There are many things about the British state education system over which I despair. The teachers seem to be expected to work in a constant state of flux as governments meddle with the curriculum in an attempt to fool the electorate into believing that standards are rising. Hard though it may now be to actually educate our young people, it is the kids who suffer these ill thought out attempts at quick fixes as the exams they work so hard for become discredited. It doesn’t help when the teachers encourage our young people to expect too much for too little.
My children attend a large, mixed gender, state comprehensive school. Today my daughter was discussing career aspirations in class. Her teacher was emphasising the importance of aiming to do something that could be enjoyed. She told the class not to consider the remuneration but rather the pleasure to be gained from a career. Whilst I would certainly agree that money is not as important as happiness, and having money does not lead to happiness, not having enough money to cover essentials is going to put anyone in a very unhappy situation. I did not consider that the teacher was giving realistic advice.
Unless one has a vocation or another source of income, choosing a career can be a very tricky decision, not least because there is rarely only one path to each destination. Most people will go out to work because they need to pay their bills. They will want a few extras on top of the essentials and these must also be paid for. The money has to be earned.
In an ideal situation a person’s job would be enjoyable and fulfilling. However, in reality, most people will have to compromise in order to achieve a lifestyle acceptable to them. To suggest that the first requirement of any job is that it should be fun is to ignore life’s basic economics. Having to go each day to a job that one hates may be miserable but so is being unable to pay for food or heating. It is to be hoped that the choice need not be so stark, but not all jobs are well paid and the implications of that need to be understood.
Our young people are put under pressure to constantly work towards exams but are not given good advice about which subjects will be well regarded by prospective employers. They are encouraged to aim for tertiary education but are not advised as to which courses lead to jobs where there is demand for trainees. These things cannot always be known, but to encourage a young person to start their life with a huge debt and a qualification that few employers will want seems to me to be unwise and unfair.
I would never wish to stifle a young person’s dreams, but I believe that we do them a disservice if they grow up believing that what they want will happen just because they want it. Most things worth achieving take a huge amount of effort and dedication as well as a degree of luck. Having a back up plan which may not be so enticing but is more realistic should be considered.
State schools seem to be so intent on treating all pupils equally that they have forgotten how to manage expectations. There are careers that will suit the more academically able and careers that will suit the more practical students. Ability will not change just because it is not discussed. There are different routes into many careers for those who may not be able to manage exams successfully. In my view, explaining these alternatives and possibilities serves the child better than encouraging them to foster unrealistic ambitions. If a child wants to be an astronaut he can be encouraged to work towards that but with the understanding that being an engineer or scientist could also be pretty awesome.
The most important lesson that we can teach our children when they are considering a career is that they will have to put in a lot of effort to get where they want to be. It is not going to just happen. Suggesting that work should always be fun ignores why people are paid; the incentive is needed. None of this is to suggest that a career that is of no interest whatsoever should be aimed for just because it pays well. There is a balance to be reached between fulfilment and remuneration. Both matter.
Encouraging a culture of self entitlement is going to lead to dissatisfaction. Encouraging an attitude that accepts a bit of humility and a lot of drive to learn and succeed through hard work is more likely to take our young people to where they want to go. There will always be a few who get to live their dreams. For the vast majority it is possible to live a pretty good life by working hard and enjoying the rewards this brings. A great deal of satisfaction can be gained from knowing that achievements have been earned through an individual’s effort and commitment. I would rate a feeling of self-fulfilment over temporal fun.