In the past decade, there has been a rising debate surrounding education and its ability to prepare students for our rapidly changing world. People have struggled to attain the right and the opportunity to go to school for centuries, because schooling has often been viewed as the primary gateway towards achieving a good life in adulthood, typically in terms of social status and a stable career. However, with globalization and the mounting demands of the global economy, the demographics of numerous countries and the ways humans interact with one another have evolved, and continue to do so. Suddenly, the seemingly diminished value of the school’s typical products – college graduates and their degrees – has caused the relevance and significance of formal education to come under great scrutiny. Yet, in evaluating how well schools around the globe have equipped students with the necessary credentials, skills and attitudes to handle an increasingly competitive, volatile and dangerous world, one must consider various economic and social factors. From this, one will see that formal education has done a considerable amount to ready the younger generation and potential employees for the challenges faced today.
A common argument against formal education is that it fails to keep up with the changes of the global economy. The advent of technology is quickly making jobs and content matter taught in schools, particularly universities, obsolete by the time students graduate. This problem is further compounded by the lowered barriers of the movement of labour between nations, such that local graduates are facing greater competition against foreigners with possibly better qualifications and experience, in addition to facing a situation where there is an oversupply of degree holders. This is prominent in numerous sectors. One third of recent Australian Information Technology (IT) and Computer Science graduates for instance, were unable to get full-time employment due to “weaknesses in IT university education, and strong competition from a globalised IT labour force”, according to the Mapping Australian Higher Education 2016 report by the Grattan Institute. In Singapore, graduate unemployment has risen from 2.6% to 2.9% due to a graduate glut, according to the Ministry of Manpower. The evidence that the current formal education has not equipped students with the right qualifications and the ability to stand out in a pool of other similar graduates is therefore apparent.
However, what is often overlooked is the fact that whether or not in formal education is adequately preparing students for the changing economy and greater competition depends on how it has adapted to these challenges. For example, there are policies and courses put in place to diversify education paths by governments of countries like Singapore and Germany, through increasing the number of opportunities to pursue vocational training as an alternative or supplement to skills training. Tertiary education in Singapore can be in the form of attending polytechnics, where students learn job or industry specific knowledge and other valuable soft skills like presentation and negotiation skills. Even in the traditional route of enrolling in junior colleges, the latter is incorporated into the students’ education in the form of Project Work, and curriculum reviews are constantly carried out to ensure that content matter remains as relevant as possible. In Germany, millions of dollars are pumped into vocational training annually, which the majority of post-secondary students pursue instead of university degrees. As a result, they are equipped with the experience and practical skills desired by employers, and this has helped keep youth unemployment at bay at 7% as compared to other European countries with an average of 40%, as of 2015. Therefore, it is not completely accurate to claim that formal education has not done enough to help students become ready for today’s economic challenges, because one must take into account the fact that formal education is similarly evolving to adapt to these challenges.
Furthermore, in light of the increasing racial and religious divides present throughout the world today, formal education is in fact doing its part in minimizing or at least, reducing, these divisions in culturally diverse societies. Most educational systems considers the holistic development of students in all levels of education, implementing various programmes and encouraging students to take up extra-curricular activities. At the elementary level, the Child Development Project (CDP) is a programme spanning multiple states in America, which aims to foster children’s ethical, social and intellectual development. Reports have shown that students in CDP schools are more skilled at resolving interpersonal conflicts and engage in more pro-social behaviour. Additionally, extra-curricular activities such as sports, performing arts or community clubs not only help build resilience and resourcefulness, but also help inculcate soft skills such as teamwork amongst students as well, which are definitely vital for surviving in an economy that no longer guarantees job security. However, a more important purpose of these programmes is that they help foster social integration, as students gain a sense of pride and belonging to their community and its people. They also become more tolerant of citizens who are racially, ethnically or religiously different from themselves, which play a part in reducing the alienation of the minority. This is especially important in today’s dangerous world, where terrorism has spread in a large pan due to the isolation of misunderstood or stereotyped communities. These programmes are a part of formal education, and thus it cannot be claimed that formal education has done little to ready the students for today’s social challenges as well.
To conclude, there is a certain truth to claims that some traditional formal education that focuses only on educating students knowledge have become outdated, and hence irrelevant in readying students for the current globalized world plagued with uncertainty and threat. However, there are other aspects of formal education in several societies – from the elementary to university levels – that have also evolved to tackle these social and economic challenges and have revealed considerably encouraging outcomes. Therefore, formal education cannot be easily dismissed as irrelevant to students today.