does our education system prepare kids for the real world. photo of scrabble

Does our education system prepare students for the real world?

The short answer is ‘No.’

Being more charitable and taking a slightly more positive view, you might say, ‘In some ways it does, but it could (and should) do more.’

Let’s look at some statistics to get some sense of perspective about the success (or not) of the UK education system. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has its critics and detractors but it remains perhaps the clearest measure of global educational performance.

And in the last round of results, published in 2016, the UK education system didn’t come out looking all that impressive. Out of 70 countries, the UK ranked 15th in Science, 22nd in Reading, and 27th in Maths.

But does this mean that UK schools are failing in their mission to prepare students for the
real world?

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How does school prepare students for the real world?

One of the biggest criticisms of schools in recent years has been that they are focusing on examination results too much. Of course, it is the system itself that has created this problem. The importance of league tables, and the way that it increasingly seems that all Ofsted really care about is exam data, has caused schools to have that very narrow focus on results.

But education should be about much, much more than exam results.

So, how does our system prepare young people for the real world? There are many points that could be made to argue that school does provide good preparation for the real world – although some are more convincing than others.

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School uniform, it could be said, prepares students for the fact that dress codes do still exist in the workplace. Homework develops independent learning. In the workplace of the future it is unlikely that many people will stay in the same job/career for any great amount of time. The work landscape will be flexible.

The days of putting in 30 years of service and receiving a gift of a carriage clock on retirement are virtually over. Work will be fluid which means that people will need to be adept at picking up new skills and being willing to learn. Lifelong learning will be crucial.

Work will be fluid which means that people will need to be adept at picking up new skills and being willing to learn.

Discipline and time management are two more key skills that you could argue students learn at school. Possibly the most important of all though is social interaction. Schools can be tough and unforgiving places indeed.

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Peer pressure, friendships, bullying – the school playground or classroom is a melting pot of emotions, challenges and new experiences that children have to handle. Most do, and what they learn about how to interact with other people should stay with them for a lifetime.

Where does our education system fall down?

The PISA test comparison highlights how far behind other nations the UK has slipped in terms of results. Probably more worrying still is the fact that businesses continue to complain that the UK education system is failing to equip young people with the practical skills they need to be successful in the workplace, such as team work, communication and problem solving.

Indeed, a study commissioned by the practical learning foundation, Edge, revealed that 71% of employers would consider employing young people who had poor exam grades, if they had plenty of work experience.

71% of employers would consider employing young people who had poor exam grades, if they had plenty of work experience.

Critics of the education system would say that creativity is being stifled in the classroom. In fact, the opportunity to be creative has been taken away altogether for many students. Arts subjects are being cut from the curriculum as a combination of the drive towards more academic subjects and budget cuts begin to bite.

‘Sir, why do we need to learn this?’

It’s a question that most teachers have faced at some point: Sir, why do we need to learn this? Or: How am I going to need this when I’m older?

Of course, most of what you learn at school is not needed when you are older. Most of it evaporates and ceases to become important the moment you put your pen down at the end of your last exam in that subject. As teachers we know that. We may not advertise the fact – but it’s a fact all the same.

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We can qualify and justify all we like, but surely the question has to be asked: Should schools be focusing more on ‘life skills’ rather than academic subjects? Would that not be a better way to prepare students for real life?

From advice about how to handle money to sex and relationships education to eating healthily – are these things not more important in the long run than how good a student’s essay about a 17th century romantic poet might be?

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