When I ask my children what they want to be when they grow up, their responses change on an almost quotidian basis. My 4 year old wants to be a scientist to find a cure for cancer, then be an astronaut and then somewhat quixotically become a Power Ranger. My 7 year old wants to be a comedian or if possible make a living by being ‘really dashing and handsome’. My 11 and a half month old seems pretty content sticking her feet in her mouth.
Today has seen the release of a report by the Education and Employers careers charity, that will be presented to Davos next week – a full 20,000 children aged 7 to 11 from 20 countries were asked to draw their future jobs and the results have been as surprising as they have been heart-soaringly inspirational and gut wrenchingly depressing and predictable.
Unlike children in Uganda and Zambia who drew doctors and teachers, our children in the UK were throwing their hopes behind becoming social media stars or footballers. Worryingly gender stereotypes are in plain effect at an earlier age than you might imagine with girls in the UK much less likely to want to become engineers or scientists despite the efforts to promote STEM careers for women (https://edducan.com/2017/12/19/stem-careers-not-just-jobs-for-the-boys/) but amongst the top 10 featured jobs such as nurse, dancer and hairdresser, not bad by any metric but depressing that it should be so predictable so young, although the top spots remain slightly loftier with teacher, doctor and vet all featuring. Boys on the other hand seemed to gravitate more towards showing off and throwing their hat in the ring for sportsman, YouTuber (or similar) or being in the Police.
What this report shows more clearly than anything else are the issues with social mobility in this country of course, but more damningly just how far and how early are children have been let down by a reductive careers policy that doesn’t expose our children to the dizzying array of options out there. It leaves them instead to borrow from their own, understandably given their age, myopic view of the world, casting about for what they see and basing their aspirations on that limited pool. We could blame hardship of course but that too is lazy when you consider other countries in the study. How is it that in Uganda and the Philippines, girls most wanted to be teachers, Pakistan, Colombia & Indonesia, doctors? They are hardly overwhelmed with opportunity and positive role models in many parts of their country and communities yet they choose to believe in a better tomorrow – something I assume they are learning from their schools, something they almost have no reason to believe in, is taught and encouraged – that if you work hard your vistas are bright and plentiful. What about our country is so grey and insipid that at a time of their life where there are no caps bar their own imaginations our children aren’t reaching for the stars?
The, to date, by and large terrible advice that has been churned out under the guise of careers advice in schools is a broken and unpleasant record that has been allowed to screech and belch out drivel for far too long and the result is our students have no concept of what skills they will need upon entering the job market and more than that what the demands of the job market are likely to be.
“Careers counselling in secondary schools comes far too late,” said the OECD’s education director, Andreas Schleicher. “It is clear from the drawings that children arrive in school with strong assumptions based on their own day-to-day experiences,” he said. The chief exec of Education and Employers, Nick Chambers made the point that this only further highlighted the need for children in primary schools to learn about the ‘vast range of career options open to them and are not ruling things out at an early age.’
Which is precisely why I’ve bought my 4 year old a Ninja Steel Warrior blade, if he’s going to be a Power Ranger he’s going to need the practice.