The fourteen and fifteen year olds that I teach are in the process of starting to think about their so called ‘profile choices’, the point in their journey through secondary school where they can drop a few subjects and possibly choose one or two new ones.
In the Dutch context where I teach, it is a relatively small range of possibilities that they select from, at the end of it all they still have a timetable with between eight to ten different subjects. As far as future university studies or career choices are concerned a great many options are still open with such a broad knowledge base. Yet somehow the message that seems to settle in the minds of the pupils, partly through the input that they get from school and partly from family and friends, is that even at this early stage they are stepping onto the rails that will lead them to their future chosen career.
I have to admit to having some problems with the system that creates the impression within the minds of the pupils that they are somehow choosing a future career at the age of fifteen. This degree of certainty is something of an illusion, there are so many twists and turns on the educational road ahead, coupled with the fact that the nature of work and employment is in such flux, that many jobs and employment opportunities of the future are unimaginable to us when viewed from the present.
But actually my bigger problem with the message that seems to be getting through to the pupils choosing their subjects for next year is that every choice should be related to simple career perspectives. Choosing a subject because (a) you simply enjoy it or (b) it may contribute to your development as a person or even (c) because it allows you to use skills you seem to have that other subject areas ignore all are largely ignored in the whole process.
Neither education or life are linear processes where everything fits so neatly into one career game plan. It is an illusion to think that it should. In addition to this education should be seen as a more holistic process. We have a role to play in shaping the individual and creating balanced and broad minded citizens for the future. We need to value and nurture the variety of skills our young people have, encourage them to use and develop them all. Our educational systems have a tendency to value only academic development, neglecting the social, creative and expressive.
Almost as if to illustrate the way in which career choices in the real world have a tendency to twist and turn in unexpected ways I listened yesterday to a talk given by an ex-pupil of our school to the very same pupils I had been talking to about their selection of subjects to earlier. She left the school some twelve years ago to study law at the nearby University of Tilburg with ideas in mind to become a criminal lawyer, as she put it herself, “like you see on the tv!”. However, due to people she met and elements of the courses she followed her interests started to broaden and take her focus to unexpected areas. She has now worked for the Dutch ministry of Defense and NATO, being particularly involved in projects that focus on the place of women and children in lands that have been effected by conflict and has taken her to various places including extended placements in Afghanistan.