Education, education, education. Those infamous words of Tony Blair that spoke of hope in equipping young people with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed, and developing their talents and ambitions into something tangible. As one of the most developed countries in the world, you’d be right in thinking that this is something perfectly deliverable for the young people of the UK.
Yet in today’s climate, there’s a growing concern that school leavers and graduates are lacking the employability skills needed for them to thrive in the working world- in essence, that the education system is ‘out of touch’ with what school leavers and prospective employers are looking for.
Recent studies by polling firm IPSOS surveyed over 500 young people within in the UK, and found that almost three in five believe the UK’s education system fails to prepare them for the job market.
It was found that more than three fifths of 18 to 25-year-olds believe education in the UK leaves them ill equipped for professional working life, and felt that there was a distinct lack of work experience and development available to them. When asked what could be done to improve the education system, 49 percent of those taking part would prefer more focus upon work experience as opposed to classroom, academia- based learning.
Why is this the case?
While there are multiple issues at work here, there’s one key factor that has affected employability- the curriculum, which has failed to keep pace with technology. As the job market now places emphasis upon technological development, our education system is gradually becoming obsolete. The current curriculum places so much focus upon exams instead of practical employable skills, that it’s no great surprise that young people feel poorly equipped for their futures.
After the reign of Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Education, the system has undergone a series of stark changes. Rigorous testing was introduced for both students and teachers alike, setting a clear target-driven structure for schools to abide by. It’s important to stress here that an ability to pass a test does not necessarily demonstrate practical talent- if anything, it takes away time that could be focused upon soft, transferable skills that are employment friendly.
Gove was also keen to allow schools to run independently of local authorities; he introduced ‘Free Schools’ and academies which are exempt from National Curriculum teachings and are open to be run by whoever sees fit.
This therefore opens up a dialogue concerning modern classroom teachings- how can we begin to ensure young people are prepared for their future when so many schools now operate outside of the National Curriculum?
Noel Tagoe, former Executive Director of CIMA Education, has expressed his concern about the current state of the system.
‘It is clear the education system is failing young people and failing business. Children spend at least 14 years being schooled, and that provides ample opportunity to equip them with the basic numeracy and literacy skills on which to base a career.
Over the years our various governments have been keen to champion new ideas in education. My concern is that in the long-term the frequency of these changes appear not to be strengthening students’ grasp of the basics,’ he adds.
What about higher education?
Another factor at work here is the emphasis placed upon academia. Knowledge of subject matters are prized far more highly than practical skills in our current system; this is not to take away from recent initiatives to increase vocational skills in certain schools, but higher academic education is still widely promoted as the pinnacle of learning, to the extent that around half of the UK’s school leavers now go to University.
However, in the information age, there is less need for this kind of knowledge-based learning. A degree once worked as a fast track for that golden career path, but unless a course is highly technical and requires specialist knowledge, university studies will not render the same employment options as it once did.
So what does the future hold for the Education System?
Unsurprisingly, the imminent arrival of Brexit has the potential to create further disparity between the education system and the job market. One of the key challenges the British economy will face in the wake of Brexit will be the skills shortage- at the moment, not enough young people are being provided with useful, practical skills, and educating too many in areas that are not particularly advantageous.
New research has found that 57 percent of schools, colleges and universities have no Brexit plans in place, and have not considered how the curriculum may need to change in accordance to this.
This is particularly worrying considering what is to come; currently, British Citizens are entitled to travel anywhere within the EU by simply presenting their passport, aka the freedom of movement. However, once this right has been revoked when the UK leaves the European Union, visiting or staying in another country will be a long winded process to prepare for. This will inevitably cause issues when recruiting teachers from overseas; the Department for Education has missed its own recruitment targets for the past five years, as a result of the difficulty in producing home-grown teachers. This also raises further concerns as to whether this will increase pressure upon foreign languages, which are already in decline at both GCSE and A Level.
Are we making improvements?
However, while the current climate can seem bleak, there are some instances which deviate from the norm. Certain schools are making more investments in technology-focused studies, with particular emphasis placed upon coding.
Coding has fast become the subject of choice for tech-savvy students looking to give themselves an edge in the digital age; it provides children with transferable reasoning and logic skills, as well as teaching them to create and build computer programmes, apps and games independently. It’s also crucial for children to be prepared with the lucrative skills to thrive in the digital age, and thus becomes just as important as core subjects.
As such, a major overhaul of the National Curriculum would be needed to ensure that students were being provided with technology-focused skills, as well as a realignment of schools that are currently operating outside of the system. Creating a digital learning environment will not only ensure solid careers and futures for students, but also offers convenience and familiarity to young people who are already technologically minded.
In today’s climate, the British education system is worryingly outdated for modern, digitally focused businesses. To remain competitive in the future job market, particularly in a post-Brexit era, it is vital that children are exposed to a far more vocational education as opposed to the traditional and antiquated system of rigid ring fenced subjects. The notion of having a fixed National Curriculum with exceptions for ‘Free Schools’ will not necessarily produce school leavers with marketable skills. Critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity skills will prove far more useful than a collection of degrees or A levels. Education needs to be about children expanding their knowledge base and nurturing practical, employable growth, and not just having the ability to pass exams.
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