After my Non-Career Journey post I got to thinking about my secondary school/university experience and realised how unrealistic it is to expect kids/young adults to make such a final choice so early on in life.
Most of my secondary school education was completed in Scotland. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this system it goes as follows:
- S1 – Start about ages eleven – twelve years old.
- S2 – Ends about thirteen – fourteen years old and towards the end of this year you pick the subjects you want to study further in. (Maths, English and some form of Science is mandatory.)
- S3 – You start two years of study called “Standard Grades”.
- S4 – You sit your exams at the end of the year and decide if you want to leave now that you have hit sixteen or stay on to study “Higher” grades.
- S5 – Your “Highers” are a year of study and you can chose to leave after S5 or carry on to S6.
- S6 – Providing your grades are high enough you can progress to Advanced Highers in this year before leaving school at around eighteen years old.
As the subjects you pick as your “Highers” are generally aimed towards your university course choice, kids/young adults need to be considering what career path they want to follow, for what could be the rest of their lives, as early as sixteen. To me, sixteen seems like a crazily young age to be making these sorts of weighty decisions. Do not get me wrong, this is not because I do not think they are capable, far from it. But rather I feel it creates a tremendous amount of pressure on these young people to make such a final decision and forces them to consider something that may not come naturally to them at that point in their lives.
Bear in mind you had not yet reached the age the government considers you an adult or even old enough to drink alcohol or make good choices. And we expect kids/young adults to choose what they want to do for the rest of their lives? That freaks me out NOW and I am twenty-five! I am no longer rattled and plagued by the crazy spike and lows of hormones and puberty and it’s still a tough decision. I really feel for kids/young adults these days, and not just because I was one.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. Some young people will know their path early on and have no problems following it. However, on the flip side of this, there were plenty of children at my school who I saw pushed down a path that their parents wanted for them and that they had not chosen themselves. Things are not always as cut and dry as they may seem.
I’m not saying that I have all the answers, or even any ideas where to start changes in the educational system to accommodate. All I am saying is that the pressure is what needs to change. Leave the choices as they are but do not make kids/young adults feel pressurised to make a decision there and then at sixteen.
I think gap years are a brilliant idea, you need to travel and experience life before the grips of adulthood come along or you commit to bills and rent and mortgage payments which you will never escape. You should travel and experience different cultures to realise how privileged we as a country are to have these choices to make. There are so many countries where education is not even an option so how can we expect kids/young adults to appreciate the chance and see it for what it is – a choice to shape the rest of your life rather than a forced spur of the moment choice to get the adults to stop wittering at you.
(On a side note, my advice to everyone is – travel far and wide before the inevitable fear of sleeping in any other bed but your own kicks in. Because it will and then you are screwed. It’s too late for me but save yourselves!)
I remember the adults around me constantly advising me to “love being a kid” and “enjoy it while it lasts” and “don’t grow up to fast”, etc. These are cliches for a reason and yet the same people spouting these phrases are making young people submit to adult pressures before their hormones have even had time to settle and before they have finished having fun!
In a nut shell, I feel forcing young people to make a choice on their career path at sixteen an unrealistic expectation. It is not the right way, but it is not wrong either. By all means give them the choice but if they are not ready to make it they should be given the option to carry on a wide field of study. Some young folk will have their shit together and will have the answer early on and I salute them but they are probably not the majority.
My main concern, the reason I felt I needed to write today, is the pressure surrounding adults heap on these crazy young beings, it is this pressure that I feel needs to be addressed and should be stamped out.
Anyway, apologies for the major switch in tenses throughout this piece, I hope it was still readable and spoke to you in some way. Please let me know your thoughts below.
To all you lovely young adults going through the above – don’t worry about it. Enjoy your freedom, relish that you have no commitments, think about what and who makes you happy and concentrate on that. I hope this message helps you in some way and I wish you all the very best.