The text for the sermon today comes from The Australian.
“We are not meeting Julia’s education targets, or words to that effect. We have a heap of young people who are not earning or learning”. Etc.
The number of young people aged 18 to 24 working, studying or training fell 3.8 per cent to 72.5 per cent, the report showed.
Lets not sweat on decimal places. A quarter of the 18-24 cohort is not working, learning or training, assuming that there are not a lot of youthful independent scholars and autodidacts like the young Karl Popper out there. Lets paint some more of the picture and consider the 30+ percent who are in universities.
At this point I will split the meditation in two, first to consider the way the 25% have been dudded (and another 10% of the cohort who are at uni but wondering wtf they are there). Second to consider how many of the other 20% at uni are getting a liberal education, meaning an education that prepares you to have a critical but civil exchange with people who have different views, to cast a meaningful vote and to keep on learning for the rest of your life.
1. The problems of the 25 to 35% who are in limbo re work and learning.
In a nutshell they have been dudded by their parents, teachers and the education czars. The parents and teachers did not collaborate to ensure they they paid attention in class, did their homework and the other things that parents, teachers and kids have to do to get literate, numerate and ready for work and further education.
The education czars screwed up on the curriculums and the teaching methods. And they gutted the technical and trade streams of education in favour of the universities.
And then the kids walked out into the highly regulated labour market, complete with unfair dismissal laws, so employers can’t afford to punt on kids who lack education, training, motivation and application (thanks to parents and teachers again) and experience.
In this situation the people who do worst are those who were disadvantaged to start with, and just resorting to affirmative action and increased funding does not start to address the basic problems. Nor does saying “Sorry”. Sorry about that.
2. The advance, retreat or going nowhere of liberal education at the universities.
Two to three per cent of school leavers went to uni in the sixties when some of us started. Now there are over 30% but the question is how many are engaged in the kind of education that some of us expected to find amidst the sandstone, the gleaming spires and the ivory towers of academe, even if we were preparing for professional life in law, medicine, engineering or soil science? I am prepared to bet a dollar that the number does not exceed 3%.
Leaving out the professional training courses, which could be provided in places where liberal education is not essential to the agenda, the following numbers come from the humanities and social sciences where liberal education is supposed to be the rationale for their existence. The numbers come from impressions (not mine, someone in the system) rather than hard “scientific” research, so feel free to be sceptical.
Take the 30% and eliminate approximately a third who are completely lost on campus, so the best thing they can do is drop out and find something at TAFE that prepares them for a job. In the residual 20% (of the population at large) about half are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, survivors of the system at best. In the residual 10% most are competent and capable of completing assignments and getting “good” results but they are not really engaged in the process, they do not read beyond the absolute minimum, they demand photocopies of lectures rather than listening and making their own record. Etc. Further, they do not usually have the time or inclination to participate in any of the traditional campus life of clubs and societies.
Some residue, perhaps 2 or 3% (total population base) are switched on and serious about scholarship and the life of the mind. But of course given the course content, both these and the others are most likely to come out of many courses more stupid than they went in. (Thinking of journalism for example, not to mention sociology and media studies). As George Orwell wrote “You have to be an intellectual to believe such nonsense”.
So much for the expansion of the universities. And some people want to get 60% into the systemi!