I was privileged to have a long chat with a person heavily involved in an European airline recruitment and training programme recently. Aviators are like fishermen, and love to tells stories about what they do, their flights, their challenges and their achievements - and we passed many an hour sharing stories, and learning from each other - for we both accept that we are always learning more.
We discussed the challenge of recruitment in all areas of aviation, and work in general - from pilots to receptionists, cabin crew to sanitation workers. It became clear that both of us were concerned about the standard of education worldwide. How come, in today's world of amazing access to information, internet, educational establishments, well financed, expensive training programmes, etc that so many young people leave school or university with so few retained and repeatable skills - and frankly, little retained and useable knowledge.
I do not accept any excuses whatsoever that ANY student can leave school without being equipped with the majority of the following knowledge set, abilities, skills and attributes - and for them to be so engrained that they remain a working part of their daily life:
· Multiplication of 2 numbers below 10 in their heads, accurately and repeatedly.
· Addition and subtraction of multiple numbers - regardless of size, on paper, accurately and repeatedly.
· Solve a simple problem involving brackets, powers, multiplication, addition, subtraction and division - with or without a calculator.
· Understanding of ratios, squares, roots, Cartesian co-ordinates (2 and 3 dimensional) and simple graphing.
· Correct use of average, mean, mode, maximum and minimum in relation to a series of numbers.
· Able to rearrange a formula to find an unknown variable - correctly.
· Rapid, accurate mental calculation of 10%, for any number.
· Know and apply knowledge related to basic 2D geometric shapes.
· Have a working understanding of circles, angles, areas and volumes.
· Work seamlessly, accurately and quickly in problems related to distance, speed and time.
· Able to read out loud, clearly and correctly a previously unseen passage, and then describe and explain what was read.
· Easily create an accurate written report on events that have taken place.
· Accurately and succinctly summarise a document, book, report or passage, using original words and structure.
· Speak, understand and communicate freely in English.
· Without preparation, speak for one minute on a given, non-prepared, topic without hesitation, repetition or deviation.
· Understand the basics of elements and molecules, along with a grasp of reactions and various states of matter.
· Be aware of the how light, magnetism and electricity behave and how they can be used in practical applications.
· Be able to apply in real life conditions the basics of leverage, centre of gravity, pivots, pulleys and use of/conservation of energy (in all its different forms).
· Understand the properties and behaviour of, and apply that knowledge in relation to, a wide variety of materials, such as wood, metals, concrete, plastics, glass, rubber, etc.
· Understand the basics of planetary movement and their effects especially in relation to the sun, moon and our solar system.
· Grasp and be able to explain the principles of an internal combustion engine.
· Know the human body (parts and how it works).
· Understand and apply the principles of good nutrition.
· Have a working understanding of disease, infection, infection control and good health practices (including family planning).
· Be able to identify on a globe or map the continents, major countries and features.
· Understand the concept of longitude and latitude - and use co-ordinates to locate places on maps or globes.
· Know how the telephone (fixed and mobile) works - and know how to use one appropriately.
· Have good computer skills (operating system, word-processing, spreadsheet, etc).
· Understand and use the internet, including e-mail, with ease.
· Be risk aware, ready to take appropriate risks and mitigate against accidents.
· Be well presented, with good personal hygiene and a positive, proactive approach to community cleanliness.
· Be honest, timely and reliable.
I could go on, but that is my basic list (you may have other items, or contest some), but the core is there.
How much of the above knowledge/skills/attributes set do you have? More importantly, would you employ somebody who does? Now, ask yourself, why are we not seeing these basics coming out of the schools and universities? It would be easy to blame the teachers and lecturers - but frankly, I think we need to spread the blame to where it lies: Approximately 60% belongs to the educational system and its values. 20% lies with the educators and their fear of working outside of the syllabus/exam/results cycle. The balance, lies with the lack of pressure to change the system from parents, family and employers.
Education has become a miserable game of 'certificates' and 'qualifications'. It has lost its basic meaning - that of enabling our young people to read, write and calculate; becoming independent thinkers with solid working principles related to the world around them; then enabling them to apply those principles to think, work and change the world around them to become a better place. If we were to return to the basics, we would see better workers, a better society and a renaissance of inventiveness.
Sadly, there is a belief that ticking boxes and passing exams is what education is about. Well, it is not. Education must be about enabling thinking - and encouraging doing. As a qualified examiner and assessor, I can tell you straight up that the mainstream education system is flawed. I quit being an examiner for a major board after being appalled at the manner in which exam questions were phrased and the answers marked.
Where I work, in the aviation and engineering sector, we have been trying to recruit personnel, to train up, with the right attitude to work, the right thinking processes, the right personality and a lot of commitment. During interview we ask, 'what did you study?' in order to slant our questions towards the candidates field of interest. Sadly, we have found that the majority of candidates have retained little of practical use from their studies, and lack the basic foundations of a free-thinking, work-orientated individual. We have never asked to see any certificates - for a certificate means absolutely nothing if the candidate cannot answer questions from their field of study, express themselves clearly in verbal and written form, learn new skills and topics dynamically and problem solve in the field.
Sadly, I fear that our education systems will continue to decline - with just a few glimmers of hope when an educational establishment, with strong leadership, is prepared to stand up, stand out, and to do it differently. Valuing independent thinking and personal achievement alongside academic achievements has always been the strength of a few isolated, often criticised, institutions - but those are the institutions that create the thinkers that change the world - and the candidates with an advantage in the world of employment and entrepreneurship.
Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and Pilot/Engineer with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics (www.waasps.com www.medicineonthemove.org e-mail email@example.com)