What education means to young people is a difficult grey area, which many attempt to claim ownership. This debate has formed the rhetoric around the meaning and purpose of education, a view that has become commonplace within our education system across the UK.
Some will describe education as a transformative and liberating experience, allowing young people to make their own life choices; follow a route that may not have been available to their parents.
Others see education as a means to an end, an assembly line culminating in an end salary pension and taxable income.
These perceptions should be rejected as concepts that stand independently of one another. Young people should not accept these concepts as the main and only purpose of education. Education should be liberating, education should be transformative, and education includes an end salary pension, and taxable income.
However, something that many people seem to forget in the employment-tinted view of education is that education should ultimately be exciting.
Young people still see education in itself as an exciting experience. Beyond assessment and examination, education is an exciting opportunity to learn and to share. It’s an experience that allows young people to share and to be inspired, but too many young people increasingly see, and are increasingly told, that education is simply a means to an end.
This is a perception held by many young people, which follows as the result of years of placing education within the sphere of employment and employability, requiring young people and children to make educational choices based on a long-term view of make or break in employment markets.
Higher education, before employability dominated education, was intended to be exciting, an opportunity to develop knowledge, to engage in debate and research – both liberating and transformative. However higher education for many young people is now seen as simply a route to employment, an opportunity to climb the employment ladder.
The £9k generation are increasingly told that in order for their higher education experience to be meaningful, they must pursue core subjects such as science and mathematics. No longer are languages, history, politics, and social sciences seen as worth the ‘financial investment’. No longer are traditional subjects perceived as worth studying because they will not secure you employment in a fragile and increasingly competitive graduate employment market.
Education has become engulfed and obsessed with assessment, evaluation, grading, and as a route to employment; a disincentive for many young people to engage and be excited by their educational experience.
It almost alienates those who are interested and excited by education, and it separates education as a means of personal development.
For me, and for many other young people, education was a means to employment, but it was a means to employment in an exciting field of research and policy development. It was exciting to be taught by academics that are established researchers in areas of study. Education was an exciting opportunity to be inspired and expand my knowledge of social policy and devolution politics – assessment was often an interesting and thought provoking experience.
However this isn’t a common case for many young people in the UK. It could be argued that beyond the age of 14, education can be one of two things for young people, an opportunity to learn, or an opportunity to tick the employability checklist.
Again, both should be rejected as stand alone concepts.
Education is liberating as it allows young people to envisage an exciting future of employment, transforming future prospects beyond that of their local area or their parents. However we should not allow education to be simply a means to employment. Education must be exciting, it must be engaging, and should be about developing skills that are suitable for further education and employment.
The meaning of education for individuals is impossible to generalise, particularly when discussing further and higher education; everyone has their own motives. We need to ensure is that future generations are excited by their learning experience, and ensure that those who are immersed in their educational experience are able to do more than be assessed and tick-boxed to ‘employable’ status. Young people recognise the importance of being employable and the natural progression from education to employment, however we cannot allow young people to perceive education as such a black and white landscape.
Education is so much more than employment, and we must encourage future generations to realise all the exciting possibilities that education offers us.