CANBERRA. – When the then president of the then biggest company in the world, computer-maker IBM, was asked in a media interview more than 35 years ago what sort of person he sought to hire, his response was “a philosophy graduate who can play a good game of chess”. It was an answer for the ages.
What ought to be the balance between encouraging imagination and curiosity and the need for education to prepare students for the workforce? It’s one of the longest running and most important debates, and is once again in the spotlight because of a Victorian parliamentary inquiry.
Education minister James Merlino has commissioned a separate review, amid concerns about the patchy quality of career education in state schools.
The parliamentary inquiry is being urged to recommend laws to compel schools to offer career education for year 3 to 12 students. Is it sensible to have children as young as eight being forced to contemplate vocational or professional options? Perhaps. There is certainly a role for career advice in the education system, a notion common to many of the submissions to the inquiry.
There is a strong and informed view that too many schools are providing too little career advice, and too late. The Career Education Association of Victoria, a not-for-profit association seeking to advance education for the public benefit and career development, is at the fore of the push.
“It is important to recognise that career decisions and judgments are not made in the final years of schooling but are made as early as year 3,” says the association’s chief executive, Bernadette Gigliotti.
This is not inconsistent with the timeless, inherent wisdom of that IBM chief; a range of things is crucial to a rounded and valuable education. These include literacy, numeracy, imagination, resilience and socialisation.
There is a risk that an unduly premature focus on career can be counterproductive. Dr Charlotte Keating, a Melbourne-based psychologist and neuroscientist, warned the inquiry: “Kids spend enough time in their VCE years worrying about career, and the reality is, until you get out there and experience what life has to offer, you won’t really know if it’s for you.”
Getting the modern balance right is particularly important and difficult because of the rapid pace of change. The smartphone, one of the most revolutionary inventions ever, is only a decade old.
Young people have a life expectancy of decades longer than those currently formulating laws and policies, and are likely to have several careers. There is a valid argument for including a measure of career counselling in secondary education – and perhaps primary.
But it needs to be of high quality and should not be too prescriptive. Our education system is currently too slanted towards exam results; we need more discussion about the real world.
But, above all, we must emphasise the importance of a broad education that opens young minds to the exploding possibilities created by technology and creativity.
The future does not just happen. It first needs to be imagined. Advice to students: check, mate, the inspiring panoply of options life can offer. – TheAge.