Another dot in the blogosphere?

Can it work? Make it work!

Posted on: May 5, 2015

When Bloomberg posted an article titled Singapore wants kids to skip university: Good luck with that, it was click bait.

How could you not want to find out what Singapore was up to and wonder if such a socio-economic experiment could work?

It has worked elsewhere (i.e., Germany), so the question is not why (we have gone past that thanks to forecasting) and have moved on to how (albeit a bit late).

Bloomberg cited Pasi Sahlberg, who was in Singapore recently for a leadership conference.

“There is a clear international trend in the developed world to make vocational education a true choice for more young people,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The larger trend among developed countries is a glut in degree holders (too many graduates, not enough jobs) and/or poor fit (universities were not providing what industries needed).

If the USA is any indication, thought leaders are fond of pointing out that we might see the first generation of kids that will not be as well-employed or as financially well off as their parents.

The question is not “Can the non-degree strategy work?” but “How can we make it work?”.

Some changes to the system have already taken root.

Right here in Singapore, I learnt over closed conversations what initially seemed to be a surprising statistic. A top school here revealed that about 60% of its graduating cohort was entering polytechnics by choice instead of by circumstance.

Skills Future was launched this year as was an earn-and-learn programme. The civil service will provide equal opportunities for non-degree and degree holders alike [example].

We are not going to abandon the pursuit of degrees, but the charm offensive of promoting vocational and non-degree jobs has gone beyond rhetoric to implementation.

So far these designs and implementations are the domain of systems designers like politicians and economists. What can parents and teachers do?

Most parents are unlikely to let up on wanting degrees for their kids regardless of whether their offspring need degrees. Parental concern is what they are familiar with: A degree commands a higher starting salary. The thing to realize is that a degree no longer guarantees a job, much less a career.

The other thing to realize is that parental concerns are not their childrens’ concerns. Not immature children, but adults who grow up with more opportunities than their parents and look forward to finding themselves, social enterprise, or doing good for larger causes. And finding realistic answers to the question “Is money really that important?”

The expectations and pressures of the employee today and tomorrow are different from those of yesterday.

Teachers need to take heed and learn to operate outside their bubbles. There are no more single-trajectory careers and no more iron rice bowls.

Curricula are less important than nurturing flexible, adaptable thinkers. Assessment that ultimately leads to a strong degree printed on fancy paper is less important than a portfolio of experiences.

I shared these two images I created with #eduality recently as messages to teachers.

Teachers are in a unique position to shape the mindset of the next generation. But teachers sometimes view the world through the distorted lens that is their classroom bubble.

Teachers cannot afford to teach the way they were taught. If they persist, they do their students a disservice and they sabotage the plans of a nation needing to go forward.

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