A working definition

28th August 2015 at 01:00

A key plank of Holyrood's education policy is the response to the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce. Although imparting skills for the job market is clearly a matter of vital importance to the profession, many aspects of the way this response is shaping up should concern teachers.

First, there is the notion of industrialists leading an education commission, since successful businesspeople effectively maximise the differential between their profit margin and their cost base - and workers are costs. I don't agree with a teacher friend who said that consulting businessmen on what was best for young people was akin to wildebeest asking a hyena for a safe migration route. However, we must remember that, if the aim is to get more young people into work, "rich people don't create jobs" and "hiring more people is a last resort for capitalists". That is not my view - it's the opinion of billionaire capitalist Nick Hanauer.

It doesn't help when the Federation of Small Businesses asserts that "the primary purpose of education at all levels is to equip learners with the skills they need to succeed in the job market" (TESS, 1 May). By doing this it arrogantly dismisses centuries of the educational philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey or even Ivan Illich, in favour of the self-interests of its members.

The language of the commission's conclusions also demonstrates this tendency to self-interest. Indeed, many of the recommendations for business are actually costly action points for the public sector.

Engagement with the notion of a civic society in which employment is not just an economic activity but a socio-political one seems to be lacking in the Scottish Qualifications Authority's Developing the Young Workforce project. Also worrying are the assumptions underlying the draft Career Education Standard.

Alarm bells are rung by "I can" statements at the broad stage of education: these suggest that students should "demonstrate the behaviours an employer looks for in a good employee". But what about the behaviours an employee looks for in a good employer? How can future entrepreneurs be taught to accept the civic responsibility to pay a living wage, offer incentives such as meaningful contracts, board seats or share options to workers, or pay their fair share of taxes? And, amid a burgeoning Rights Respecting agenda in schools, where are pupils empowered to say, "I can assert my rights in the workplace, both individually and collectively"?

Although we should all do everything we can to ensure that our young people are fit to work, we must also ensure they are fit to engage with the politics of work in a transformative way. We have to defend education not as an economic means of escape or advancement, but as a means of intrinsic betterment.

Raymond Soltysek is a lecturer in education

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