The kids are alright

The kids are alright The last ones to leap forward were Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong; and we all know what happened after the leap. OK, OK, I am just wisecracking Ð the issue deserves more than that. Richard Mostyn's editorial (in focusing on one item on th

The last ones to leap forward were Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong; and we all know what happened after the leap.

OK, OK, I am just wisecracking Ð the issue deserves more than that.

Richard Mostyn’s editorial (in focusing on one item on the menu) illustrates very nicely the problem with education Ð in the Yukon and elsewhere. It is much more complex than just shifting focus.

A response that attempts to address the items mentioned will appear rather disorganized. But I promise to tie it all together in the end.

Let me first say a few things about the 160 dropouts mentioned in the piece.

Three days prior to the article I had run into Josh, a dropout. He was proud to tell me that he had started a career in the food industry (plus a girlfriend and a kid, but this is besides the point). After reading the article I thought of a few more dropouts Ð James, Jesse, Brandon, another James Ð and it occurred to me that these kids had, after some misfiring, found a place and a job, despite the lack of a scrunched up diploma.

I bet if I polled some Yukon educators and parents of diploma-less kids I could come up with a rather handsome percentage of successful dropouts. It does not seem to me that we have squandered all the tremendous talents of those kids.

And I am not so sure about the point of education. Mostyn suggests preparation for the workforce should not be the focus of the system. Well, I partially disagree. The preparation should include work skills and creative skills and social skills and analytical skills, and so on.

I agree we should educate for the future, but I also believe that we do have a clue what that future may look like in five years.

As a matter of fact, a lot of European industrial nations do exactly that in order to determine what skill sets may be required for graduates and to implement the changes into the curriculum.

They also project the workforce needs and try to stream the student cohort accordingly.

I do not think the problem with education is the problem of focus. I think it has more to do with the lack of projected thinking in education.

You see, the above mentioned industrialized European nations all offer different streams of schooling with different focus and a wider variety of skill sets.

Canada is a novice to this kind of educational planning. For as far back as I can see in the social studies textbooks we have been able to import the kind of skilled labour which we were in need of at certain times.

We did not have to project into the future and we did not have to modify; we could count on immigrants to fill any voids (with no training cost to the Canadian taxpayers as a bonus).

As for the “creativity” training at school, let me add this thought. Creativity Ð or the lack thereof Ð is a function of a given society and not so much a subject taught at an educational institution (countries like Soviet Russia or North Korea, despite well-organized education systems, have never produced creative individuals on a large scale). North Americans (Canadians included) are by and large considerably more creative than the folks in Europe because here we can be creative and implement the results of our creativity without upsetting the definitions of our social structures. I am, ergo, not surprised the topic has been issued forth by a fellow from Great Britain, a society notorious for its strict social regimen.

For them, the challenge indeed lies in a focus shift on creativity (I have my personal doubts about whether they will be able to achieve it though.)

Josh’s problem is not the dropping-out. His problem was (and is) the lack of options. Not all kids want to go through 12 years of schooling. But if the grad diploma at the end of 12 years is the only option, then we can expect kids to say, “The hell with it.” It is not always the school that makes them “fail,” it is the lack of alternatives. We are so focused on the one school career, we sometimes ignore the needs of the students.

Josh was ready to leave school at the end of Grade 10. He thought he had all the tools he needed for the kind of work he wanted to pursue and the kind of life he wanted to lead. But the school would not let him go, because he was not finished. And, because there was nothing to certify completion at the end of Grade 10, he was compelled to spend two more years.

Some students just slack this time away, taking courses that barely make sense, but give them the necessary credits to graduate.

Some reluctantly take courses and barely pass them, some spend a lot of time at home, and for some, admittedly, the graduation certificate is indeed just a paper to be scrunched up in their fists.

The 160 kids who do not graduate from high school are 30 per cent of a cohort.

They are, by no means, lost talents or lost souls. Most of them lead rich, successful lives after leaving school. The number should not intimidate us or force us into some frantic action.

The reality of a complex workforce is expressed in percentages Ð 15 per cent academics and professionals, 20 per cent post-secondary graduates, 20 per cent trained service personnel, 30 per cent skilled labour and 15 per cent unskilled labour. Now, these numbers may vary a bit from country to country, but they are in a certain balance.

If we were to churn out more postgraduates we may not have jobs for them all and we may have to import skilled labour from Italy or Germany. If we were to produce only skilled labour we will have to import unskilled labourers from elsewhere; that has been the story of the past. The problem is an obsession with a 12-year school career and a wrongly perceived mandate to force everyone into taking it.

We could, on the other hand, offer differently structured school careers that would address the needs of the students and of the workforce. The other skills, the so-called social competencies, would be taught in either (because of the involvement of many other social agencies this topic needs to be examined at a different time).

I am pretty certain that we could have offered Josh (and many more of his friends) a school experience that would have given him the skills (including a measure of creativity) he was looking for in a reduced time-frame with a paper to certify completion at the end of it.

And so as not to box Josh into a corner, we could design a system that lets him re-enter when and if he thinks himself ready for more.

Maybe this is the kind of leap we should take if we want to land and not just splash.

Bernd Schmidt


See more letters page 8.