12. Aim Three: Preparation for the World of Work
The Maltese saying goes “Ix-xogħol salmura tal-ġisem”, which translated literally means “Work preserves the body”. We all complain about having to work with ‘Monday morning blues’ and all that, but we also know we have to earn a living and most of us actually enjoy it, even if we do not admit it.
My grandson’s Primary School teacher was aghast when I suggested that she was preparing her pupils for the world of work. “At their age!”, she protested, “when they are decades away from entering the work force.”
I explained to Ms Andy (not her real name) that most school subjects, even at the earliest stages, help students acquire abilities that contribute to occupational self-fulfilment and financial security later on in life.
Literacy and numeracy are the obvious contributors towards this end. Also, students learn to seek out and use knowledge, to communicate effectively and to speak one or more languages. Students also handle numbers in school to do so efficiently later on in life. At school, our children learn to understand scientific principles, become familiar with technical terms, engage in laboratory work and practice a planned approach to problem solving. In the process, they are on the way to grow and mature into productive, economically self-supporting and hopefully happy adults.
The Hidden Curriculum
When Ms Andy and her successors in the higher classes conduct school activities, they prepare young people for the world of work in less obvious ways. Take class-projects and group-work as examples: students engage in shared and cooperative efforts to share ideas, skills and materials, to exchange views and engage in the division of labour. School sports and extra-curricular activities that involve team-work and a team-spirit, cater for the physical fitness of the individual as well as promote supportive joint efforts.
Here, schools apply the ‘hidden curriculum’ where students attain positive work attitudes such as solidarity with other students as well as empathy for those who need it. Work ethics take the form of resistance to the temptation to exploit others by copying or making other students’ work their own. Students also build defences against being exploited by others who shirk their responsibilities. They build up a healthy balance between work and leisure. Teachers do all this without ever mentioning the world of work.
Unfortunately, schools can also promote negative work attitudes such as unhealthy competition that generates antagonism and rivalry among fellow students. The academic rat-race, elitism and social snobbery exemplify such traits.
If you look closely at your children’s activities at school, you will note that the institution mirrors the work ethics adopted by our society at large. You will note for example, that teachers insist on complete and accurate rather than shoddy and careless work. They encourage punctuality, working according to a planned schedule and fulfilling one’s commitments. Furthermore, Ms Andy and her fellow educators reward their students for sustained effort, good results, perseverance in the face of difficulties, initiative, resourcefulness and creativity in problem solving.
Conversely, teachers penalised students for incomplete and careless work. They discourage unfair competition, cheating and procrastination. Your observations will show that these attitudes and practices reflect the occupational conditions adults face at the work-place.
At this point, you might think that The De-Schoolers have a point. Yes, schools consciously or unconsciously contribute to prepare their students for the eventual world of work. Do not forget, however, the earlier aim of education, namely to make students critical thinkers who can evaluate their employers’ demands and resist labour exploitation. In this trend of thought, I believe education should stress people’s work satisfaction, a factor, which sometimes is ignored.
I am reminded of two instances, which have stayed with me through the years. The first concerns an ex-university professor in Montreal who resigned his highly remunerative post to become a lowly delivery-van driver. “How come?” I asked him. He explained that the academic rat-race with the ‘publish or perish’ syndrome, was ruining his health and family life. “Instead, I love driving around Montreal meeting friendly people”, he told me, “and get great satisfaction from the joy I bring to people when I deliver their parcels. And they always say: Thank You!”.
The other case concerned a candidate who applied to join the Faculty’s Post-Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) course. Going through her qualifications, I was amazed to note that she was a qualified medical doctor. I asked her why she was abandoning a medical career, she replied without hesitation: “My parents wanted me to become a doctor, now that I have qualified as a medic, I want to teach Biology and Chemistry as I have always wanted to do”. I met her a few years later and she was doing a brilliant job as head of her school’s Science Department.
I started this blog with a Maltese saying and will end it with an English one: “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”. Joseph Smith, founder of the USA based Mormon Church, boasted that “Hard work made me strong, heathy and happy.” I imagine he had to work hard since he had to support his 40+ wives and 150+ children, which also meant he could not have been a ‘dull boy’.
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