The parent’s privilege of worrying about their child’s future - a brief consideration of educational issues faced by parents today
As a Headteacher joining a school’s senior leadership team here in Bangkok, I often enjoy the opportunity to share time with families considering education and prospects for their precious offspring.
In an age where adults struggle to manage the ever-increasing pace of change in our lives, anxious parents can only begin to imagine the world of their child’s future. These worries, combined with an expectation to bestow an ever-better life and legacy for our children, mean that we must ask ourselves what parents expect from education and what guidance can educators hope to give?
I suggest that we must understand that education is not simply to be judged by passing a limited number of examinations at a predetermined age in our late teens. We must recognise that a relevant education is essential to prepare our children for a lifetime of up-dating skills to meet the demands of new ways of working. The OECD Forum in 2016 predicted that our children will face 25 job changes in their employment life, and that 65% of children today will do jobs that have not yet been invented. Being a lifelong learner is going to be the most important attribute for our children, along with a range of generic skills that include not only good foundation skills in literacy and numeracy, but also communication skills and the ability to cope with technology-rich environment.
In the relatively short period of my professional lifetime (some thirty years), education has struggled to manage the demands of transformational change and globalisation within the society it serves. Now as governments seek to judge the value for money that education provides for dwindling financial resources, there is a danger that aspirations and standards become limited to those quantifiable by accountancy driven bureaucrats. Are we in danger limiting our educational vision just at the time when investment is most required to meet the opportunities of the world of our child’s future?
Online access to the world-wide-web means that children have access to massive amounts of knowledge. Indeed, many children face the stress of information overload. The teaching profession is no longer simply imparting facts to be regurgitated in the exam hall; in the era of ‘fake’ news our children must be taught to ask the right questions - empowered to interrogate the information they encounter.
With children, and parents, of today seemingly glued to smart technology devices, we have opportunities to engage in more personalized learning. Think of the size of the educational establishments that we have allowed to grow; is this the move away from educational ‘mass production’ and economies of scale? Is a return to a more traditional and classic style of education on our near horizon, an appreciation of smaller and more flexible educational establishments practising the art of teaching, albeit with all the advantages of a newly acquired scientific understanding of how we learn and technological advances that may aid the learning process?
What can parents expect of schools and the education they provide. As an experienced Head I have a great respect for academic achievement and examination grades attained. But the paths to higher education are now many and varied, and the intellectual path may not be the way forward for all in the future. I note that my son happily completed a BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) Award in the UK, through university and on in to the world of employment. Research shows that 74% of employers want new hires with practical knowledge and skills combined; 90% of BTEC students are employed full-time after graduating; and 1 in 4 UK students who went to university in 2017 had a BTEC.
Clearly schools must provide good oral and written skills - communication is key in our knowledge economy and whilst mother-tongue education is ever important skills in the English language are essential in an age of globalization. As we noted earlier our children must be taught how to access and analyse the wealth of information they now possess, to develop the skills of critical thinking and problem solving along with the abilities of collaboration and leading by influence. Children need schools to foster the attitudes of initiative, entrepreneurial spirit, and adaptability empowered by continuous re-learning; our children must be truly life-long learners.
Worrying about a child is one of the privileges of parenthood. I may suggest that we learn from our own parents, know your child - their strengths and weakness, character and dreams. As parents we will be there to love them and support them come whatever the path travelled.
As I sit writing these notes, my teenage daughter is studying in her bedroom for the summer examination seasons of May and June. She seems remarkably ‘chilled out’ about the prospect, far more so than her worrying father. Maybe I need to read this article again.
Contributed by Tim Cooper, Primary Head Teacher