There is a Disease that Lingers

Attention has lately been focussed on the rates of return to school with something of a focus on primary education. But the real issue is still in the secondary and post-secondary levels.

It was reported about a year ago the number of those Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs) aged between 15 and 24 had gone past 100,000 in New Zealand. The US continues to break through 15 million in its numbers, Japan is at half a million while the UK approaches a million. It continues to grow.

It is hard to not expect that the events of the pandemic will have driven this statistic to even greater levels. The actual figures are very elusive. A number of NEETs are invisible in the statistics. The manipulation around “seeking employment” rather arbitrarily shifts the border between NEETs and Jobseekers and a lack of definition about disengagement leads to an opaque boundary between being at school and not being there.

Several posts ago I pointed to the long gaps of lockdown in the momentum of learning from a combination of the necessarily quick application of the Level 4 lockdown and the quite reasonable time that it took to get schooling up and going again. These gaps will have persuaded a number of learners at secondary (and possibly also in tertiary) to simply give up, or to feel that they are better to try for a job, or feel that returning is just too hard. This starts the retreat to join the NEETs.

Both disengagement and the process of becoming a NEET are deceptively pernicious and not well understood. There are some simple reasons for persistence of people who are in the NEETs category that disables them from making that progress to a better place.

The first of these, and the most misunderstood, is that the remedy that will enable them to progress to a solution is never located in the very same setting that drove them to being a NEET. It is pointless to try to return them to a school with all the pressures and stresses that have had such an unfortunate result both for them and the school. It is pointless to place them back in a programme that they have abandoned.

NEETs need the energy of a new direction along a new pathway that is directly aimed at a visible target – employment. Career and life readiness are needed – the basic knowledge and skills required for learning both on instructional programmes and employment skills. Career development is also a key element – using that knowledge and skills to make informed choices.

At the heart of the drive to bring purpose to their lives must be a commitment to Pathways that builds purpose and maintains a line-of-site to employment and its demands. This pathway must be seamless, focus on the goal, and teach the relevant skills and knowledge for that goal. Rather than surround NEETs with a well-meaning focus on well-intended educational programmes, it is much better to surround them with people from the world of work who bring an authenticity to purposeful learning.

All this implies a pedagogy that breaks the mould. Early exposure to hands-on applied learning will trigger those parts of the brain that may have been untested and little used. Speed in approaching skills work will bring better results that trying to wrap the learner in a variety of preparatory and remediation strategies – problems for no obvious person – teach the real skills and let them apply them. Well, we all know about the claims for the ability of dysfunctional events to bring about change – let’s hope it works this time.

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