In 2018, 18% of school leavers left education without substantive qualifications. I am writing this article in response to this article and this report. The report, states there is a relationship between leaving without a qualification and receiving free school meals. Whilst I accept certain socio-economic factors will influence a child to leave school with no qualifications, I believe the bigger issue regards the structure of the education children younger than 18 creates despair and feelings of hopelessness.
I am writing this article, to show despair and hopeless is created by a very rigid education system expects someone who is 16 years old to decide what they want to do, as a career for the rest of their lives without giving them the opportunity to change their mind.
For those of you who do not know, I come from the United States education system and I will use my US education experience to show how the United States system allows students the option to be lifelong learners throughout their lives without being forced into making a lifelong decision.
While living in the United States, I attended schools in two different states. I mention this, because education is the responsibility of each state with the US federal government setting the minimal standards. My elementary years (kindergarten through year 5) were spent in Wisconsin and my secondary education years through university were spent in a very rural state, with a total population that was less than Wisconsin’s biggest city Milwaukee. While in Wisconsin, my education covered topics like gender stereotypes, reading for understanding and fieldtrips that tied into classroom learning such as touring the AMC car plant in Kenosha. Whereas my secondary education was very minimum, and I suspect it met the minimum US standards. I attended university in the USA and I was a supply teacher for a few years. As a supply teacher, I taught at various locations and various subject. However, most of my teaching was spent either teaching junior high math or special education in alternative education settings, such as juvenille detention, alternative behaviour classrooms or in-patient adolescent psychiatric care facility.
It was not until being married for almost ten years my wife and I made the move to the UK and received my exposure to the UK education system. In the UK I have had the opportunity to undertake training, go to university, and speak on the career strategy at the Westminster Employment Forum. What amazes me about the UK education system is its rigidity and forcing unrealistic expectations upon children regarding careers.
Let me explain. When I was in school at year 8 (USA – 8th grade), I had a course on careers. I spent time researching various careers and what each job requires. After year 8, I was repeatedly exposed to various careers. Even though I was living in a very rural state, which was probably meeting the minimum standards 40 years ago, I was still receiving an extensive and intensive introduction into careers.
Then when I entered high school, I had the opportunity to take university level courses, like Chemistry, for university credit. Plus, my high school, offered trade skills and vocation skills, for those who were not university bound. The high school I attended offered training to become a Health Care Assistant but other states, like New York, offered students to become Licensed Practical Nurses (L.P.N.). The opportunity for taking university and vocational courses where a part of a broader educational platform, the high school diploma.
Even though you may take vocation or university courses as a part of your education, the high school diploma requires that you take courses in various subjects like STEM courses, English, literature, history, government, and other social sciences. Then at university, I had to take further courses in STEM, English, history, and other subjects for my degree. Students who chose not to graduate and wanted to receive their high school diploma are offered the General Education Diploma (G.E.D). As for grading students were graded by the teacher by completing homework, taking quizzes, writing papers, and written exams.
I understand, the United Kingdom does not offer the high school diploma but does offer the International Baccalaureate or sometimes called IB. The IB does not require students to sit exams at the end and then wait for grades. Students in the IB program are assessed through various means meaning it is easier to predict the student’s grades. Plus, no student at the age of 16 knows what they want to do in life. The IB provides a breadth of knowledge allowing the student the flexibility to apply to university programs that may have not been accessible under the current A-Level system.
Under the US system, students late in year 11 or early year 12 take a college admission test for university application. The university takes account the whole student which includes, the admission exam scores, grades at school, their involvement in the community, extra-curriculars, and their essay.
Plus, under the US system students can apply to as many universities as they want. If they enter the military, the military will pay for the student to attend school after their service and even if a student leaves high school without attending university, the student can apply later as a mature student usually with less rigid standards. Finally, under the US system students can transfer between universities. This allows students who may not have initially met their first-choice university or feel the university they have chosen is not the right choice.
I believe, there are less rigid and restrictive means to encourage student’s life long-learning and I believe, the UK makes too much out of university offers. Instead, I believe, the UK should focus on how to make the system more responsive to the changing needs of students by accepting no student knows what they want to do until they leave school. In response to changing needs, the United Kingdom is supporting apprenticeships.
It is clear, the current A-level and university offer system limits a student’s possibilities by focusing on the student’s strength instead of challenging the student to develop as a person. By focusing on the student’s strength, the student will never know what they are fully capable of doing, thereby limiting their possibilities. Instead the student see a one-dimensional view of themselves that is full of limitations and expectations. For some, it may become too much and force them to quit without trying. Others may follow the path but feel trapped because they see no other option.
I believe, the government needs to inspire people by making learning accessible by being able to leave education and then re-enter. By being able to transfer university and to start university later in life. Learning does not end at the age of 18 but continues throughout life. Until the government can see education is not mechanical but something that is fluid, it will face problems that can be readily solved by a flexible system that responds to each stage of the individual’s life and this, I believe, this is accomplished by seeing all of us as learners. Finally, in my opinion, I do believe the USA model is a model that the United Kingdom needs to explore further to keep students in school and to improve the skills of its workforce through life-long learning.
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