In education, it is imperative to develop students who are equipped to succeed in the future. The vocational, academic and humanist philosophies all have diverse perspectives upon the purpose of education. This paper will discuss the strengths and weakness of all three philosophies in relation to the challenges for education described by the World Economic Forum (WEF). It will conclude by arguing which philosophy is the most appropriate approach to guide the education of today’s young people.
It is critical that contemporary education systems think carefully about what they are doing to prepare young people for the future. Due to a rapidly changing world, the most sought-after jobs across the globe are currently those that have only existed in the last decade (WEF, 2016). The challenge that education faces today is that 65% of primary school students will find themselves undertaking employment in occupations that still do not exist (WEF, 2016). Due to this uncertainty, education must prepare students with future skills that equips them to undertake the unknown jobs of the future. Analysing the vocational, academic and humanist philosophies in relation to these challenges is imperative to understand what the best educational approach in today’s society may be.
A vocational approach has strengths when addressing the issues identified by the WEF. According to learning guide 2, (p. 1) the vocational philosophy argues that “education is for preparing young people for adult roles”. A vocational approach aims to persevere society by providing students with hands-on, practical experience of existing vocations which prepares them to gain employment in these particular occupations (Kennedy, 2011). Through hands-on, practical experience of existing jobs, students gain transferable 21st century skills which, as iterated by WEF (2016) are essential for individuals to take full advantage of the opportunities described by the current employment trends. Existing vocations present plenty of opportunities to solve problems (Learning Guide 2, p. 4). Problem-solving skills are expected to become even more significant in future workplaces as these skills are not likely to be replaced computers (Tytler et al., 2019). Additionally, the transmission of the knowledge and skills relevant to specific existing vocations occurs through communication from adults to young people (Dewey, 1916). Thus, students gain interpersonal skills such as communication and active listening which Tytler et al. (2019) explains will be demanded by future workplaces as machines have difficulty with social intelligence.
A vocational approach has weaknesses when addressing the challenges identified by the WEF. The vocational philosophy preserves society by handing down ‘adult knowledge’ to young people (learning guide 2, p. 2). This becomes an issue when trying to prepare students for an uncertain future as the ‘adult knowledge’ that is beneficial to undertake jobs in today’s society may not be relevant to the 65% of students who will undertake the unknown jobs of the future. If students are only learning enough to become proficient in existing jobs, then their vocational choices and chances to gain knowledge are restricted (learning guide 2, p. 3).
Students are more likely to be prepared for existing vocations rather than being equipped for entirely new job types. Additionally, a major characteristic of the vocational approach is learning how to do a specific kind of work through hands-on experience (learning guide 2, p. 2). If 65% of primary students will work in jobs that are currently non-existent then it is impossible to provide these students will hands-on, practical experience.
An academic approach also has strengths that attend to the challenges identified by the WEF. Unlike the vocational philosophy, the academic philosophy focuses upon improving society by developing one’s mind and promoting the search for truth. Additionally, specific ‘academic’ subjects, such as maths and science, are perceived to be suitable for developing the mind (learning guide 3, p. 1). Engaging with these ‘academic’ subjects support students’ to be prepared for the future as they provide the basis which new knowledge is built upon (OECD, 2018). Furthermore, students develop various cognitive skills when they apply distinct knowledge and skills from these academic subjects to new situations and scenarios (OECD, 2018). Such cognitive skills including critical and creative thinking and problem-solving skills are all referred to as 21st century skills and will be demanded by the future workplace (Tytler et al., 2019). Essentially, the academic approach equips students with the cognitive tools to be able to think and act appropriately in uncertain situations. This is necessary for students to be able successfully enter a dramatically changing employment landscape (WEF, 2016).
