Keep chil­dren’s ca­reer hori­zons open but make sure they’re not be­ing set up to fail

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - AGENDA - Lind­say Razaq

“When I grow up, I’d like to be…”

My friend waits with bated breath as her four-yearold, who has just started school, re­veals his plans for the fu­ture round the fam­ily din­ner ta­ble.

“Mummy, when I grow up, I’m go­ing to be … a rob­ber,” he fin­ishes tri­umphantly.

There’s a con­fused pause be­fore she and his el­der sis­ter burst into gig­gles.

“You can’t be a rob­ber. That’s not a job – rob­bers are crim­i­nals,” she ex­plains af­ter the laugh­ter has sub­sided.

“Oh, OK,” he replies. “Then I’ll be a T-Rex.” Cue more chuck­ling.

I won’t rain on his pa­rade, how­ever, as an­other friend’s dad is the Gun­ner­saurus, Ar­se­nal Foot­ball Club’s of­fi­cial mas­cot, so this path could yet be­come a re­al­ity.

And, if that fails, there’s al­ways stand-up com­edy – or maybe chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture.

I’m so glad my friend shared this story with me. Not be­cause it’s funny, although it clearly is and has kept us smil­ing for days.

But be­cause it gives such a won­der­ful in­sight into her son’s imag­i­na­tion which, hap­pily, is very much alive and well.

More­over, it’s a su­per-sweet re­minder of the in­no­cence of youth, which re­gret­tably ebbs away as we get older and be­come cyn­i­cal.

The anec­dote popped into my head as I read about a warn­ing from the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (OECD) this week that chil­dren’s ca­reer am­bi­tions are al­ready lim­ited by age seven.

A new re­port, pro­duced jointly by the OECD and ca­reers char­ity Ed­u­ca­tion and Em­ploy­ers, found that too of­ten young peo­ple con­sider only jobs fa­mil­iar to them through friends and fam­ily.

It ad­di­tion­ally con­cluded – and I was stunned by this – that there are only min­i­mal changes in at­ti­tudes to­wards ca­reer op­tions be­tween seven and 17.

An­dreas Sch­le­icher, OECD direc­tor of ed­u­ca­tion and skills, said ta­lent was be­ing wasted be­cause of deep-rooted stereo­types about so­cial back­ground, gen­der and race, with chil­dren be­gin­ning to make as­sump­tions about the type of peo­ple who will en­ter dif­fer­ent pro­fes­sions while still at pri­mary school.

With that in mind, he stressed the im­por­tance of keep­ing chil­dren’s hori­zons open by en­sur­ing a wider un­der­stand­ing of the jobs avail­able.

And to that end, he has thrown his weight be­hind a cam­paign by the char­ity to bring role mod­els from the world of work into schools, with the aim of build­ing up a UK na­tional net­work of 100,000 vol­un­teers.

The long-term goal is to hold 10 mil­lion faceto-face meet­ings with pupils.

I know from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence how good

– and bad – ca­reers ed­u­ca­tion can be. I once quizzed my ad­viser about the rea­sons for her choice of job and she came out with: “Well, I wasn’t sure what ca­reer I wanted to pur­sue.”

I also re­mem­ber an­swer­ing bizarre ques­tions on a com­puter that then gen­er­ated a list of ap­pro­pri­ate jobs.

Most un­for­tu­nately, nei­ther rob­ber nor di­nosaur fea­tured…

On the flip side, how­ever, my first job pos­tu­ni­ver­sity, be­fore train­ing to be a jour­nal­ist, was or­gan­is­ing ex­actly this kind of workre­lated learn­ing at a school way ahead of its time in de­vel­op­ing links be­tween the class­room and real world.

The pro­gramme was hugely valu­able and, go­ing for­ward, I’d want this depth of pro­vi­sion for my own daugh­ter whose “ca­reers ed­u­ca­tion” thus far has con­sisted of Mr R sug­gest­ing she work in the “tow­ers” we can see in the dis­tance from our flat win­dows – oth­er­wise known as Ca­nary Wharf or “Nary Wharf ” as Maya pro­nounces it – while her par­ents en­joy a glam­orous re­tire­ment.

I be­lieve whole­heart­edly in in­form­ing young peo­ple about the full range of op­por­tu­ni­ties on of­fer, pro­vid­ing them with in­for­ma­tion they might not have had ac­cess to, telling them that – as long as they work hard – it doesn’t mat­ter whether they are a girl or a boy or where they come from.

This is surely an es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent of a de­cent ed­u­ca­tion and thus I would thor­oughly en­cour­age any ef­forts to im­prove young­sters’ ac­cess to var­ied role mod­els.

But – and this is a gi­nor­mous caveat – we must si­mul­ta­ne­ously take steps to level the play­ing field and make sure the ad­vice we are giv­ing – that you can get there on merit alone – is ac­tu­ally true.

Be­cause we can’t talk about bar­ri­ers to so­cial mo­bil­ity with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing the role that class still plays in our so­ci­ety.

It pains me to say it, but mightn’t an­other rea­son that chil­dren are mak­ing as­sump­tions based on stereo­types be the fact that cer­tain fields do in­deed re­main pop­u­lated by peo­ple who look and sound alike?

Sadly, who you know – in­stead of what

– and ac­cent can be sig­nif­i­cant fac­tors in de­ter­min­ing a per­son’s for­tune.

Even ge­og­ra­phy can be a hur­dle, with many pro­fes­sions re­quir­ing a move to parts of the coun­try where liv­ing costs are pro­hibitive.

Not to men­tion the ap­palling ex­pec­ta­tion in some of the more com­pet­i­tive sec­tors, that a per­son will work for a pit­tance – or free – ren­der­ing en­try po­si­tions in­ac­ces­si­ble to any­one un­able to rely on parental sup­port.

Per­haps naively, I was taken aback upon ar­riv­ing at univer­sity in Durham to be re­peat­edly asked what my dad did – never my mum in­ci­den­tally – as if it had any bear­ing on who I was or, more sin­is­terly, whether I was worth get­ting to know.

So yes, let’s in­spire young­sters to broaden their hori­zons.

But let’s also strive to en­sure they have a fair chance so that when they go af­ter their dreams, we aren’t set­ting them up to fail.

Per­haps naively, I was taken aback upon ar­riv­ing at univer­sity in Durham to be re­peat­edly asked what my dad did as if it had a bear­ing on who I was

If a child ever says that they’d like to be a T-Rex when they grow up, don’t laugh. Dreams can come true. Just ask the Gun­ner­saurus...

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.