I have never understood the focus on “career paths” in middle and high school as I don’t think a 14-year-old is ready to pick a career.
Often, when middle and high schools offer specific career training, they lag behind the industry because they can’t keep up with the rapid changes from afar. Nor can schools afford the new technology so they are sometimes teaching kids with yesterday’s standards, equipment and practices.
The ideal career path models place high schoolers in internships and apprenticeships in the actual industries where they see what current practices are and where the technology is up-to-date. That makes sense and is happening in some places in Georgia.
Speaking of up-to-date, I was talking to a Georgia Tech professor who suggested that computer coding become a standard course starting in elementary school. He said everyone will have to deal with coding in their jobs, so computer languages should be regarded as a basic skill set that every child should have.
Rather than teaching a career that may disappear in 20 years, schools ought to teach kids how to learn and how to adapt. In a New York Times column a while back, Thomas Friedman quoted Reid Garrett Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, on jobs of the future.
“The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone. No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.”
To begin with, Hoffman says, that means ditching a grand life plan. Entrepreneurs don’t write a 100-page business plan and execute it one time; they’re always experimenting and adapting based on what they learn.
But Georgia is now in the thrall of setting kids on career paths as early as middle school, as a new AJC.com story reveals.
Public school students will pick a potential job to pursue in one of 17 broad career categories, known as career pathway clusters. Teachers would start talking to students about potential career opportunities, starting as early as fifth grade.
State School Superintendent John Barge and key lawmakers say the state has to make this move, if students are to have hope of getting the jobs of the future – nearly half of which are forecast to go to people with an associate degree or occupational certificate.
“We must change how and what we do in K-12 education,” Barge said. The status quo isn’t working, given the remedial courses required of many Georgia college students and the business community’s complaint that many graduates entering the work force lack essential skills, he said.
But some parents wonder if focusing on careers will narrow their children’s educational experiences and put needless pressure on them. Teachers, who might be required to serve as career advisers, are concerned their roles in the program would take time away from other classroom duties.
Marc Hayes, an Internet company owner and father of a college student, high school senior and fourth grader, said the idea of trying to prepare students for a career is “generally good.” But suggesting that students pick a pathway at age 14 or 15 is probably unrealistic, he said.
“I don’t think kids at that age have any idea what they’ll ultimately want to do or can do,” Hayes said.
He also questions the focus on current jobs, when those 20 years out could be radically different. “Educators need to prepare kids for a lifetime of learning, not a specific vocational skill,” Hayes said.
–Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog