The 19th-century American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed: "Experience is the only teacher and we get his lessons indifferently in any school."
Presumably, that is the brand of thinking behind the suggestion in a Scottish Government-backed report, published today, which suggests that teachers should regularly leave the classrooms for the shop floor or the office, so as to attune their teaching to what will be expected of their pupils in the world of work.
It is understandable why teachers are not bursting with enthusiasm at this prospect. Scotland's teachers are already trying to do more with less. Part of the rationale for the recently introduced Curriculum for Excellence, which teachers are working hard to deliver, is to turn out rounded, confident young citizens, ready to move into tertiary education or the workplace. Against a backdrop of tighter education budgets, it is hard to see where the funds would come from to employ teachers to deputise for those on work experience. (Such opportunities in the past have largely disappeared because of the financial climate.) And, while teachers are aware of the need to broaden pupils' experience outside the classroom, even school trips are under pressure.
Work experience for pupils as young as S1, another of the report's recommendations, also faces considerable barriers, not the least of which are health and safety and child protection legislation.
Work placements for teachers is not a bad idea in itself, albeit probably impractical at present. In fact, teaching has benefited in recent years from the rising numbers of those who have opted to come into the profession from other careers.
Certainly, it is important to link pupils with the world of work but there are different ways of achieving this. Could more be done to bring the workplace into schools? Areas such as engineering, which would benefit from a higher profile, could consider sending staff into local schools to share their enthusiasm and explain what is expected of those who enter their profession.
Also, there is a balance to be struck. Should every school lesson prepare a young person for the world of work? Education is more than just an incubation unit for tomorrow's workforce. It is valuable for its own sake if it stimulates curiosity and creativity, fosters critical thinking and enriches the pupil's vision of the world.
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