Educating Isn’t Working

I’ve written about this before elsewhere, but the topic just won’t seem to go away and because “Concrete11” called it “An accurate and because of that rare article” here I go again:

Mark Twain once said, “I never let my education get in the way of my learning.” Some of the world’s richest and most successful business men (Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson to name two) dropped out of tertiary study and earned their millions through practical experience. So why are New Zealand’s youth, after up to 13 years of institutional education, still encouraged (or railroaded?) into pursuing tertiary education and burdening themselves with often crippling levels of debt?

For the record I have never been to university. I don’t have a degree, or a student loan. My highest qualification is a Diploma in Marketing (one year’s full time study) from the Eastern Institute of Technology in Napier, from which I have not gained a single ‘marketable’ job from in the 15 years since I achieved it (I have, however, managed to pay off the student loan I took out to take the course). Whether this makes my opinions more or less valid (or biased) I don’t know, but here goes.

When I finished high school in 1995, the only thing I wanted to do was become a radio announcer, and I was, part-time and on-the-job-trained, for all of six months. But I was in the minority. Virtually every other member of my seventh form year went off to university; it was just what you did (and what you still do?), primary, intermediate, high school, university, work. But I didn’t know what I would do at university. The one thing I did know was that I didn’t want to spend three years studying something I wasn’t committed to and be burdened with a $30,000+ debt, to find at the end of those three years I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, or the job I had worked towards wasn’t there.

New Zealand’s media industry is a great example of where those being trained for a specific profession are being failed by the system. Every year hundreds of young people with dreams of becoming the next Jay Jay, Mike, or Dom go to broadcasting schools around the country. With such a small employment base, as simulcast national radio networks employ a minimum number of announcers for a maximum amount of profit, very few can achieve their dream. That’s a hell of a waste of talent, not to mention a waste of thousands of dollars in student loans all for nought.

There have been dozens of news items over the last year showing little has changed in 18 years. Hundreds of tertiary graduates leave New Zealand each year because the jobs they trained for just aren’t there. One focus was on teaching, where far more students were studying the ‘glamour subjects’ of Physical Education or English (who had to go overseas to find work) and too few were studying to teach Maths and Physics.
How much influence do universities, polytechnics and institutes of technology like EIT have on the courses they provide versus the jobs that are currently, or foreseeably available in the near future (most big businesses plan finances and projects 3-5 years in the future, so it can’t be too hard). Currently it appears they could be a lot more responsible in identifying workforce needs and setting subjects and class sizes accordingly. But I don’t see them being too willing to turn down the $30,000+ cash(cow) injection per student.

And where does the on-going qualification versus experience debate currently stand? When I was job-hunting many years ago, qualifications far outweighed experience. More recently, practical experience has become far more attractive in potential employees, but you can’t get experience without a job, and all too often you can’t get that job without a qualification.

I don’t like debt. If I owe anyone anything, from money to favours, I like to pay it back as soon as possible. So I’m inclined to draw a link between the readiness with which our young people have come to continue their education supported by student loans and a reliance on credit cards, overdrafts and other forms of debt later in life often jeopardising their ability to save money, or affecting their ability to purchase their own home. High levels of personal debt have become endemic in our economy (and world’s) and it puts us in the current economic state we face.

I would like to see a major increase in the number of schools, tertiary institutions and businesses offering apprentice-style, on-the-job training. Regions like Hawke’s Bay shouldn’t have to lose all their talented young people each year to the bigger centres (and overseas) for training and / or work. Our younger generations deserve a chance to stay in their hometowns where a good, skilled, well paying job, unlike the current low-paying retail and hospitality options, would be a real possibility.

1 thought on “Educating Isn’t Working

  1. That’s me. $30k student loan took 15 years to pay off. Lockwood Smith – he’s the evil one there. I agree though, we need to find ways to not be in debt starting out in life. You start out on the wrong foot, you have to carry that weight for often, a long time.

    Under 18 year olds need to be taught about managing money, budgeting and saving and give them support going into life. Uni is a killer if you are taking a loan out. And I think, that’s what has kept a lot of Kiwi’s offshore.

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