Who Would Want To Be Educated In The Present System

News / October 22, 2009

Alistair Owens

Research shows on average we have three careers and 17 jobs during our working lives. Is it feasible to plan for such diversity during the primary, secondary and university education of children? What are the relevant subjects to take and courses to pursue to match this requirement? Are we playing endless games with our educational resources?

The barrage of criticism over our schooling process continues.  The “teach to test” syndrome, constrained curriculum and performance targets beg the bottom line question – does any of it matter, is any of our current schooling still relevant in this rapidly changing world? The concern cascades from all levels. Primary schooling starts too early according to the Cambridge Review and secondary schools decry the poor achievement of children leaving primary education. Employers such as Sir Terry Leahy of Tesco states that many children leaving secondary school are ill prepared for employment. Universities cite the “A” level syllabus as inadequate and lacking the depth of preparation needed for university. Graduates who finally made it through the whole battlefield often find their degree has mixed relevance in their career path.

Graduates with a first degree from the “Ivy league” or “red brick” universities, irrespective of their specialty, become inevitably swallowed up by the accountancy head hunters. A survey of graduates after two years in employment shows an extremely small proportion pursue a job based on their degree specialty. Bankers and accountants being consistently recruited from non maths disciplines is a clear sign of the imbalance of students pursuing maths at degree level. As a result the skills developed in other disciplines are being usurped. Worse still employment league tables emphasis the financial relevance of degrees by discipline, which could further skew the attraction of certain degrees such as science which are lower in the table than others such as economics.

What lessons should be learned from this situation? What teaching resources do we actually need to equip children for their future? What education programme lasting the full 15 Years of the learning journey to graduation will maintain its relevancy in employment in this rapidly developing world? More importantly which degrees should be underwritten to develop and retain the skills needed to support critical activities?

I discovered that my career path followed the norm. It comprised of three different careers and 12 jobs. Starting in marine engineering in the merchant navy, then into management services, industrial engineering, product management, marketing, General management, and currently MD of a educational games, toys and puzzles retailer. Oh, and a writer!

None of this was planned. Apart from the engineering skills, the schooling I received was largely untargeted.  Looking back, could I, should I have structured the elective element differently? Probably not. Even now the diversification of my career was largely due to opportunist moves and internal promotion. But ideally to progress in general management, unsurprisingly, you need to be a generalist with as broad an education and experience as possible.

Many blue chip employers move management trainees though a number of roles in different departments to broaden their experience. Exposure to such a programme makes them knowledgeable, versatile and increases their promotional prospects.

Is this the answer? Should our entire educational programme be geared to provide a general broad brush education? This would overcome the anguish of the 14 year old following the National Curriculum required to select “A” level subjects to follow a career path or degree which could ultimately change with time. How, in our changing world, is it possible to identify a career at age 14, only to find the role has been superseded after graduation at 21 years old and their subject choice outmoded. Most jobs available now didn’t exist when a graduate started school.

Rather than specialising in selected subjects in which a student excels, should they be required to complete a wider range and achieve an overall educational award graded by the number of subjects taken at pass level. The International Baccalaureate heralds the way in secondary education, and so could this model extended down to primary and up to degree level? This would be an opportunity to broaden the educational spectrum of many children. It would also provide the broadest education as possible with an international base to prepare them for long term flexibility. After all, the UK is heading for a massive change in its historic employment base.

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