Critiques on social and education issues
Children are often asked what they aspire to be when they are adults, usually in the form of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is now a more common question than its previous version, which was, and is sometimes still used today:
What do you want to be when you get to university?
The intentions are good, but there are 2 problems with this question:
Educators and caregivers are not completely at fault. Throughout at least 2 decades, university has been considered the ideal option by society and media, two of the biggest social agents in anyone’s lives.
The term Post-Secondary Education (PSE) wasn’t popular back then, despite college, apprenticeship and work being alternatives. Going to university meant you had a higher-intellect brain, and that you were of higher social strata, and that you had some good content to talk about at cocktail parties, which usually require the participant to have some type of expertise in a field that is generally respected in society.
Obviously, everybody wants to hear you talk about how James Joyce is such a great writer, and is rightfully canonized.
In recent years, society as a whole has finally begun to wake up from its slumber. It turns out that university is actually not for everyone, and not everyone is suitable to go to university, whether it is about finances, field of interest, or personality. There are people who may want to be an electrician: what good would university do for them?
Similarly, not everyone benefits from going to an expensive research institution. This is especially true for those who are interested in skilled trades, such as mechanic, hairdresser, chef (in culinary arts), and others. Would they really benefit from learning about abstract theories about the structure of social norms?
After many years of being asked, out of good will, “What do you want to be when you go to university”, university seems like the only pathway to a future. Society tends to forget, almost intentionally, that other types of PSE include apprenticeship, college, and direct entry into the workforce. Apprenticeship and work are valuable PSE as well: they offer very practical experiences to the apprentice/worker, and they end up with a deeper experience of a certain career than a university graduate would. Colleges tend to provide a mandatory practicum component in which the student serves as an intern (paid or not is a different dimension altogether).
In current day, university graduates are flocking to colleges more in the last few years for hands-on experience to bolster their resume. Perhaps abstract theory is not the best choice.
Society as a whole puts university as a pedestal, and it implies that it is the only credible pathway of PSE while ignoring other pathways. Work, apprenticeship, and college have been denounced as second-class and for people who are deemed incapable to handle the intellectual challenges of university. Society and the media like to play on the idea that university is the way to go, but if you can’t make it to university, then, I suppose, college will have to be your answer. And if not, perhaps apprenticeship, or if you aren’t accepted anywhere, direct work is your last resort. Aside from university, no other PSE is considered a valuable asset.
This phenomenon of excluding other PSE partially explains why university graduates are having difficulty finding employment. There is such a high saturation of university graduates who are soaked in abstract disciplines with little practical experience that employers do not want them. Academia and practica are completely different spheres, and only the students can bridge the chasm.
The glorification of university and university life (such as attaining Master’s, PhD, and the student party life) has contributed to widening the chasm between university and jobs. Students are pressured to take the leap of faith into university life, and plunge into the canyon when they realize that there are few jobs waiting for them. It isn’t the fault of the parents; they were only telling the students what they knew from past experience. However, students should research more deeply into the labour market and PSE options before applying to find out what type of study is best for them and the field they are interested in.
To avoid taking misinformed leaps of faith, society and the media need to do their homework to update their information. We have too many BAs and BSc’s running among us (at least in North America), and there are not that many jobs for them to fill. Practical experience is the new black, and out with high-end degrees in abstract disciplines.
Employers are now looking in the direction of college graduates based on their practical experience. Unfortunately, society still values university as the ideal education while excluding direct work, apprenticeship, and college. Society needs to realize that times are changing, and the pendulum is swinging in the other direction now. University is not for everybody. The other pathways to PSE need to be recognized so society can advance to a more functional state.
Educators and caregivers need to help bridge the gap so students aren’t taking a leap of faith into the future. Students should be able to see the destination, but know that they certainly have a manageable way of getting there.