J E Rischard the World-Bank's Vice essay

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The growing need for interdisciplinary education in the sciences has been recognized, as well, since students have often limited themselves to a specialized field without gaining the required skill sets to undertake broader issues.

As the world becomes more complex, technology faster and business increasingly competitive, organizations are going to need "Renaissance people" who have a broad background in different areas, so they can clearly see the gestalt of a situation. When they are too pigeonholed, they will have more difficulty recognizing other avenues, making changes on a regular basis, or assume other roles when needed.

Within North America, traditional corporate structure used to be tightly hierarchal and segregated. Decisions were made by a very few individuals on top of the organizational pyramid. Today, organizations that are made up of narrow functional middle managers working within vertical and functional aligned departments are changing their structure or dying out. These layered firms are being flattened and empowerment is growing at all ranks.

Increasingly, they are forming cross-functional teams that consist of at least three members from diverse functional entities who work together towards a common goal and objectives. Each team has individuals with a variety of functional experiences and expertise who most likely come from different departments within the organization. Companies are also teaming with other businesses that have a different skill set or experience base, so they can offer all roles needed. Similarly, some companies are teaming up with their vendors in order to create high-quality six sigma quality. They realize the need for interdependence.

Companies are also integrating their expertise across the world. With technology and communication systems advance, it becomes easier to work with people regardless of where they are located.

Sociocultural Relationships

Changing demographics associated with increased life expectancy, such as aging population, retirement of the baby boomers, increasing number of immigrants, changes in the ethnic makeup, and generational diversity are making new demands on society.

The United States is already seeing the differences occuring. According to the U.S. Census, by 2030, the number of older Americans will have more than doubled to 70 million, or one in every five persons. The growing number and proportion of older adults places will continue to place greater demands on healthcare and social services.

In addition, seniors are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before. In fact, this diversity is true for the country at large. About 40% of the nearly 33 million growth in the American population throughout the 1990s was directly attributable to the arrival of new immigrants. Over the next five decades, immigration will account for approximately 63% of U.S. population increase.

In addition, the U.S. Census (Online Newsroom) reports that the nation's Hispanic and Asian populations continue to grow at much faster rates than the population as a whole. The population of Hispanics, who may be of any race, reached 39.9 million on July 1, 2003, accounting for 50% the 9.4 million residents added to the nation's population since the Census 2000. Its growth rate of 13.0% over the 39-month period was almost four times that of the total population.

The number of people reported they were Asian grew 12.5% to 13.5 million. Following Asians were native Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders (5.8%, to 960,000), blacks (4.4%, to 38.7 million), American Indians and Alaska natives (3.3%, to 4.4 million) and whites (2.8%, to 237.9 million). The population of non-Hispanic whites who indicated no other race increased 0.9%, to 197.3 million.

Over the next decade, there will be major changes in the socio-cultural makeup of the U.S. Already, colleges in California have much higher influx of Asian students than other populations. This fall and last, the number of Asian freshmen at Berkeley has been at a record high, about 46%. The overall undergraduate population is 41% Asian (New York Times).

Increasingly, this demographic change will impact the U.S. In many different ways, especially for the white males and females who have been the "majority" for such a long time. Multiculturalism will needed to be incorporated into the political, social and economic forces that rule human relationships. One of the main systems that will be impacted will be education. Socio-cultural traits are conditioned by the environment in which a person is born and raised. Even some biological characteristics are indirectly determined by socio-cultural influences. In many societies, it is forbidden to wed outside of one's own culture. In this way socio-cultural factors impact and somewhat control the children born.

Education is going to have to take the role of introducing the multicultural sociocultural dimension. Education has to focus more than on cultural differences. They have to look at the diversity in broader language, religion, socio-economic position and gender areas. In addition, they will need to look at the individual differences, such as psychological makeup, physical features, opinions, sexual orientation, and social behavior. Heterogeneity is often an oxymoron with schools -- despite the fact that they are open to the public, whoever the public is, the educational system is mainstreamed for an average homogeneous student. That is why students who are gifted or need of support for their mental or physical disability are labeled "special." As the boundaries move and shift and cross over in the regular population, so too will they in the schools.

The earlier that schools can address sociocultural factors, the better equipped students will be to live in the diverse world around them. Globalization will have to be a concern of all educators regardless of their background. Yet, there is an even more difficult role they must play. Once the students recognize and appreciate the diversity the exists, they need to realize that there has to be a connectivity between these different groups. This goes back to the earlier questions above regarding interdisciplinary studies and global citizenship. An emphasis will needed to be placed on a diverse global world that is interdependent regardless of socio-cultural factors.

Critical/Creative Thinking

Looking over the above four areas, the question arises of how best to develop, support and enhance such factors as dealing with major global issues, enhancing ethical considerations, forming interdisciplinary curricula and teams, and incorporating socio-cultural differences into a whole. The answer goes back to the need for Renaissance individuals who are creative and can think out of the box.

Many of the issues that are being faced today do not have the usual traditional answers. These are new concerns that have never been solved before. Consider what is happening with the global warming issue. First people have to be acquainted with the evidence of the issue and its possible/probable impact on their lives. Then, they have to be concerned enough to take action and given the steps to follow. Meanwhile, those involved with creating these steps have to agree on what needs to be done and by whom. Until there is a global citizenship that works together, this becomes nearly impossible. Either entities are working at cross purposes or not doing anything at all to solve the problem.

As Rischard notes, the next 20 years are going to be the most telling on the future of the world. The necessity is a unified human effort without socio-cultural barriers working as an interdisciplinary team to develop creative solutions. The question is this a believable scenario?


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