Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Education for what

There was a report on Wales’ education problems last week (nothing new there) which had a spokesperson from one of the ‘business’ organisations saying that the education system was ‘letting employers down’.  It’s an interesting perspective on what the education system is for.
That the education system in Wales is currently letting our children down is not a proposition which many would argue against.  And since part of any education system should be to prepare our young people for what they will face after leaving full-time education, then it follows that the ‘product’ from the education system may not always be what employers want.
But it’s the presumption in the expression that leaves me uneasy.  Preparing people for the world of work is one thing; turning out people who meet employers’ specifications is quite another.  It’s a perspective which a number of people have expressed recently in relation to what they insist on calling ’soft’ degrees in university; and some have gone further in suggesting that a lot of what is taught is ‘useless’ because it doesn’t make people more employable.
Falling to give people the skills which make them employable is certainly letting them down, but over-concentration on that narrow perspective runs the risk of devaluing learning for the sake of learning.  Having employable school-leavers may help boost society’s material wealth, but material wealth is not the only thing which enriches us.
Certainly, politicians should listen to what the needs of the workplace are, but they shouldn’t allow that to define and constrain the education which we provide for our young people.  There’s more to education than providing employment fodder.

5 comments:

Angela EL said...

Hi John I have been reading some alternative ways to look at education By Ken Robinson which has totally changed the way i see edcation and its purpose "Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative"
he also has a really interesting talk on the INNO Town site.he is very concerned that our education sysytem is geared to produce people just for work andis based on making schools like factories. And not to be creative and to expand our capacity to learn and enjoy learning and expand our transfer skills

Siônnyn said...

The SNP's attitude on education is refreshing - they see it as an investment in Scotland's future - its cultural future as well as its economic future - not just as a production line for drones that are adequate for business purposes. We should seek to emulate their ideas and aspirations in Wales. The first thing we could do is remove the profit motive from our universities, which have devalued them as educational institutions.

Glyndo said...

"Preparing people for the world of work is one thing; turning out people who meet employers’ specifications is quite another."

That's what we used to do John. I remember a local "Mining School", FE colleges ran courses catering for apprentices. That's not to say that other courses can't "broaden the mind" and who is to say what is useful and what is not. But, some of the ones on offer now seem mainly designed to increase the number of students and their accompanying fees. We are constantly told we need an educated work force, if we are to compete in the modern world, I don't think they mean Media Studies or Politics.

John Dixon said...

Angela,

Thanks for the reference - will follow it up.

Glyndo,

I'm not arguing that there is no rôle for teaching specific skills aimed at specific jobs and industries; of course there is. And, as you point out, it's long been a significant feature of our educational system. What I'm arguing is that it shouldn't be the sole purpose of our education system, which is what some people seem to be arguing.

I agree that we need an educated workforce; we also need a trained workforce. But the two are not the same; there is a value to education beyond the acquisition of job-oriented skills.

Siônnyn said...

First you get educated, then you get trained.