Back to school, back to reality
Yesterday Charlie said, “the education system doesn’t provide skills suitable for employment at any level and employers are reluctant to pick up the slack and train employees”. There is a lot of truth in this, but as increasingly seems to be the case these days, I think the issues are slightly more complicated.
First of all let’s be clear. The education system is not failing. Children are better taught and better educated than they have ever been. The problem is that the stuff, the information, the knowledge that we need to have has increased exponentially over the past decades, yet the education system has (in terms of time) remained the same.
Let’s take an example. Remember Physics? It was the tough part of science, the bit that made your ears bleed. But some people liked it and went on to study it at University (weirdos). Take a quick look at the UCAS database and you’ll see that there are 21 different specialist Physics degrees that you can take now. Because what we know and what we think we know has expanded beyond belief, a simple cover all isn’t possible.
Likewise, we hear constant cries of despair about how much easier exams are these days. They’re not. They just haven’t got any harder and we have got both better at taking them and more informed. When we complain about this all we are really doing is showing our age and our fear of progress.
The response from the business world to these issues has been typical short-sighted and ill-conceived. With one voice we called for more vocational training for degrees to be more practical, for 16 plus education to be more varied. Then when the newly trained graduates come through the production line, we claim their education and skills are out of date and they lack the intellectual rigor. No shit Sherlock.
The academic world will never be able to offer up to date truly vocational education at the highest level, because it is unable to attract the people who will be able to teach it without becoming completely economically unviable. And they shouldn’t be aiming to do so. That shouldn’t be their role.
You want to know what I think? Well tough. You have no choice. We need to reframe the way that we think about education, we need to reframe the relationship between business and education. When you buy a new phone, they tell you to charge it fully and then let it discharge. The idea is to increase the capacity of the battery so that in future it can retain more power. We need to start thinking about education in this way. It is “merely” expanding the capacity for learning and information.
So where does that leave us as employers? Well, if the market isn’t providing what you need, you need to incentivize it to do so, or intervene directly. We need to recognize that our needs are so diverse that we cannot expect the generic education system to meet them. We need to impress upon the need to provide us with people capable of learning, but we need to provide the specific skills training we require ourselves.
But don’t expect this to be all one way. When businesses invest, they want a return. And that isn’t going to be over the short-term. Bonded labour? It might not be a million miles off.