Education should be about more than job training

The provincial government is rolling out a new curriculum for our schools. Teachers and many parents already know this; however, the government is now telling everyone through advertisements.

In particular this weekend, I was watching a commercial with some bright young students working on a robotics project. The students had a tablet and a fairly sophisticated piece of electronics in front of them. Working together, they managed to get the arm attached to the robot to lift a ball.

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Concurrently, the voice-over tells us schools will teach the basics - reading, writing and math - but also teach teamwork and critical thinking. It points out the school system in B.C. is one of the best in the world but these improvements will make it better.

They will prepare students for the job market.

But is that really the point of school?

Is preparing students for the job market what education is all about?

And giving the changing nature of the job market, what exactly are the schools doing to prepare our children?

I would argue schools are not simply training grounds.

Indeed, if all we wanted workers to do was put together robots or any number of other jobs, we could train children at a much earlier age and be done with an education.

This is a common practice in much of the rest of the world. Children get enough schooling to be able to read, write and do simple math.

Then they are expected to go to work.

It is even the way things were not so long ago in North America and Europe.

My father was intelligent enough to go to university and could have completed advanced degrees, but he was born at a time in Britain when children were streamed at an early age as academic and non-academic. Being from a working-class family, he was apprenticed as a shipwright with no hope of completing the A-levels necessary for advanced education.

Fortunately, he immigrated to Canada so my siblings and I were afforded the opportunity of completing our high school education. We have all engaged in post-secondary education to some extent.

But 20 years ago, in parts of British Columbia, teenagers also started work at an early age. At a First Nations' school I once visited all of the high school aged students only attended morning classes. In the afternoon, they went to work.

Maybe not everyone needs to finish high school. However, not completing Grade 12 puts limits on employability.

Training for a job is fine until there is no more need for trained individuals in that field.

Then what?

This is why the education system needs to be about more than job training. It shouldn't be focused on the job market. It shouldn't be about getting our children ready for a life of work.

Especially because we don't know what work will look like in 20 years.

A recent report estimates robots will comprise six per cent of the labour market by 2020. Some predictions are for 45 per cent of all jobs to be handled by robots within two decades.

The jobs of today will not be the jobs of tomorrow.

Add to this the increasing fluidity of outsourcing employment to other parts of the world and it becomes increasingly clear our education system needs to be focused on more than training.

It should provide students with the necessary intellectual skills to be able to move through several different careers.

Our schools should be about laying down a foundation of learning - of turning students onto wanting a lifetime of learning.

That is hard to do. Many of our courses and much of our programming is about reaching an end - be it a mark, an assessment or graduation. Courses are viewed as necessary steps along the way instead of as stepping stones to greater understanding.

So, yes, our students need to learn about critical thinking.

They do need to engage in an "intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning or communication, as a guide to belief and action" as the National Centre of Excellence in Critical Thinking puts it.

They need to be able to critically analyze data and draw conclusions from it.

This is a fundamental skill necessary in all walks of life.

But understanding the world is changing and the things we teach today are not sufficient for the world of tomorrow is equally important.

Science and technology are evolving. Social mores and cultural practices are evolving. Business ethics and governmental behaviour evolve.

What works now may not be relevant in 20 years.

Developing foundational skills in reading, writing, math, science, literature, and any number of topics is critical.

Our economy is changing and our youth need the tools to change with it.

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