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Pathways-ED: Would you like your eggs hard boiled?

Stuart Middleton
16 August 2012


There is currently renewed interest throughout the Anglophone education systems in the quality of careers advice, information, guidance and education. This is largely prompted by the slow dawning of a realisation that what we have been doing in the past might not cut it in the present nor be appropriate to the future.

I am off to be a member of a panel at a “summit” on just this topic. I take with me a little suspicion of events that style themselves as a “summit” when most of the time we find the foothill of ideas and issues quite challenging enough and our track record in scaling the heights only to discover it was the wrong mountain. Meanwhile we simply get better at climbing!

I am a member of a six person panel (plus chairperson) that has been allocated a total of 35 minutes. This seems at first glance a daunting task and it crosses my mind that in itself it might be a microcosm of the issues – too much in too little time, excellent resources (present company excluded) squandered, no immediate interaction with the audience, the urgency of afternoon tea pressing against the end of the time slot. It was, I thought, a little bit like school itself.

But snappy runners these days can scoot around a 1,500 metres race in less than four minutes, Madonna and Justin Timberlake “Only having four minutes to save the world” and many an instant meal is ready to eat in no more time than that.

So what do you say in four minutes that will contribute to the question: How do we improve economic performance through connecting education, business and industry?

I am tempted to adapt an old joke –  When Gandhi was asked what he thought about British civilisation he replied that he thought it would be a good idea! Yes, the connection between business and industry and education would be a good idea. But to achieve it requires some thought and attention by education.

For a start the connection can only be based on education success, real and appropriate qualifications, work ready graduates from all levels and pathways through the education system that lead to real destinations in real jobs in the reality that is employment, business and industry.

So, the corollary of this is that an educational failure, a disengaged student, a poorly educated or trained student is worse than no help to the mission of improved economic performance but instead is actively counter to it. Wealth generated by business and industry is diminished while it continues to be squandered through the unnecessary costs of educational failures and disengaged NEET youth.

What we have to understand is that getting educational success that is consistent with the economic performance mission is not about what secure, middle class adults do however well intentioned. It is about what happens in the heads of young people. It is about how education programmes impact on young people, and when!

If we look at education systems that are more successful than ours there stands out three key issues in this connection between education and career, education and economic performance.

First, awareness of the linkages between education/school, pathways and employment is well-developed by around age 12 or to put it another way the end of primary schooling.

Secondly, Senior secondary schooling is characterised not by sameness but by difference. Senior secondary schooling is differentiated by having a clear focus of one kind or another. The development of the general academic comprehensive high school has proven to be a failed experiment.

So, thirdly, there is earlier access to career and vocational education programmes leading to real qualifications recognised by business and industry.

These emphases lead to an educational output that sees young people gaining qualifications across a range of levels that match the needs of business and industry. Instead, in the Anglophone systems we produce relatively large numbers of degree qualified students and large numbers of students who are unemployable and who go on to prove this by being unemployed. In between there is a dearth of young people with middle level qualified technical skills.

In short, New Zealand moved away from what used to work – ability of youth to secure employment, on-the-job training, access to earn and learn opportunities, values placed on qualifications at all levels, an apprenticeship systems that other countries envied.

“Back to the future” is little more than one of those fatuous hopes, the world changes and there is no “back” to go forward to. But some of the solutions to getting our education system firing on all cylinders might well lie in the practices of the past. With the relative increase in resources available to us now, we can surely get it right again.

I think I could say all that in 3minutes 54.4 seconds – Peter Snell’s world record mile time set in 1962.



Published inEducation

One Comment

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