Confused about young people – spoon-fed and ill-prepared for the world of work

In The Times last Saturday (Sep 4th 2021) Rachel Sylvester presents two dichotomies: spoon-fed pupils facing a high-tech future and questions about the purpose of schools. Should they provide knowledge or skills? Resolution of these dichotomies might be easier were we to acknowledge our confused approach to young people.
Since I began teaching in the nineteen-seventies the age at which young people can shake off school and education has effectively risen from fifteen to eighteen while the age of majority has been reduced by three years. From waiting for six years after reaching the school-leaving age to become an adult, young people now reach both points simultaneously. No longer is there a time to be spent away from school before attaining adult status. To this is now added commercial pressure from advertisers and peer pressure from social media.  It is no wonder then that some young people become frustrated and resentful. Corral them together and their reluctance to cooperate and engage positively in what education has to offer should be no surprise. In an interview (Work Ethics The Guardian. Nov 15th 2006) one such boy told me that when his teachers complained about his disruptive behaviour – he told them he was bored – he simply asked them why they insisted that he attend school. Truancy and an illegal job followed and this young man grew up successfully in a way that he would not have done had he remained in school.
Compelling young people to attend school will not ensure that they are educated. For that to happen they need to engage in what is on offer. If they do not want to engage they might well be better off finding jobs and learning the basic disciplines of employment, punctuality, reliability, co-operation etc. Then, like the young man I interviewed, they could see for themselves, and accept the need for further engagement with the world of education. 
For decades the UK government has retained a near monopoly of control over education making innovation and wider perspectives more difficult to pursue. In my first year in an international school in Switzerland we joyfully abandoned A-levels because we wished to avoid the re-organisations that were necessary every time the British Secretary of State got out of bed on the wrong side; no politician is allowed anywhere near the International Baccalaureate.
There is hope. Rachel Sylvester reported that two large companies have found better alternatives to government sanctioned examinations to select staff. If we could next reduce our expectation of secondary schools that they should occupy disaffected young people then we could expect them to do more to prepare their pupils for a high-tech future.

*Work Ethics The Guardian. Nov 15th 2006

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