Let down by communication

7th August 2009 at 01:00

We're told we don't want lots of people flocking to our colleges this session to do interesting programmes which aren't of any real benefit to them. I suspect "benefit" in this context is synonymous with being neatly shoe-horned into a specific job.

Now, I'm all for college students finding jobs at the end of their training. That's what colleges are for. I can understand the concern, therefore, that learners may be enjoying programmes, but that they lead nowhere. However, as someone who has taught "interesting courses", I know that students very often discover their aptitudes in a wide-ranging programme, that the jobs they find often aren't linked directly to their vocational area, and that education is never wasted. It would be nice, of course, if we turned out students who slotted into jobs like a very neat bagatelle - but education isn't like that.

Teaching in creative media, I would interview lots of ambitious school- leavers who wanted to be film directors or pop promoters, or maybe just be famous. And it wasn't only the young ones who dared to dream. The older, retired members of my leisure class fantasised about publishing their first novel.

Through the years, some did just these things; next month, for example, I'm attending the launch of a first book by one of my part-time students. Most, however, learned to exercise patience, and to develop lifelong skills.

Media studies courses are often the usual suspects when you think of "interesting" courses. Everyone knows they just involve watching One Tree Hill, showing off your new mobile phone and getting a tattoo that will horrify your mum and dad. In fact, at NQ level, a media course, among much of value to employers, will equip a learner with superb ICT skills and often include Communication 4 and Literature 1, a cluster which serves as the equivalent of Higher English - a prize that young students value highly. All in all, not a bad portfolio to take to market.

It's not just creative courses that can be deemed a luxury in hard times. Full-time courses increasingly squeeze out or embed communication teaching. Teaching communication on craft courses, for example, is a tough call. Many learners resent "doing English" when they have come to college to learn a trade, but we ignore at our peril the fact that employers are pleading for better communication skills.

We need to retain breadth in the programmes we teach our young people. You never can tell where your training takes you. One learner in my communication class, completing her training in sports coaching, travelled to Greece for a work-experience placement organising the games and sports in a luxury hotel complex - and came back with a dream travelling job as nanny to the hotel owner's children, because she had so impressed her.

Yes, we need to equip our learners with skills for the jobs available now and in the future. But we need to remember that those of us making the decisions have probably benefited from a wide-ranging education that has equipped us not just for work, but for life and the changes it brings. Our learners deserve the same.

Carol Gow is a former further education lecturer in creative media.

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