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Inflated Expectations, Qualifications and Job Prospects

Ivan Snook

The stress on 'getting your qualifications' has become such a dogma that in New Zealand secondary pupils recently received a personal letter from the Minister of Education encouraging them to stay on at school. In this he gives support to the prevailing wisdom. Unfortunately staying at school is promoted by many others too: academics, school principals, the press, careers advisors, parents, and even by young people themselves who often blame their unemployment on their failure to get their school qualifications.
This conventional wisdom leads to two results, (1) a social and educational policy (reinforced by almost everyone) encouraging young people to stay on at school, and (2) advice to all, regardless of circumstances, that they should stay on at school and improve their chances of a job. There is a widespread belief among experts that unemployment is long-term and hence our ability to get clear about this question of qualifications is fundamental to the well-being and happiness of our youth and to the growth and stability of society. If the conventional wisdom is right, stronger efforts may be needed, perhaps to the extent of a massive rise in the school leaving age. If, however, the wisdom is astray, such proposals may do grave damage to our young people, society and, not least, to education itself. It is, then, an important issue and should be debated widely.

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