Friday, May 25, 2012

Early Education Career Modules

One thing the Great Recession has demonstrated is gone are the days where an individual just has to have the ‘will to work’, scatter-shot his/her resume to various occupational positions of various subject matter and still expect to get a job. Millions of people who clearly want to work and are willing to do so even at below market rates have been unemployed for years. There is little reason to believe that this logjam of individuals will abate at a fast enough pace to lessen the burden for future generations. Instead it is more likely that these individuals will compete with newly graduating individuals of the future. Therefore, it is important the schools prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s job market competition.

In addressing the last sentence a number of education reform proponents hasten to suggest that in order to accomplish this goal schools need to change the way they teach adding longer hours, merit pay, more testing and more engaging and devoted teachers. Unfortunately there is little reason to presume that such changes will significantly improve career prospects for students in the future. Such logic is similar to suggesting that the government cut taxes to stimulate the economy in lieu of expanding social programs like food stamps, which have guaranteed economical engagement. Focus must be applied to those aspects that will have the greatest effect on the probability of producing a quality result. In the above question schools should provide an avenue to occupation exploration at a young age.

Most students take career aptitude tests, but the results of such tests are typically not specific enough to be overly helpful to students when actually identifying how those interests flow into a given career. One could see the interests identified in the tests fall into many different careers in a broad occupational classification, but the career aptitude test does nothing to differentiate between the careers in that classification nor highlight the demands that such careers would entail. Thus the end result of the career aptitude test produces little benefit, especially in the relationship to how those interested coincide with the skills expected for those various careers.

One means to improve upon the broad career aptitude test route is to develop special career informative modules that exist apart from the actual school day. The modules would operate once a week and could be run by the guidance councilor so not to add to the workload of any teachers. In a lecture the guidance councilor would introduce a given career path, discuss the educational background that develops quality practitioners and work at least one problem that such a profession would encounter. The importance of emphasizing the educational elements is two-fold: first, it expands the background and introduction sections for the particular profession beyond something that can simply be found on Wikipedia. Second, it allows the students to understand the interdisciplinary nature of certain professions, especially those in more advanced fields like physics, engineering, pharmacology, etc.

Regarding the presented problem, it would be preferable if the problem actually occurred (not simply theoretical) thus it would have an actual solution (so after attempting to find a solution the students can see that solution instead of just trusting a theoretical solution). If possible the school should reach out to an active practitioner in the local community for the given occupation and invite that individual to participate in the appropriate portion of the modules as well. Through these lessons students will receive clear information and real experience regarding what a particular career entails resulting in early incorporation of student interest in an actionable and focused way by demonstrating the preferred skills, education and mindset to create success in a given career field.

There may be a concern about the ability of students to attend these modules. The main issue is that these modules should not interfere with normal school hours for teachers are already squeezed for time; therefore, they need to be scheduled either before school or after school. The immediate problem with before school scheduling is the transportation issue. Early exposure to various career paths is one of the chief goals of these modules thus the target age range for participating students should be around 11-13 years old. Without driver’s licenses students will rely on assisted forms of transportation most notably school buses. Unfortunately increasing gas prices and budget cuts in the last few years have forced a number of schools to ‘ration’ transportation services, so it would be difficult to expect most schools to expand bus service to support the modules. It must be noted that this transportation problem is only significant for schools that service a less centralized population.

The chief advantage of scheduling the modules for after-school is that a number of schools already have bus service that accommodates students who participate in after-school activities, so in most situations this service could also be utilized to accommodate those participating in the career modules. The chief disadvantage of such scheduling is the obvious conflict between the modules and other after-school activities like sports and various clubs. There is little that can be done about this conflict because to move the start time of the module to after the conclusion of most after-school activities will create transportation problems similar to before-school scheduling due to a lack of coordination with after-school buses.

Therefore, if after-school is selected as a scheduling time the main suggestions are that no modules be scheduled against games or competitions just practice and meetings of various after-school activities and that all coaches/advisors be made aware of the scheduling so they do not react negatively to individuals who miss the occasional practice to attend a module. Clearly it would also be important to produce a final schedule of all modules for the year as early as possible instead of scheduling one module at a time, so students and coaches would be informed of the presented professions as soon as possible allowing for proper planning.

Overall identifying the superior educational choices pertaining to the field of interest early on in a student’s career should help motivate that student because he/she can now place significance on subjects instead of losing focus with a ‘When am I ever going to need this’ mindset. This clearer sense of meaning should lead to higher grades and more classroom commitment from both an execution and behavioral standpoint as well. The benefits could also extend to secondary education either in college attendance or internships because these students will have increased levels of passion, preparation and direction. This method also demonstrates that it is not necessary to match up vocational and business relationships to schools to catalyze student motivation. Such direct pairing, via internships or something else, between businesses and schools can be viewed as an advanced step, but if not available the alternative of using career modules as a means to temper focus and inspiration among its students should have a greater level of applicability for schools.