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Paolo Donadio » 4.The knowledge-based economy

Lesson plan

Introduction: from atoms to bits

  1. A knowledge –based world?
  2. Knowledge is power
  3. The knowledge capital of Europe
  4. The IT revolution
  5. Knowledge, education, business
  6. Knowledge as a commodity
  7. Knowledge or skills?
  8. The Learning Age
  9. From manual to intellectual work
  10. Knowledge in computerised societies

Introduction: from atoms to bits

According to New Labour, globalization (especially economic globalization) must be accepted because the pace and the extent of technological innovations is shaping a world completely different from the past. Therefore, the IT revolution and the new information society (see below the slides from Communicating Britain’s Future, 1995) spearhead a radical transformation of national economies.

The “computerised society” and the “knowledge economy” are the necessary background to understand New Labour approach and, above all, its actual policies on employment and education.

Quite simply, the transformation is epitomized by the technological passage from “atoms to bits”, as Negroponte put it some years ago:
The information superhighway is about the global movement of weightless bits at the speed of light. As one industry after another looks at itself in the mirror and asks about its future in a digital world, that future is driven almost 100 percent by the ability of that company’s product or services to be rendered in digital form

(N. Negroponte, Being Digital, 1995)

A knowledge–based world ?

New knowledge is, for example, …

  • in factories/companies: jobs, production systems, machines etc.
  • in offices: the transformation of the bureaucracy, relation with customers/users etc.
  • in our homes: PCs, satellite networks, mobile phones, MP3 music, DVDs, etc.
  • in business: e-commerce, electronic credit cards, the Stock Exchange, teleworking etc.
  • in media industry: movies, newspapers, music, TV, the Internet, etc.
  • in our schools and universities: the Internet, e-learning, e-mails, etc.

Every time the processing, transimission and storage of knowledge change, the very nature of knowledge itself changes. Hence, according to Lyotard (1979; see slide n. 13), it follows that the miniaturisation and commercialisation of machines is already changing the way in which learning is acquired, classified, made available, and exploited. Therefore, at least two points are worth being considered and discussed:

  1. if knowledge is what we can exchange, what cannot be exchanged will not be considered as real knowledge;
  2. an ‘exteriorisation’ of knowledge with respect to the “knower” takes place: the old principle that the acquisition of knowledge is indissociable from the training of minds, or even of individuals, is becoming obsolete.

Knowledge is power

“The information society can create enormous opportunities for economic, social and democratic regeneration. It can help to make our society more open and accessible. It can empower people in a world where, increasingly, knowledge is the source of power”
(Labour Party, Communicating Britain’s Future, 1995)

The knowledge capital of Europe

“Effectively, there are two options: either Britain becomes the knowledge capital of Europe – assisted by the great strength derived from the global reach of the English language – or we stagnate as an electronic sweatshop”
(Labour Party, Communicating Britain’s Future, 1995)

The IT revolution

“There will be a major impact on employment: around 80% of all jobs created in Europe in the past five years have been connected with the processing of information. It is estimated that annual growth in telecommunications traffic will be in double-digit figures in the early part of the next century. This is a chance that must be seized and developed.

Some of the changes which herald the information society are already happening. The nature of both manufacturing and service sectors of the economy is already in transition. Banking, for example, is increasingly being transformed from a branch-based structure to one based on automated teller machines, multi-media access points, and home banking.

Computer-aided design is becoming commonplace in a wide variety of manufacturing processes. Rapidly available sales information is revolutionising the ordering and stocking work of the retail sector. As the pace of change accelerates, success in the information industries will be vital to Britain’s economic regeneration.
(Labour Party, Communicating Britain’s Future, 1995)

Knowledge, education, business

  • Higher and further education institutions should become ‘centres of expertise’ whose intellectual resources can be drawn on by national and international businesses.
  • The proposals Labour has already advanced for the creation of a University for Industry – bringing education and training to the workplace, through the use of interactive technology – will also be vital in developing new skills for a new economic age.
  • We will also wish to see schools developing as a local computing and communications resource for their community, offering services, training and guidance to local businesses and firms, and making training courses available commercially.

(Labour Party, Communicating Britain’s Future, 1995)

Knowledge as a commodity

“In today’s world there is no more valuable asset than knowledge. The more you learn, the more you earn. It’s as simple as that. Education is an economic imperative. The more skilled you are, the more knowledge and expertise you have, the higher your standard of living, and the more likely you are to have security at work”
(Blair’s campaign speech, 14 April 1997)

Knowledge or skills?

“Stripped to its bare essentials, an economy has three resources at its disposal – raw materials, plant and machinery, and the skills of its workers. And the most important of these, especially in the modern world, is the last. Raw material are certainly significant, but many economies have flourished without them. Plant and machinery are crucial, but in the era of open global capital markets, even that can be acquired from abroad. But without a skilled workforce, the people with the ability and knowledge to staff a modern economy, that economy is nowhere. Global firms may invest in countries with unskilled labour, but workers will be paid accordingly. Education and economic growth go hand in hand, the one making the other possible”
(Blair’s campaign speech, 7 April 1997)

The learning age

“Learning is the key to prosperity – for each of us as individuals, as well as for the nation as a whole. Investment in human capital will be the foundation of success in the knowledge-based global economy of the twenty-first century. This is why the Government has put learning at the heart of its ambition. Our first policy paper addressed school standards. This Green Paper sets out for consultation how learning throughout life will build human capital by encouraging the acquisition of knowledge and skills and emphasising creativity and imagination. The fostering of an enquiring mind and the love of learning are essential to our future success”
(Government’s Green Paper, The Learning Age – a Renaissance for a New Britain, Foreword by D. Blunkett, 1998)

From manual to intellectual work

“The Industrial Revolution was built on capital investment in plant and machinery, skills and hard physical labour. British inventors pushed forward the frontiers of technology and our manufacturers turned their inventions into wealth. We built the world’s first calculator, jet engine, computer and television. Our history shows what we are capable of, but we must now apply the same qualities of skill and invention to a fresh challenge”

“The information and knowledge-based revolution of the twenty-first century will be built on a very different foundation – investment in the intellect and creativity of people. The microchip and fibre optic cable are today what electricity and the steam engine were to the nineteenth century. The United Kingdom is also pioneering this new age, combining ingenuity, enterprise, design and marketing skills. We are world leaders in information and communication technologies and bio-technology”
(Government’s Green Paper,  The Learning Age – a Renaissance for a New Britain, 1998)

Knowledge in computerised societies

The Postmodern Condition- A Report on Knowledge

  1. The Field: Knowledge in Computerised Societies

[...] Knowledge in the form of an informational commodity indispensable to productive power is already, and will continue to be, a major — perhaps the major — stake in the worldwide competition for power. It is conceivable that the nation-states will one day fight for control of information, just as they battled in the past for control over territory, and afterwards for control over access to and exploitation of raw materials and cheap labour.
Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorised in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange. Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its use-value.

(1979), La condition postmoderne [The Postmodern Condition, Manchester University Press, 1984 – ch. 1-5]

J. F. Lyotard

J. F. Lyotard

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Progetto "Campus Virtuale" dell'Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, realizzato con il cofinanziamento dell'Unione europea. Asse V - Società dell'informazione - Obiettivo Operativo 5.1 e-Government ed e-Inclusion