix to another. The traditional system currently responds to a simple demand: the graduates of medical schools become physicians; the graduates of the Polytechnic University become engineers; those graduating from schools of public admin­istration become civil servants; the graduates of vocational schools become workers, etc. As the system becomes less specialized—inversely proportional to the specialization freely chosen by the individual, which provides a wider range of diplomas and qualifications—the sheer number of credits is not sufficient to warrant leaving an educational system in order to enter a work system.

Adequate symbols may indicate the nature of the covered modules: E or L for the basic or generally valid ones (what is sometimes called general culture or stadium generale) or EW for those oriented towards an activity in the sphere of work. The latter may contain an indication about the predominant speciality according to a catalogue to be elaborated together with the decision-makers in the field of work. For instance, AERO Eng. designates a profession but also the necessary knowledge to practice it, i.e., aviation engineer. Such a solution will throw more light on the complicated issue of the relevance of diplomas, a subject that today is being attacked from all sides. The supple mechanism of joints (entry-exit from one sphere to another) or well-greased door hinges is one of the main contributions to the harmonious combination and smooth operation of the two major social systems of education and work.

The mixed team of experts who will have to work out the organization charts for these delicate mechanisms will also have to take into account the in-built periodicity of the system. The cycles are so old that they could be maintained as a point of reference. Today they comprise thirteen years (called K through 12): five for basic education and eight for middle and secondary school, sometimes called gymnasium or lyceum (four years).

Adaptive mode
In contrast to a selective mode, an adaptive mode of education assumes that the educational environment can support many and varied instructional methods and opportunities for success. Alternate means of learning are adaptive to, and are in some way matched to, knowledge about each individual—his background, talents, and interests, and the nature of his past performance. An individual’s styles and abilities are assessed either upon entrance or during the course of learning, and certain educational paths are elected or assigned. Further information is obtained about the learner as learning proceeds, and this, in turn, is related to subsequent alternate learning opportunities. The continual interaction between performance and the subsequent nature of the educational setting is the defining characteristics of an adaptive mode. The success of this adaptive interaction is determined by the extent to which the student experiences a match between his specific abilities and interests and the activities in which he engages. The effect of any election of, or assignment to, an instructional path is evaluated by the changes it brings about in the student’s potential for future learning and goal attainment. Measures of individual differences in an adaptive educational mode are valid only to the extent that they help to define alternate paths that result in optimizing immediate learning, as well as long-term success (Robert Glaser, “Future Adaptive Environments for Learning”, 1996).

Two possible corrections can be made to the prevailing system. One suggests the introduction of credits at the age of 14, two years before the first possible exit into the active world of work. Between ages 6 and 14, the system should develop what, today, we call general and compulsory education. Some countries even devote ten years to that stage, but eight years seem to be sufficient. The two years between the basic level and high school are the time for opting for immediate employment or for choosing a profession that presupposes longer training. This transfer also takes place in the two final years of high school. In certain countries (e.g., France), those years prepare the passage to tertiary education. In fact, they are more or less like college rather than high school.

All variants are indicative of the primacy of the individual pace, a factor that has been neglected in the traditionally rigid system. Should someone wish to collect his or her 320 credits due between the ages of 16 and 24 one or two years sooner or later on, the choice would be possible. It would be equally irrelevant whether one is awarded one’s college graduation diploma at 24 or at 54. The final title is, however, too deeply rooted for it to be eliminated.

In Latin America, graduation from a university gives one the right to call oneself licenciado, a title that is inscribed on one’s calling card, on one’s door, and on one’s letterhead. Such titles or diplomas are not compatible with the suggested new system. Instead, Education and Work training certificates obtained at an early age might prove to be more useful in relation to later switches on the helix of work.

Here we have to take a radical, but not impossible, step. Why should the credit system not apply to the field of work as well, thus introducing W credits? Nowadays, it is still the length of service that matters most for a promotion. Since one’s active period also includes one’s Learning and Work achievements within a lifelong education system, it would be more logical to express experience by means of Work (W) credits plus Learning and Work (LW) credits. One year of work experience would count as nearly 40 W credits. For the duration of an active life, one would acquire at least 1,600 W credits. The system of promotions and corresponding wages could be very much simplified. Special merits and high performance that today entitle one to a bonus or other rewards could account for extra credits.

What will the life of our friend John, who starts as a fisherman, and eventually becomes the president of a foundation, look like? A simple calculation shows that since the age of 14 he has accumulated: 80 LW credits, 80 W credits, 120 LW credits and 120 W credits, then again, 80 LW credits, followed by 160 W credits and 80 LW credits, plus 200 W credits, and again, 80 LW credits. Beginning at the age of 40, his itinerary earns him 40 LW credits and 200 W credits, followed by another 200 W credits after the switch. After 40 LW credits, another 200 W credits follow. Another switch yields 80 W credits and 40 LW credits. After age 65, there are 80 W, 40 W, and 200 W credits. Now he has entered the period of academic tourism with a total of 560 LW credits and 1,320 W credits, let alone the numerous incursions into the general modules of philosophy, political science, and aesthetics. More interesting than the credits collected are the twelve switches that have offered John a diverse panorama of life and knowledge.

The system of credits brings essential changes to the definition of the indicators used to evaluate and study the evolution of different systems according to country or level. When examining the indicators suggested by relevant international organizations, such as UNESCO (global), the European Union (regional), and OECD (group of industrialized countries), one realizes the enormous amount of work that went into this endeavour, without which statistics and quantitative studies would be inoperable. Of course, the simple count of those who study at different levels as well as those who assist them (the teachers) is mandatory for any operational schema. The classification according to sex and age or to entry and exit from a single system is also necessary. We thus obtain the most widely used indicators for performance, management, examinations, budgets, planning, funding, access, research, employment, and equal opportunity.

Unfortunately, lifelong education is mentioned only once in the survey on Society and Work, with a small and irrelevant number of issues. For the “innovative schemes of collaboration between higher education and the world of work on a humanitarian basis”, states “are likely to undertake a survey”. But the recommendations are reduced to a mere enumeration of the formulae involving academics and business people, with a comment on the income that might result.

The most widely used measures lose their relevance in light of the modular schema, lifelong education, and personal itineraries. It is not important how many young people pass from one level to another or how many interrupt the cycle, since this becomes an asset rather than a liability arising from the mobility of the system. Age is also irrelevant, for both young and old people are equally entitled to stay within the mainstream. So are the costs that are calculated only in relation to the budget.

In exchange, a new measure is proposed for the knowledge contained within the system, quantifiable by means of E, LW, and W credits. The LW indicator is conclusive for the effort to gain active knowledge, education for its general formative merits and access to culture, and work for the amount of work-related skills in the mobile and flexible framework of the new schema. The switches from one helix to another measure the mobility within a given society, and they also point to the pursuit of satisfaction and self-fulfillment undertaken by individuals.

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