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Talk-ED: It all seems to work!

Stuart Middleton
5 September 2011

An interesting report[1] recently released by NCVER in Australia paints a picture for us of impact of work on school and postsecondary outcomes. This is timely with the general concern that so many students and especially those from lower socio-economic stressed areas, have to work to keep themselves and their families moving forward or perhaps even just standing still.

It is popularly thought that it has a negative effect on their educational progress.

This is a new worry really because in a previous generation after-school work was common and a welcome source of that little bit extra. But those jobs have increasingly been taken over by adults who cobble together a living through a collection of casual work.

What did the researchers find out?

That typically, students work 11-12 hours each week and females work a little more than males. The impact of this becomes slightly negative when the hours worked become greater but females manage the balance better than males. The most positive impact is that work while at school will lead to a better outcome in terms of finding fulltime employment after schooling has been completed.

This is in some ways not surprising but it does raise the question of what school systems do to assist with the sound management of a balance between work and schooling. School timetables can be relentless in their requirements and do not seem to be flexible in so many ways. Ought it to be possible for students to be able to undertake some work in a coherent manner without added pressure either to be at school so much and perhaps even being given credit for the work that they are doing?

This is simply “work experience” I hear some say. Well yes it is and there is a consistent drive on currently to see that increased work experience, becomes part of the senior school years. So perhaps the addition to work experience within a programme of work experience that students have the initiative to get outside of the programme could be given as much credit.

The skills of employment are learned by practising them in real settings with real employers and real customers – they do not lend themselves so well to classrooms although some of them can be simulated and certainly others can be practised – punctuality for instance.

I admire greatly the commitment in the USA to service education in education institutions. The way in which where possible students are employed creates a feeling of acknowledgement of the interface between education and employment that the faculty have successfully negotiated but which still faces the students. When I was a secondary Principal the school employed a number of students and I regretted that they did not receive formal credit for it but they were early days of qualifications frameworks and suchlike.

School to work is yet another transition that is hard and occurs too often at a point in time. The US makes very effective use of internships (often unpaid) and cadetships to provide work across transition points in education. Industry projects characterise some courses and of course the earn / learn options are becoming increasingly common. But they are generally a feature of postsecondary education and training. What about secondary education?

All the evidence increasingly points to the importance of work and career orientation for young people during their secondary schooling. Perhaps we should be negotiating agreements with local employees for work opportunities like we used to have – the after school job, the weekend job, the casual job.

Rather than get all tied up about youth rates and suchlike, let’s place value on the experience that it brings to young people, not to mention the positive impact on outcomes when it is balanced and in proportion.

Alison Anlezelark and Patrick Lim (2011) Does combining school and work affect school and post school outcomes?,  Adelaide, National centre for Vocational Education Research.

Published inEducation

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