There are also limitations when addressing the challenges identified by the WEF through an academic approach. Although it is evident that the academic philosophy develops essential 21st century skills, not all of the skills that will be demanded by future workplaces are purely cognitive type skills. Essential 21st century skills also include such skills as care, empathy, curiosity and self-efficacy (OECD, 2018). As the academic approach is ‘teacher-centred’ and focuses upon learning specific academic subjects, the learning process is clearly structured to directs students’ attention towards what is required to be learnt (learning guide 4, p. 5). Thus, young people are not supported to act upon their own curiosity. Additionally, as the academic approach focuses upon achieving proficiency in academic subjects, it can affect the self-concept of young people who are not achieving as well as their peers. As a result, these young people may lack the self-efficacy required to confidently undertake these new job types. The academic approach therefore does not develop some specific future skills which, (WEF, 2016) explains would help reduce undesirable consequences in the anticipated workforce.
The humanist philosophy has strengths when addressing the issues identified by the WEF. The humanist philosophy believes young people are born good and education should let them thrive with as little intervention as possible (learning Guide 4, p 1). Through a humanist approach, young people develop curiosity as they are encouraged to explore and learn about subjects that interest them whether they be vocational or academic (learning Guide 4, p 3).
Students become independent, self-regulated learners as teachers facilitate student-centred experiences where students discover knowledge for themselves. Being curious and self-regulated learners will be essential for individuals to navigate through such an uncertain future and independently acquire the knowledge they need to learn (OECD, 2018). These future skills will be critical to the current primary school students who will move into new job types where the roles and responsibilities are totally unknown (WEF, 2016). Finally, a significant aspect of the humanistic philosophy is the nurturing of student’s feelings and emotions (Khatib, Sarem, & Hamidi, 2013). When individuals have an adequate level of self-love, they can comprehend the complex needs of others (Learning Guide 4, p 3). The ability to understand and empathise with others are skills that will be required to succeed in future workplaces (Tytler et al., 2019).
A humanist approach also has weaknesses when addressing the challenges identified by the WEF. Students may miss out on learning important knowledge and skills as teachers only introduce specific subjects once students show an expression of interest (learning Guide 4, p 3). Additionally, if there is no content structure, issues will arise when learning about complex subject matter such as in maths. Basic knowledge and skills must be learnt first as they provide the basis to more complex knowledge (learning Guide 4, p 4). If students do not show interest in these academic subjects, they then miss the opportunity to gain essential 21st century skills that are developed through the engagement of these subjects, as discussed earlier in this paper.
In coclusion, unlike the academic philosophies which impose education upon young people to develop them into something worthwhile, the humanist philosophy believes young people are already good and education should allow them to thrive with as little intervention as possible.
- Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. New York, NY: The Free Press.
- Kennedy, O. O. (2011). Philosophical and sociological overview of vocational technical education in Nigeria. American-Eurasian Journal of Scientific Research, 6(1), 52-57. Retrieved from https://go-galegroup-com.libraryproxy.griffith.edu.au/ps/i.dop=AONE&u=griffith&id=GALE|A297135946&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon
- Khatib, M., Sarem, S. N., & Hamidi, H. (2013). Humanistic Education: Concerns, Implications and Applications. Journal of Language Teaching & Research, 4(1), 45-51. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e989/d5a4f4fd764065de2358c4265ab72b2110bb.pdf
- OECD. (2018). The future of education and skills. Education 2030. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/education/2030/E2030%20Position%20Paper%20(05.04.2018).pdf
- Tytler, R., Bridgstock, R., White, P., Mather, D., McCandless, T., Grant-Iramu, M. (2019). 100 jobs of the future. Retrieved from https://learn-ap-southeast-2-prod-fleet01-xythos.s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/5bb70f08ac35e/5077450?response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%2A%3DUTF-8%27%27100%2520Jobs%2520of%2520the%2520Future.pdf&response-content-type=application%2Fpdf&X-Amz-Algorithm=AWS4-HMAC-SHA256&X-Amz-Date=20190825T225337Z&X-Amz-SignedHeaders=host&X-Amz-Expires=21600&X-Amz-Credential=AKIAIW5OVFIUOTV36DNA%2F20190825%2Fap-southeast-2%2Fs3%2Faws4_request&X-Amz-Signature=1b8a02b0a2cd2387bc8d01d6c0b21d157475aab49c9a1cd16d0170ec5af135e3
- World Economic Forum (2016). The Future of Jobs. Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Geneva, Switzerland: World Economic Forum.