We talked to Alex Beard, Director of Systems Change at Teach for All, about his reflections on the challenges that young people face as they are leaving school and preparing to enter the world of work.
How did you get involved in youth issues?
After university, I was working as consultant in the UK and started volunteering in a local community initiative in Hackney Wick in London. I found that I actually enjoyed it more than my real job and decided to retrain as a Teacher through the Teach First programme.
I taught in Elephant & Castle for two years at a hugely diverse school, with kids from every corner of the world. 35% of our students were first generation immigrants from West Africa and for most of our kids English was a second language.
I think one of the most important parts of the experience of working in a school like that is that by really getting to know these students who face these real challenges in life and in an inner-city London school, you become invested in the issues that they face. Since teaching there, I’ve stayed involved in the Teach First programme ever since. I’m now supporting Teach First and the 34 other national programmes around the world as Director of System Change at Teach for All.
How would you describe the situation that young people face as they prepare to leave school and move onto further education, training or employment?
Our education system does a bad job of preparing young people for life. At the school I taught at in South London, our students were really motivated, they had aspirations and career ambitions but they really had no idea about the jobs market.
I was lucky to go to a great school and a great university but I left feeling completely unprepared for life. There’s a misalignment between the very academic thrust of our education system and life after that. And at the same time, there’s a huge distrust of current vocational services. That makes it incredibly tough for kids. Especially today with a jobs markets that has changed so much in the last years, a lot of the jobs that kids used to do after leaving school no longer exist and careers services haven’t kept up with those changes. There’s still an expectation that young people should just get to the end of school or end of university and something will just come across their laps.
I think a big part of that is a lack of awareness of what people do in the world of work and a lack of role models.
What do you think is behind these challenges and what will it take to address them?
One of the main problems is that there’s no conversation at national or local level between employers, schools and higher education institutions. There needs to be a local conversation and a shared vision for kids in an area.
There’s an area in the US, the Rio Grand Valley, where the community has come together to do just that. They have a shared vision for every person to have a fulfilling job and a satisfying life in their area. I think it’s about breaking down those barriers between education system and employment. Getting schools to think about preparing kids to get jobs and not just to pass tests and getting the Government to think about how they can support or incentivise that.
Secondly, I think it’s about the fact that education systems are so academically focussed and vocational pathways are not valued to the same extent. I think a big part of that is a lack of awareness of what people do in the world of work and a lack of role models.
That’s a really strong example of what the sense of community can achieve and I think creating that sense of community through alumni networks could be something really to get excited about.
Do you think there’s a strong potential for alumni networks in tackling some of these challenges?
I can definitely see it working. I met one man through Teach for Bulgaria who was a former student of a school in one of the poorest regions of Bulgaria, which is among the poorest in Europe. There’s something like 50% youth unemployment and this man had gone back into his local community and is building a social enterprise there, providing free after school classes to anyone who wants to learn coding. His vision is to establish the area as a hub for computer sciences and he hopes to employ 100 people from his hometown one day. That’s a really strong example of what the sense of community can achieve and I think creating that sense of community through alumni networks could be something really to get excited about.
About Teach for All
Teach for All is an international umbrella organisation that brings together 35 national partners together including Teach First in the UK.
The long-term mission of the Teach For All programme is increased educational opportunity for disadvantaged students which it aims to achieve by getting excellent staff into schools as teachers, and beyond that into school leadership positions and the education system more broadly as social entrepreneurs, policy makers and the private sector.
Alex Beard is Director of Systems Change at Teach for All. Visit his blog here www.alexbeard.org