Are We Risking Our Children’s Futures and Our Own?

In the classroom

It feels like a long road to get to where I am today — quite literally, it’s taken my life-time!

Ever since I can remember, I was told that I must do well at school, that it is “the key to unlocking my future potential”.

Unfortunately, they mistook school for ‘education’ and the more I look back on my formal education, the more I feel it played a role in hindering my future not helping it.

Education is vitally important; the current role of the education system however is not — and it must change.

Don’t get me wrong, the academic journey has enormous benefits.

It teaches you the basics of reading and writing, introduces you to social environments (somehow I still have friends I made at 6 years of age) and it exposes you to a number of topic.

But what about the fundamental role that it exists for and forces you to believe:

“Education is the engine of our economy, it is the foundation of our culture, and it’s an essential preparation for adult life.” — UK Schools Minister Nick Gibb

I can’t disagree with any of the above — it’s a great vision, but how successful is it at delivering these points?

  • Economic prosperity
  • Socio-cultural benefits
  • Preparation for adult life

Education: A Fire to be Lit, Not a Vessel to be Filled

Straight off the bat I want to be clear —

The educational system is what I have an issue with, not the means of educating oneself.
I believe education to be a perennial journey (a fire lit) and it is within our control to choose to learn for as long as we live. It is not something that is simply obtained (a vessel filled) by our early 20’s for classification.

The pursuit of Higher Education is still considered important in society, as many believe it is directly linked with employability and future success.

When you think about it, it’s easy to see why.

Our Grandparents, who lived through The Great Depression and two World Wars, saw formal education as the route for their children (our parents) to lead a rich and free life, and they were right.

Our parents enjoyed the fruits of a postwar economic uprising, as a fertility surge coincided with rapid economic expansion yielding many more opportunities, hence the coining of their generation — ‘The Baby Boomers’.

Education WAS the perfect classification for shortlisting candidates for jobs and big bucks.

Therefore, it’s reasonable to see how Nick Gibb and many hundreds-of-thousands of people have been conditioned over the decades to correlate an archaic educational system, designed for the industrial revolution, with delivery of future success for their children.

The result?

Our parents, and society at large, have engrained a message that if we work hard [in education] we can have anything we want.

However, over the decades, evidence shows there’s been a dramatic decline in its [schools] effectiveness to secure employment.
  • Unemployment amongst grads remains higher than it did before the Great Depression.
  • 44% of graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a degree
  • Only 36% of people are in “good non-college jobs” (paying around $45,000) — down from approx 50% since 1990s.
  • Grads in low-wage jobs rose from 15% to more than 20% compared to the 90’s
  • Approx 1 out of 5 people (23%) are working part-time (2011) up from 15% in 2000
  • Yes, graduates are earning more than non-grads by about $15,000 a year. However, in the 1960’s the median earnings for graduates of that generation were above 80%. That’s now only 61% since 2013.
  • Source: Pew Research Center, 2014

Let’s dig deeper…

Society, Anxiety and Happiness

Now onto the societal issues at hand, and here we must acknowledge that the world has changed drastically since our parent’s time (sorry Mom and Dad, maybe you don’t know what’s best for me?).

Oxford University identified that within the next 20 years, approximately 50% of jobs, across the US and the EU are at high risk of being replaced by technology. That’s a quicker rate than ever known to human kind before (sorry future son/daughter, perhaps I won’t know what’s best for you either?).

Furthermore, technology now means that we live in a much more connected and transparent world, a world where global societal issues are brought to our attention daily: climate change, social mobility, human rights, rights to education, job security, mental health, healthcare, poverty, homelessness etc.

I’d like to add here that I believe, for many, technology can also be the answer to what seems like a cause of current job displacement.
If you take the 1800's, around 74% of all Americans were farmers, by 1900 this had decreased to 31%, and by 2000 it was merely 3%. Yet this hasn’t led to mass unemployment.

On one hand we have a ton of economic issues and on the other hand we face a bewildering number of social issues as a species.

Somehow the narrative, that hard work in education will deliver a happy and full life, is becoming more like a fairytale to most than a reality.

The World Economic Forum revealed, that from over 140 countries, only 13% of workers actually like their job.
In a recent poll among Brits, it was revealed that as many as 37% think they have a job that is utterly useless.”

