It is essential to raise awareness of the changing labor market. Undergraduate student Candice, 21, told us that “career counselors can…help students diagnose their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to choose topics based on their situations and relevant to their future careers.”
Somewhat vague notions of what makes a person employable drive many young people to their choices after school. But there is often insufficient information about what university studies in certain disciplines might look like, besides deciding on an interesting and leading path to securing employment.
As 22-year-old student Mark said, the only thing he had in mind when choosing a course was employability. “I started majoring in economics – I had no idea if I wanted it or not (spoiler: I didn’t) and basically chose it only because I thought it would lead to a stable career.”
Many of them are not ready for life after school. Speaking about the final exams, Mark said he felt like he “made a really narrow impression of what success looked like”. He added that he wished “there was more guidance during high school to broaden my thinking about what I could do next.”
Research over the past decade has also confirmed the powerful role of family, friends, and other support systems in shaping teens’ decisions about their next steps after school.
The Australian Youth Longitudinal Survey found that “students whose parents want to go to university are four times more likely to complete Year 12 and 11 times more likely to plan to go to university than those whose parents expect them to choose a non-college path.”
Undergraduate student Andrew, 18, told us there was “certainly an expectation or assumption from family (and a lot of other people I know as skillfully as friends and teachers) that I would naturally transition to a college course. While I could challenge that assumption, the pressure was still there. in the back of my mind.”
For those who wish to pursue higher education, end-of-school exams are of paramount importance for university entrance. But are these assessments the best way? Centralized top-down approaches to assessment in later years of education are straightforward procedures and are by no means the only means available.
Some academics advocate alternatives to end-of-school assessment to relieve the significant stress associated with exams while allowing students to demonstrate their learning using other forms of assessment.
In South Australia, an alternative system based on learner profiles will be offered in place of a single ATAR score. A Catholic education parish in New South Wales is developing a data-driven approach that seeks to provide a more comprehensive view of students’ progress through their careers at school and appropriate targeted support.
Assessment in the Finnish education system is based on local and less centralized assessment systems – there is almost no standardized test for high school students.
Among the many voices debating what is needed for improvement, one notably absent is that of young people themselves. The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Board, for example, currently has only one student representative.
Mark suggested that education departments should consider creating student advisory committees that could review the curriculum and provide input. In fact, schools can create their own schools. “I don’t think it’s effective (or ethical, frankly) to have these conversations around Year 12 without the guys in the room,” Mark said.
We need to rethink how we prepare young people for working life. We also need to rethink whether methods for assessing young people in school are fit for purpose in the contemporary world. One way to start is to ask young people themselves.
Kathy Witt and Lucas Walsh are researchers in the Center for Youth Policy and Education Practice at Monash University.