Picking up the pieces of the `teacup generation'

4th July 2014 at 01:00
Students must become resilient to cope with `abysmal' prospects

Teachers, schools and colleges will need to be at the forefront of dealing with the lasting psychological impact of unemployment and recession on Scotland's young people, experts have warned.

Andy Furlong, a professor of social inclusion and education at the University of Glasgow, said that "abysmal" job prospects for young people were the new reality, and that there would be no return to pre-recession opportunities. Educators needed to help young people to develop the skills to manage complex situations and adapt to ongoing change, he said, but warned that forcing reluctant conscripts on to sometimes second-rate programmes could be counterproductive.

"Education and training can never be effective unless you can harness it to young people's aspirations," Professor Furlong told the British Education Studies Association conference in Glasgow last week.

He was echoed by Jackie Brock, chief executive of Children in Scotland, who told delegates that educators had to "pay attention to the confidence and resilience of young people".

Meanwhile, Carol Craig, chief executive of the Glasgow-based Centre for Confidence and Well-being, said that staff had to "walk a tightrope" between encouraging aspirations and preparing young people for a "deeply unfair world" with limited opportunities. Schools needed to lead efforts to build resilience, using sports and stories to help them learn to recover from setbacks, she said.

Expanding on his comments, Professor Furlong said that the education sector could learn "valuable lessons" from looking at Japan since its early-1990s economic collapse.

Young Japanese people were staying in education longer and finding it harder to enter the labour market, he said, and there had been "huge growth" in numbers taking temporary or part-time jobs. Research clearly showed a "deterioration in self-esteem and satisfaction during their early years in the labour market," he added.

"The evidence seems to point to a future where job insecurity becomes a defining feature of life for young people in the new economy," Professor Furlong explained.

He accused policymakers of wrong-headed solutions, exemplified by the Labour Party's backing of the Thatcherite idea of removing benefits from young people who did not participate in prescribed training.

Responding to the professor's comments, Dr Craig, author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, said: "We have to walk a tightrope between encouraging aspirations and preparing young people for a deeply unfair world where there may be limited opportunities and they may find themselves in menial jobs.

"There's a massive issue around inequality in the UK and less social mobility than before, but we're still telling young people that they can be anything they want, and that's probably exacerbating problems."

She continued: "Teachers and parents agree that there has been an erosion of resilience, that this generation of young people is much more fragile - in America it has been called the `teacup generation' because they fall to pieces so easily.

"It is now commonplace for parents in Scotland and elsewhere to believe that it's a terrible thing if a child has a bad day or a bad experience and they go out of their way to protect them from this. All this does is undermine resilience."

Barry Fisher, Scotland director of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, said it was "unfair" to place the burden solely on schools.

"Schools have the opportunity now to widen partnerships to include organisations which offer not just insights into the world of work but also the development of personal attributes - something that has started in the further education and higher education sectors," he said.

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