Still with me? Let’s recap, just for a mo:

  • We’ve been told all our lives that ‘formal education’ will help us achieve all our wildest dreams and ambitions.
  • Nearly half of graduates are working in jobs that didn’t require 4 years of study and £30k of debt
  • We’re now more connected and we’re consuming more information daily than ever before
  • Education is proving to be regressing in it’s ability to assist people into their desired positions — 1 in 3 people in Britain think their jobs are useless.
  • Plus, 50% of the jobs that perhaps our parents recognise, will have disappeared by the time we’re their age.

Young people are anxious? You’re damn right!

Society Continued

So, with all of this in front of us, we [the Gen Y and Gen Z] begin to consider:

  1. How do we, as individuals, define ‘success’?
  2. What sort of ‘employment’ do we want? What contribution do we want to make to the world?

In 2013, 12,000 professionals took part in a study by the Harvard Business Review, and half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance”.

In 2013, the private sector accounted for over 80% of employment within the UK. Therefore, I’m sure you’d agree this cohort of employers, who drive our economy, are a pretty good measure for any vision of education, let alone Gibbs’.

Well, “93% of employers believe that critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills are more important than a candidate’s undergraduate field of study.”

At this present time, only 27% of college graduates are working in a job that even relates to their major.

Naveen Jain, Entrepreneur and Founder of the World Innovation Institute stated.

“Today’s education system does not focus enough on teaching children to solve real world problems and is not interdisciplinary, nor collaborative enough in its approach.”

Even Elon Musk doesn’t consider the ‘degree’ to be a strong signifier of value.

“There’s no need to even have a college degree… at all.” — Elon Musk

“Furthermore, 95% of employers are looking for candidates whose skills translate into out-of-the-box thinking and innovation, as many of the jobs being filled today come with challenges that are more complex than in the past.”

Insert Elon Musk CV here*

So, after all this we can begin to see that not only does ‘education’ not help secure a job, it doesn’t even deliver the pre-requisites to a meaningful career or happiness. Leading nicely onto Gibbs’ “Preparing Adults for Life”.

Preparation for Adult Life — Wasting the One Shot We Have

The final and most important point of Nick Gibbs’ vision for education — Preparing young people for their adult life: the only life they’ll have.

The average 22 year old has spent approximately 63% of their life preparing for the “wider world”. That’s roughly a combined 17 years or 6,205 days (given that the first 3–5 years are just them getting used to being a human).

In pursuing the results of standardised examinations, they’ll have experienced serious stresses, anxiety and pressure, all at a time where their brain is still forming. This is the most important time for a young human and will play a huge part in their later life: a time not to be underestimated.

  • 12% of millennials have a diagnosed anxiety disorder — almost twice the percentage of Baby-Boomers (born between 1940–1960).
  • A BDA Morneau Shepell white paper found that 30% of working millennials have general anxiety
  • While a 2014 American College Health Association (ACHA) assessment found anxiety regularly afflicts 61% of college students.

Stresses that arise from peer pressure, teacher pressure and parental pressure, all contribute to the way an individual perceives themselves, builds their self efficacy, and how intelligent or ‘fit-for-purpose’ they feel they are.

You’d most certainly hope that within those first 6000 days on planet Earth, that you’ve developed an understanding of what you want to do or how to do it. Seems reasonable to assume right? Well…

A recent study showed that 28% of people had “no idea” what they wanted to do after leaving education.

And of the 45% young people who did know, they were “not sure” of how to get there.

The average Millennial (born between 1981 and 1997), will become 75% of the workforce by 2020 and it is predicted, in this period of flux and uncertainty, they will hop jobs 4 times before they’re 32 (twice as much as their parents).

So, my final point (and I believe most important)

Is it any damn surprise that young people are so bloody anxious about their lives and their futures?

Mental health is the biggest killer of young people and the 2nd biggest disability, second only to blindness

After being told, since the day they could understand language, that the ‘education system’ will provide them everything they’ve ever wanted, which fails for so many, is it any wonder people are so unhappy?

Are We Wasting Decades On The Wrong Things?

I now work in an industry [technology] that despises waste. In fact the mere existence of it, is a critical failure point that needs tight management and control.

All learning is done in the leanest possible way, both in relation to time and money (after all, time is money).

And from the evidence I read to the anecdotal evidence I have experienced and witnessed amongst my peers, there is a huge proportion of waste that exists in ‘education’.

There is a plethora of evidence to suggest that learning can be nurtured in many other ways, more effective ways. If you don’t believe me I’d strongly recommend Ken Robinson’s Creative Schools.

try everything, fail quickly, learn deeply, apply and repeat.

Finally, let me be clear:

Education is vitally important; the current role of the education system however is not — and it must change.