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Elementary Schools Renew Focus on Career-Related Learning

August 20, 2010 06:00 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
A U.K. program introduces elementary school kids to various careers and encourages them to tap into their interests and talents, which may be crucial to success later on.

Variety of Fields Introduced

In October 2009, U.K. Schools Secretary Ed Balls said that “radical change” was necessary to “ensure children from all backgrounds reach their full potential,” the Daily Mail reported. Part of the shift meant teachers would offer career advice to students ages 7-11, in hopes of sparking their interest and raising “aspirations as early as possible.”

Programs could involve assemblies at the conclusion of the school year that introduce children to various fields. Universities might also “form links” with elementary schools “to get pupils thinking about higher education from an early age,” and each student could be assigned a mentor to offer career and real-world advice, according to the Daily Mail.

Teachers were pleased with the plans, but others were wary of “deciding children’s futures too early.” Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said, “[W]hat this absolutely must not do is predetermine what they might do before they even leave primary school,” the Daily Mail reported.

U.K. education chief Maggie Atkinson deflected the idea that teaching younger kids about careers is risky, according to The Journal. It is riskier not to do so, she said, because many children become “influenced by prejudices” that cannot be overcome. “Some of our brightest youngsters just don’t seem to think they have potential as an undergraduate,” Atkinson explained.

Early Career Advice for US Students

In the United States, there are many programs in place to introduce high school students to colleges and careers. But if such information were presented to students earlier on, it could be more effective, some say.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a cosponsor of Get Schooled, a program that aims to help high school students move forward with their college or career plans. According to School Library Journal, the initiative “will eventually reach out to students in younger grades, with the goal of getting them focused on finishing high school and college, as early as possible.”

“We know that the earlier a young person thinks about going to college, we end up with higher rates of graduation in high school and college,” Marie Groark, the senior program officer for the Foundation, told School Library Journal.

Background: Encouraging kids to think about careers

Baltimore County Public Schools reported on an impressively planned elementary school “career day” at Vincent Farm Elementary School. Principal Anne Gold said she was pleasantly surprised by her school counselor’s “entirely different view” of career day. 

“What she organized was much more than a day; she began working with the fifth graders during three to four classroom lessons, talking about careers and having them take interest inventories,” Gold explained. The counselor then devised a career day schedule for each student to ensure “they would hear from presenters aligned with their interests,” according to Gold. Career day presenters also discussed with students alternative career options “directly and indirectly related to the careers being discussed,” Baltimore County Public Schools reported.

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