Real literacy

THIS year's business students seem more eager than last year's to get their hands on computers. Even faculty members talk a great deal about computer literacy. A personal computer for every student is one of the objectives of some academic planners, and not a few high school students are required to meet standards of computer knowledge. Part of the lure of the computer is skin-deep, as with so many other products: It looks impressive and modern, and computerese is faddish small-talk among recent graduates and even entering freshmen.

Some computer ads suggest that Mary and Joan won't do well in college without a home personal computer.

No doubt, the computer can be an important tool for the emerging business student; however, other intellectual pursuits must come first. Recent surveys of major employers reveal that the quality most sought in job applicants is oral and written communication. Technical expertise, grade point average, even recommendations from professors are not nearly as important as high ratings in speaking and writing ability. A report released by the Committee on Economic Development this fall contended that too many

students leave American schools with an inadequate command of the English language.

The problem with instructions in writing and elocution is the lack of merchandising attractiveness. A well-worn dictionary, piles of scrap paper used for first drafts, three-by-five cards with those critical scribbles to move a speaker smoothly along an important address, and a battered typewriter are scarcely ingredients for a popular campus poster. Then there is the widely held view among students that once introductory English courses are completed, it's onward and upward to the really important cour ses in management and finance.

Business schools must stress communication skills at every stage of a student's program -- and that's not easy given the fact that writing and speaking are not strike-it-rich enterprises, with proficiency rarely measured in nanoseconds. Students must learn that words are business products that can contribute significantly to the performance story of their chosen fields and firms. Or to use the lingo of their computer studies: If they put garbage into their word processor, garbage comes out.

Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.

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