Tag Archive for purpose

Pathways-ED: Their brilliant career – all I want is a job!

Stuart Middleton
9 February 2011

A number of times lately in discussion with different kinds of people, the question of which word we should choose to describe the post-formal education destination of a students has arisen.

I favour using the simple word “job”. But this I am told is limiting and “career” would be a better choice. Even “employment” seems to be favoured ahead of “job”. But the words we use matter and the words that have impact on students matter. Our thinking is not just formulated by the words we used but actually formed by them. They are very important.

This is not a trivial issue. Currently questions are being raised about the effectiveness of “careers” advice and much thought is being directed at the nature of it, the way it works and when it should be delivered.

Let me nail my piece to the door. I believe that “career” is a concept that comes largely after the event. It is a qualitative judgment about a person’s continuous work over a long period of time. It is often used by people other than the person it is being applied to. “She has had a stellar career” might well be said of a person who could be reluctant to think of herself in these terms.

Children in middle class homes, the homes of the professionals, grow up with a sense of what a “career” is because there are people in the home who have had one, or know of people who have.

A “career” is something of a collective noun for a series of jobs that are connected and cumulatively add up to something.

I don’t want to here discuss careers education other than to say that it seems to me to be a lot like sex education – too little, too late and when it happens, overly obsessed with the mechanics of connection.

We might get much more traction and reach new levels of effectiveness in the advice we give to young people by using the word “job”. Is the point of education the development of a sets of skills, knowledge, dispositions and aspirations that will carry people into a job with enthusiasm and certain in their knowledge that their education will continue even though their schooling might stop?

That is why multiple exit points and pathways are needed. Some students need to make the school / job transition more quickly than others, some need to get onto a pathway along which they clearly see a job waiting for them at an earlier point. Others can sustain a more distant view of a job, perhaps even wrapped up in the concept of a career but not many.

So, let’s start being comfortable with the practice of making clear the link between “schooling” and “jobs” with a view to getting increased numbers into work. Such a commitment will not dent in any way the numbers who are heading for university or who have a view of where they are going. However it will be absolutely central to making inroads into the ranks of the disengaging and those who leave school to drift into the NEET group.

Making explicit the purpose of schooling is an important change we could make if we are to tackle the issues of dropping out and disengagement. We need to agree on and then work to a clear equation:   Schooling + Job = Purpose.  There is plenty of evidence that purpose is the very thing that many successful students have and many unsuccessful students do not. It might also be the difference between an effective teacher and an ineffective one (and this is not a comment on competence).

Perhaps the confusion about schooling that a group of students has is shared by their teachers. This is sad if it is true for such teachers will find it hard to aspire to a “career” in teaching and will instead become increasingly unhappy about the “job”.

The old battle cry of the teaching world in the 1960’s was “Give us the tools and we will do the job!” By and large any increase in resources was used to continue to do the same thing and not surprisingly the results were the same. Now demographic pressures and the realities of the sort of economy we have, demand different results which can only result from working differently.

A good start would be an affirmation that education should lead to a job and that this could happen at a number of points none of which need threaten the pathways that see students reach high levels of qualifications. But we must attack that group who end their encounter with education after eight or ten or 13 years and are either unemployable or ill-prepared to continue in education. It is not a mystery.

An orientation on “jobs” might be the solution.


Pathway-Ed: Educating on purpose

Stuart Middleton
9 March 2011

As educational professionals we are letting ourselves down by the continual use of wishy-washy statements about the purpose of education.

“We must prepare students for jobs that have not yet been invented.”

Really? Are workers going to live long enough to actually outlive whole occupational classes? Change doesn’t happen cataclysmically to the extent that in a short space of time, an occupational class disappears. In older times a book-keeper used to sit at a specially designed table that held the ledger book entering income and expenditure into it in a copper plate script. He (for it usually was) used the same principles that are used in entering income into a spreadsheet on a computer. Just as the pen replaced the quill now the pen is replaced by the cursor. The job has changed only to the extent that the tools required to undertake it have changed.

Sometimes new jobs arise such as, perhaps, a CNC Designer. Again, new tool but same old job that applies the principles of design learnt with a pencil and drawn on a drawing board. And so on.

“Well, then we must surely educate people to cope with seven jobs in a lifetime.”

Now, some people might work for a lot of bosses over a period of time but usually in the same occupational area. Even top executives who move from corporate to corporate would do so on the basis of taking with them a skill set that is identifiable, what they are known for and what is sought by the new employer. There is little evidence that we will have seven jobs that are in entirely different areas. We might well have seven jobs in the same discipline. I have personally had a huge range of jobs but all in educational institutions, each requiring growth in my set of skills and I have never sought a job outside of education. I guess that this is typical of most in education and in many other areas.

When the phrase “no previous experience required” is used in an advertisement it is usually code for a position that signals low or unskilled work. But people who develop a career usually do so within a pretty consistent skill set which might well continue to grow over time but which seldom head off in a wild tangential swing into a new field.

Finally there is that purpose that distracted us in the 1970s – we have to prepare people for increased leisure time. I didn’t know that back then when there was pretty well full employment they really meant part-time work or unemployment for they always spoke of a shorter working week, longer weekends. Well, it soon turned out in the 1980s that this was not to be the case – fewer people worked longer and increased numbers didn’t work at all.

So what is the purpose of education? Well I think it is simple. The purpose of early childhood education is to prepare children for primary school. The purpose of primary school is to prepare students for secondary schooling which in turn should prepare students for a vocational pathway. The notion of a “vocational pathway” includes all post-secondary education including the university.

The purpose of the university is to prepare people to contribute to society through high level thinking, the ability to have new ideas and to give new nuance to old ideas. But each of these high and new thinkers will need to make a living so regardless of the vocation they move into, it could be said that the purpose of a university is vocational. Of course some discipline areas – medicine, law, engineering town planning and so on – are blatantly vocational while other areas of study are preparing students for articulation into a postgraduate vocational programme such as teacher training and post-graduate specialist courses.

If the purpose of education ultimately boils down to being vocational then it makes sense to say that we are preparing people for whatever it is that they will need to next – in early childhood education it is primary school, in primary school it is secondary school and in secondary school it is post-secondary education and training or work. Good learning at every level is a mix of hard skills and soft skills backed by the technology that is typical of the time.

Simplifying purpose then sets the stage for a simpler set of goals and purpose. What should students know in order to be ready to start primary school, to enter secondary school and to graduate from secondary school into post-secondary education and training or into employment? Is that too hard for educators to agree on?

Now this simplistic framework is simply the skeleton on which education hangs so many exciting, extending activities introducing us to worlds we might never have known in which we might do jobs that we are prepared for because someone has the commonsense to teach us the skills and the knowledge to do a job that exists!.