10 April 2012

Does our education system prepare people for jobs?

by Lyn Rombouts

Stuart Middleton’s EDTalkNZ article of 4 April http://www.stuartmiddleton.co.nz/?p=1391 asks if education can hold its head up high and say that we are doing our best and addressing the issue of preparing young people for jobs. He writes; “I am frustrated by the unwillingness of education systems to accept that the key purpose of each stage of formal education is to prepare students for the next stage of their lives – education, eventually being a responsible adult, and, yes, finally getting a job. “

Yes, education is addressing the issue but we can’t expect education to be the answer to younger people failing to get work. There are many reasons for this and to suggest that educators don’t consider it a critical outcome to educate for employment seems more than a little unfair. There are numerous social ills that have led to the low work skills but most education systems view themselves as part of the solution to the problem. The teaching of goal setting and reflective critical thinking is evidence of this. We are teaching students in our schools today whose future jobs are undefined. They are required to respond to a world and to technologies we, in 2012, cannot produce a skill set for.

When times are tough many unemployed choose to re-educate or on-educate themselves in the face of the alternative – unemployment. Good on them! They stand a better chance. Perhaps they were employable for jobs that have since disappeared or for which there is saturation point.

Then there is a sub-group of our 20 to 30 year olds who intentionally steer away from the 40 year plan of work and paying the mortgage and explore a self-sustainable utopia outside that paradigm. Their ‘tertiary’ education is spent on volunteer farms and eco-communities, building homes called Earthships that are capable of total self-sustainability. They live and work in eco-communities, vedic communities which are spreading across the globe. They are living and learning permaculture, horticulture and across culture! Of course it’s not tertiary education as we know it, its life-long learning for which there is no graduation and documentation. Are they in denial that getting a job is important? Or are they creative, resourceful, independent learners looking after themselves and their world? That bracket of society at least experiences freedom from the oppression of unemployment. Good on them too!

I also disagree with Middleton’s idea that life-long learning needs documentation to validate it. Life begins well before the 10+ years of formal education and continues well beyond it. Most of the skills he lists are included in the key competencies of the NZ Curriculum and, anyway, five year olds arrive at school with no documentation and they have been on the greatest learning curve ever in their first five years. Education must be multi-focused. The world of work for today’s five year olds is unimaginable. When they retire in 2077 will there even be careers?

Middleton writes; “The skills of employment are not hard to define and one list is about as good as another.” Well, that depends when the list was generated. We are unable to define the jobs of the future and the skill set required for employment in those jobs. By the time a three year degree is completed, jobs in some industries will have been reshaped and technology will have made the skill-set virtually redundant. Oz Guinness at a Darwin conference recently commented on the phenomenon of this, saying that modern technology, especially communication, has removed the gaps in our existence. The gap between one thing and the next thing gave us time to respond. We are now constantly overwhelmed by the immediate. Educational systems are overwhelmed too.

Finally, education systems do not have an “unwillingness to accept that the key purpose of each stage of formal education is to prepare students for the next stage of their lives”. The next stage is what life-long earning is all about. Life is changing so rapidly that many learners are left completely uncertain if they have anything to contribute any longer. If they can’t define and identify the next stage of their life how can their educators be expected to?

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