Skip to main content

College and Career Readiness; "What is the Purpose of School?"

What is the purpose of school? Some will say schools are necessary to prepare students for subsequent life stages. For some, this is additional formal education, for others, it may be launching a career. Others will argue schools are essential for creating educated contributors to democracy. Sadly, many families regard schools as daycare centers. When I asked students, "what is the purpose of school?", The most common responses were "I don't know" and "to prepare students for something." These seemingly uninspired responses are actually rather insightful.

We live in an era of exponentially accelerating change. How can educators be expected to know what the future holds? Are traditional school structures and curricula preparing students for their "something"? Media is brimming with reports, many contradicting, about job automation, machine learning, and the changing nature of work. We are also seeing numerous reports of people earning college degrees, but remain mostly unprepared for their chosen career field. Are students leaving school with the skills and dispositions employers desiderate?

I serve on one of several district committees currently investigating career pathways. The intention is to provide information to our students so they can customize their academic program to fit their interests and aspirations. With graduation requirements and a high-stakes testing regimen firmly entrenched, an entirely self-determined curriculum is not a current reality. The work of our committees shows the notion of a "personalized" academic program has been nudged from sporadic conversation to early stages of implementation.

A few weeks ago, our subcommittee, representing the "travel and hospitality" field, reviewed current course offerings conducive to preparing students with interests in careers such as hotel management, event planning, and tourism. Following our self-assessment, we met with officials from area businesses and higher education. It was valuable to get professionals' perspectives on the programming provided to our students. More importantly, we received direct suggestions on the types of skills and experiences employers seek from our graduates. The following list summarizes their recommendations.
  • Communication skills - employers want people who are competent communicators. This includes oral, written, and non-verbal forms of communication. Fluency in more than one language is highly valued.
  • Collaboration skills - employers want people who productively contribute to project teams.
  • Decision-making and Problem-solving - employers want people who can use available resources to make decisions quickly, as well as, solve problems creatively.
  • Numeracy skills - employers want people who have accounting skills and the ability to perform mathematical computations.
  • Character - employers want conscientious people who are honest and show empathy for others.
A prevailing theme from our conversations, employers would prefer to invest in training a high-character candidate with lesser education, than invest time in a highly educated prospect with character flaws. The so-called "soft-skills" often given lower priority in schools are in fact the most valued. Our survey closely parallels skills identified in the World Economic Forum's Executive Summary, "The Future of Jobs; Employment, Skills, and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution".  Futurist, Stowe Boyd, suggests the list provided by the World Economic Forum may already be outdated. His "Workfutures" readiness list emphasizes curiosity, creativity, and adaptability.

Predicting the future is a challenging, if not futile, endeavor. However, it is imperative for educators to review and discuss emerging trends. As we have learned, it's necessary to bring many voices to the table if schools are to fulfill a purpose of serving their respective communities. Desired dispositions are difficult to assess. Putting student interests first means letting go of traditional teaching paradigms and embracing a culture of learning. These initiatives remind me of author and educator, David Perkins and his invitation to "educate for the unknown".

What changes can our schools make to better prepare students for an uncertain future?

Related Reading

"Future of Work: Building Entrepreneurship..." - Jessica Slusser, Getting Smart, Feb. 2018.

"Ready and Working: Pathway Programs..." - Derek Newton, Getting Smart, Nov. 2017.

"How Big Data Can Inform the Future of Re-skilling" - Getting Smart, Feb. 2018.

"The Future of Education Includes..." - Shireen Jaffer, Getting Smart, Feb. 2018.

photo credit: PeterThoeny She was left in awe via photopin (license)


Popular posts from this blog

Grammarly Writing Hacks for Better Blogging

Writing is learning. It's taken me about thirty years to realize the metacognitive power of written expression, the same amount of time it took for me to recognize that my writing skills suck. Apparently, time in composition class was spent daydreaming and making silly faces at girls. Today, each post is an exercise of will power, unlearning and relearning prepositional phrases, comma usage, and when to use the ever-popular semicolon. Two hundred posts into my blogging adventure I've picked up a few tricks that add efficiency to my writing, things that make me appear smarter than I really am.

Freelance writer, Jennie Cromie, writing for, identifies five ways blogging can make you a better writer. Discover your voiceBuild social connectionsAcquire valuable feedbackBecome self-disciplinedWrite faster and more efficiently
Writing with intent to learn is the mindset to lead with. Using the right tools permits scatterbrains like me to focus on the message rather than un…

To Email, or Not

Should current students learn how to use email?

As someone who celebrates a clean email inbox about once every five years, I found it interesting that the topic of student email usage was on the agenda of our recent high school leadership meeting. The focus of this brief conversation concentrated on these questions.

How can we get students to utilize their school email account better? Should we be teaching students how to communicate with email?When and where should email usage skills be taught? Who's responsibility is this?Why do we want kids to check their email? Those around the conference room table agreed with the importance of students checking their email to stay informed about upcoming events and opportunities. Others mentioned it as being an important part of "digital executive functioning." Time was running short when someone said, "Kids don't use email."

This brief statement sent my mind scurrying in several simultaneous directions. 

First, thinking …

Finding the Fulcrum

In 2016, twice as many Americans obtained their news online instead of print. Approximately 3/4 of adult Americans interact with others through social media. Nine out of ten Americans are online, and a majority of these users are using time online to support personal or professional learning. I'm sure that I'm not the only person who finds it challenging to find a balance between personal and professional learning while online.

As time passes, an increasing percentage of the information and interaction that I seek in the name of learning is gathered online. The line between personal and professional learning is becoming blurred. I'm not sure if this is the result of time limitations, or professional ambitions putting the squeeze on personal interests. For example, I would like to start a podcast about pond fishing, but here I am writing about learning and education.

Reading Aaron Davis's recent post, "Templated Self", my perceived challenge of online time took …