In order to answer the question ‘is education fit for purpose? we need to decide what that purpose is.

In ‘Can education reform produce sustainable citizens’, I proposed that one objective of education is to produce sustainable citizens. A sustainable citizen is ‘someone who takes responsibility for themselves and is a mindful contributor to solving problems – personal, local and global.’ A citizen also needs to be productive and have a job that satisfies personally and contributes to the economy of the local and global society that they are part of.

In July 2014, the UK Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion published a report stating that:

‘The consequence of not meeting this [education to employment gap] challenge by 2022 will be:

  1. 9.2 million low skilled people chasing 3.7 million low skilled jobs – a surplus of 5.5 million low skilled workers with an increasing risk of unemployment 

  2. 12.6 million people with intermediate skills will chase 10.2 million jobs – a surplus of 2.4 million people 

  3. Employers will struggle to recruit to the estimated 14.8 million high skilled jobs with only 11.9 million high skilled workers – a gap of 2.9 million.’ 

The total effect on GDP is calculated at a potential risk of £375 billion.

But is education to blame? In McKinsey on Society’s 2012 report on ‘Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works’, more than 8,000 young people, employers and education providers in nine countries were polled and more than 100 education to employment systems were studied in 25 countries.

The key findings were that:

  • Worldwide, young people are three times more likely than their parents to be out of work. The number of unemployed youth is estimated to be 75 million.
  • 39% of employers say a skills shortage is a leading reason for entry-level vacancies.
  • Only 31% of employers found that they were able to recruit the right skills for their job vacancies.
  • Only half of youth believe that their post-secondary studies improved their employment opportunities.
  • Stakeholders hold different views about the readiness of graduate for the job market. Almost twice as many education providers polled considered young people graduated with the necessary skills for employment, as the young people themselves and the employers looking to hire.

From the opinions of those polled, we can surmise that education is not fit for purpose. Today’s education is not producing graduates with the right skills for today’s job market. Worryingly, the education system seems blind to this fact. Given the entrenched and protective nature of education we are unlikely to see an easy, or quick, solution that the providers will willingly adopt.

It is somewhat depressing that an education system established in the UK in the 19c to provide recruits for agriculture, industry or the colonial machine, is still our model. The world has moved on and, whilst that model was very successful for the UK in the 19 and early 20c, it is not a model for the whole world or the demands and skills of the 21c.

So, what do we need to do to change?

We need to get the educators and employers to do some joined up thinking and realise that they are accountable to one another in order to sustain citizens and sustain each other. It is a symbiotic relationship

Currently, there are no models that map the education to employment journey and so it is hard for either side to establish a common understanding of the situation and the repercussions of national curricula on the skills required for employment.

Indeed, perhaps, the first step is to make education answerable to a new set of criteria relating to the 21c not the 19c?

There are too many people still looking at old solutions for new problems and history tells us this will not work.

We need a completely new education model that will challenge everyone. Which, satisfies all stakeholders equally as this is the only viable way towards a sustainable system.

Perhaps it education itself is an old fashioned concept, should we not be talking about learning and skills for life?

The days of living on one set of skills is finished and there must be a core set of skills we now need which are radically different to the academic skills we are being taught in our formal education programmes.

Learning is changing, the world is changing and we need to adapt to survive, collectively, economically, socially and individually.

We need to embrace the concept and challenge of learning for life, but also not only that learning constantly and being able to evaluate what and how we learn.

Even the theory under which we are taught is fallacious. The underpinning theory of teaching is based upon ‘learning styles’, a concept which has never been proven!

To learn to learn is the primary skill we need and that is not taught in our current education system, the evidence of that is quite clear.

To read the full report click on Education to employment: Designing a system that works’