Lighting the Spark in the Soul of Our Education System

April 28, 2021

The following is from Medium

Pixar’s Golden Globe and Oscar-winning animated film Soul follows the journey of a 40-year-old music teacher as he attempts to finally realize his dream of becoming a professional musician while dodging his pre-determined destiny of landing in the afterlife. While caught between life and “the great beyond,” he is confronted with the truth of what it really means to find one’s “spark.”

Not necessarily a childlike plotline but one learners of all ages encounter regularly when it comes to their professional pursuits: the question of “do I follow my passion or take the prescribed route?”

This quandary is even more prevalent today, as students consider their educational path after high school — a path that has become even more confounding in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and is causing teens to rethink the historically forgone path of a four-year degree.

Over the past 12 months, we surveyed high schoolers on three different occasions to uncover their thoughts about their post-high school plans and whether those thoughts changed during a year that found them learning from home and witnessing significant changes in their surrounding communities. The surveys were part of our Question The Quo campaign, designed to empower Gen Z teens — and learners of all ages — to take the education and career path that is right for them.

The most notable shifts in our findings came in high school students’ thoughts about attending a four-year college, with only slightly more than half now considering it — a 20 percent decrease in just eight months. In addition, 52 percent believe they can achieve professional success with education attained in three years or less, and just one-fourth believe a four-year degree is the only route to a good job.

Aside from this shift, there were many constants — including their desire to focus on their passion, i.e. their spark. In each survey, their desire to follow their own educational path remained strong as did their confidence in their future.

When asked to rank the parts of their future post-high school educational experience, the number one response was “finding myself”, followed by “creating my own path” and “building connections to a future career.” Also, high on the list was hands-on/on the job learning, which aligns with their desire to acquire a marketable skill and gain experience through internships.

However, despite their openness to explore their options, a large percentage reported feeling uninformed about those options, with 63 percent saying they wished their high school explained more about the different pathways.

As we reflect on the events of the past year and the impact those events had on learners of all ages, we must recognize the opportunity that exists to evolve our mindset about higher education paths to support not only the next generation of workers but also the employers and businesses that need their expertise.

Then and only then, will the next generation of workers achieve their spark.

Laura Telander Graf is the director of public relations for ECMC Group.