What Students Need to Know…

Iain Home

Iain Home

In the 2012 PISA Results summary, Andreas Schleicher commented “…societies reward individuals not for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know.”  This comment stuck with me, but, it took a separate conversation with my niece to really consider, in detail, what he meant.

In a conversation about what she might do when she finished school, she said, half-jokingly, “I could work for you. What do I need to be able to do that? What do I need to be good at?”

I didn’t anticipate the question and I didn’t have a good enough answer. It played on my mind for days and in the end, I realised that Andreas’ quote provided the perfect framework for an answer. To quote Andreas, we also need to “provide effective career guidance” and as managers, I think it pays to go through this type of exercise from time to time, to ensure the skills requirement are up to date. In this article I will cover “what they know” and for a 14 year old, that means relating the answer to the subjects taught at school.

Mathematics and English are on my list and an average grade in these subjects would simply not cut it. In addition, by forcing myself to think about this in detail, I realised that many jobs tend to lean toward a limited number of additional subject areas. For example to be a Pharmacist you would need Chemistry and Biology as well as Mathematics, however for a global strategy role, that list is far too short.

I am going to resist the term “generalist” but I need someone who understands History, Geography and Religion. Sociology, Psychology, Law and Economics would be welcome. Business Studies, ICT and Statistics would be a bonus. Additional language skills would be ideal.

Under the UK system, this results in a completely unrealistic 14 GCSE subjects (age 15/16) before considering the fact that an additional two science subjects are often compulsory, taking it to 16.  Clearly this is too much to ask of the kids, the teachers or the school system.

Then beyond GCSEs, the focus usually narrows further at A-Level and again at Degree Level, essentially guiding students into “specialist” roles. This seems a far cry from the type of individual I am looking for. At least for me and this one role I have looked at, the system would not naturally provide candidates that have the suitable content knowledge.

So what good has this exercise done? Firstly, I have forced myself to consider what I really need in a candidate in terms of content knowledge. This should result in a better outcome for me as a manager, the company I work for and the individual being recruited. Secondly, it makes me think differently about how relevant content knowledge could be obtained by candidates other than through formal exams and qualifications. For example, somebody who has travelled extensively should have a geographical, social, religious and historical awareness that you cannot get in a classroom. Thirdly, I can now articulate the role, at the very least to my niece and others, should they ask. This at least brings awareness to a role that may not feature in usual career guides.

But so far, this only really considers the content knowledge. I want to take this thinking a little further and consider “…what they can do with what they know”, to explain in more detail my ‘greedy’ wish list. This is where it becomes really interesting and hopefully where I illustrate exactly why I think Andreas’ comments are accurate.

About the author: Iain Home is a UK father, student of education trends, and an international marketing strategist for Promethean. Iain is also a regular columnist at Connect Learning Today.

Iain Home

Iain Home is a UK father, student of education trends, and an international marketing strategist for Promethean. Iain is also a regular columnist at Connect Learning Today.
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