Alexander Pannett 7.30am
In Roman times, Janus, the two-faced god, emphasised change and the development of youth into adulthood.
It must therefore be galling to British school children that modern education in the UK has changed little with its own two-faced approach.
On the one hand, they must forever be taking more exams, more coursework and more responsibilities in order to compete in a globalised world for the jobs and life that their parents assumed was a birthright.
On the other, pupils’ achievements are mocked as poor return in an age of grade inflation, ever-falling exam standards and supposedly parlous work-ethic.
Those that survive the pressure cauldron of school and manage to secure a coveted place at University find, with bitter irony, that their education is transformed into a shadow of its former intensity, in many cases consisting of a mere two to four hours “contact time” a week, in classes of twenty or thirty. A friend of mine did not even have a single assessment to complete in her first three months of University.
“Student-led” seminars are prevalent, where often a distracted tutor sits in the corner, nursing a particular esoteric brand of instant coffee and wondering whether the etymology of ennui can be traced back to Shakespeare’s cat. Or some such nonsense.
And now you have to pay for such “higher education”.
Even on managing to graduate without bankruptcy or gout, students are required to perform intricate initiation “tests” by graduate recruitment personnel, who, despite twenty odd years of supposedly world class education, will judge students’ suitability for employment on their ability to build towers out of rolled up newspapers.
Or they may get lucky and be sent off to fight in one of the wars that have been fostered on them by middle aged arm chair generals and suffer rejection by an apathetic society for their efforts.
Throw in astonishingly high house prices for first time buyers, un-paid internships and unprecedented youth unemployment (22%) and you start to suspect that today’s youth are getting a particularly raw deal.
It is in this context that, whilst Michael Goves’s plans to request A-Level exam boards work with leading universities to raise standards should be applauded, we should be expecting a lot more action from the Government in addressing the social inequality timebomb that will arise from current youth degradation.
The Government should be much more radical about raising standards in schools by abandoning the discredited A-Level system and switching to the world-leading International Baccalaureate. University degrees should have a mandatory minimum number of hours of contact time and ambitious students should be allowed to fit more modules into a term and so finish a degree at a quicker pace, to cut down on the regressive debt they will have to accrue.
The Government must also provide better vocational courses for students who do not choose an academic route, with enough resources and training to make these a viable alternative path into the workplace.
To achieve effective reform there must be much more dialogue between businesses, universities and schools about what skills the job market needs. Businesses should therefore also be consulted on the content of exams for both secondary and higher education.
There should also be much more encouragement for companies to take on work experience students and pay them. Tax incentives could be made available for companies that employ 16-24 year olds. The lowest income tax band should be raised for 16-24 year olds to help them meet the costs of finding initial employment.
Benefits must be re-structured to recognise and relieve the youth unemployment epidemic. Jobseekers allowance should be highest for the most vulnerable, which are 16-24 year olds due to their lack of skills and experience. Currently this age bracket gets less than any other.
The Government could also issue a moratorium for every government department on making 16-24 year olds redundant due to spending cuts. Building on Chris White’s recent Social Value Bill, the Government could ensure that the granting of government contracts is weighted in favour of companies that promote youth apprenticeships. The Big Society Capital could also be encouraged to invest in social enterprises that directly help youth employment.
As our society grows older, we will be looking to the generosity of younger generations to sustain the prohibitively expensive welfare state that we all will rely on for our remaining years.
Unless we show compassion to the suffering youth of today, we should not be surprised if that compassion is not returned when we find ourselves dependent on them in the future.