Henrietta Cook in The Age is reporting that the Victorian government intends to introduce careers advice from the age of twelve.
I am not opposed to such an idea. Often, many students have little idea of what is out there and available for them. However, the ensuing discussion demonstrates just what a muddle we have managed to find ourselves in when discussing the relationship between the education system and work.
In Year 9, students will be psychometrically tested, presumably to figure out something about the kind of career that will suit them. Hopefully this will be more valid than the dreaded Myers-Briggs test. A student in the article suggests that her peers, unsure of what their future holds, are aiming at breadth rather than depth of study.
But, why wouldn’t they? Especially when we have Jan Owen AM, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians, suggesting that primary school children should receive career advice because, “A 15 year-old will have 17 jobs in five different industries. When it comes to being exposed to the world of work, the earlier the better.” If so, breadth is exactly what is required?
Owen’s statement is the quintessence of the kind of fashionable crystal-ball gazing that education commentators indulge in. It is impossible to know how many careers an 15 year-old will have. At least its incongruous precision has the benefit of highlighting the absurdity of such remarks.
However, there is also a contradiction there. If we accept Owen’s figures at face value, what exactly are we going to be saying to these primary school children when we give them careers advice?
“What do you want to do when you grow up? Never mind, you’re six, right? That means that, according to my calculations, you’ll have 21 jobs in six-and-a-half different industries. Don’t suggest which ones. They don’t exist yet. Here, do a psychometric test. It doesn’t matter what it says.”
The only thing that is certain about the future is that it is unpredictable. That’s why I have previously suggested that the best preparation for young people is to equip them with the knowledge that has been useful in the past; that which has endured. Not all of this knowledge will be economically valuable to them, but education is about more that simply preparation for work. It is also about living a fulfilling life. Regardless, I can’t think of a way of deciding on a better curriculum to teach without already knowing the future. If we build a curriculum on wrong predictions, there is a much greater risk of leaving students without knowledge they later find out that they need.