Posted on 28 November 2019
Getting Through Hard Times
By writer Anat Arkin.
CET hosted event points to new ways of building young people’s skills.
“Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else,” Mr Gradgrind famously says in the opening of Hard Times, first published in 1854. Had the novel been written more recently, Charles Dickens’ fictional school board superintendent might well have spoken approvingly of the knowledge-based curriculum followed in our schools and colleges today. This is not only crowding out art, drama, music and all the other non-factual subjects that help turn young people into well-rounded adults. It is also leaving precious little time to develop the skills they need to succeed in a world of work changing at breakneck speed.
But do schools and colleges always have to be the mechanism for delivering these skills? Not according to a recent gathering of experts in commercial education, a term covering the development of business know-how, and enterprise, employability and entrepreneurial skills, among others. While testifying to the time and budgetary constraints facing schools and their hard-pressed staff, those taking part in the discussion came up with a range of ideas for creating the time and space to prepare young people for increasingly unpredictable working lives.
Some of these ideas revolved around technology, with YouTube and other social media seen as critical to engaging so-called “digital natives” in learning. Bespoke online programmes could also play a part in building young people’s skills. But participants stressed that organisations developing these programmes need to work more closely together and share what they learn and produce, as opposed to constantly re-inventing the wheel.
Participants at the gathering, which was hosted by the Commercial Education Trust (CET), also agreed that efforts to build skills did not have to stop at the end of the school day or term. Some described how their organisations had started experimenting with delivering learning programmes over the school holidays. Others argued that the time available for skills building could be stretched even further through home-learning. While recognising how difficult it can be to engage parents – or grandparents and other carers – in their children’s education, they pointed to opportunities to send out the message that parental expectations have a direct impact on young people’s attainment.
Of course, access to social and cultural capital – as well as technology – is far from equal in our society. So at the same time as acknowledging that learning can take place outside school or college, participants saw a continuing role for these institutions in helping to level out inequalities.
The potential influence of those who fund commercial education programmes was viewed as significant too. Organisations such as CET can shape the design of these programmes, not least by asking grant applicants to show how they plan to contextualise learning in order to help students apply their newly acquired skills in the workplace. Funders can also make sure that the learner’s voice is heard by asking applicants to demonstrate how feedback from those who have been through past programmes will be used to inform the design of future programmes. Perhaps most importantly, the gathering concluded, funders need to encourage education providers to evaluate programme outcomes more rigorously and to share what they learn about what does and does not work when it comes to building young people’s skills.
These may be hard times for those of us who believe that education should be about much more than filling students’ heads with facts. But the gathering underlined how with the help of creative thinking, the challenges we face can be turned into opportunities to make a real difference to young people’s lives and career prospects.