If GCSEs prepare you for A-Levels, A-Levels prepare you for university, and university prepares you for work, does that mean that your GCSEs determine what you do for the rest of your life?
That seems to be the direction of UK government policy at the moment.
David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, recently published a white paper advocating a more employment-centric focus for university courses.
The basic idea is that education should be designed to prepare people for work.
This kind of teleological thinking is insidious.
It leads to the closure of ‘non-essential’ courses – those that do not contribute to GDP in a directly measurable way.
It leads to further devaluation of the arts.
It leads to tighter alignment of academia with mainstream businesses, because they’re the ones with the loudest voices.
Academia and business must be linked, but if they are bound too closely both will suffer: academic value will be restricted to subjects that are seen to contribute most economically, and business will get too many new workers with the same skills and the same perspective.
Students will suffer too, because if their suitability is judged against mainstream business requirements, many will be found wanting whose talents lie, undiscovered, in other areas.
That’s because it will be less able to help young people find what Sir Ken Robinson calls their ‘Element’: the thing that combines their innate skills and passions.
A life in which everything is artificially aligned from the start – a teleological life, leading inexorably to a job defined by your academic career – is likely to be less, not more economically useful.