First I should note that I work with youth in the United States rather than the United Kingdom. I do think that all youth should strive to graduate high school — although for some students, a GED may be a better option in extreme cases.
In general, however, the issue of furthering students’ education while also doing what is “right” for them is is a tricky issue. We’re told that college should be our students’ goal, and our goal for our students. Statistics show that income generally increases with education — as do a host of other positive lifestyle indicators.
But I’ve always had issues with this philosophy. Maybe this will lose me followers and the respect of peers, but I stand by it: some students do better with hands-on learning. Some students would fare better in trade schools than four-year colleges. College education does tend to correlate with better pay and the positive factors that come with that, but I have thought for a long time that it can often be more a capitalist venture than the den of learning that many still view it as, and financially out of reach to many despite the availability of financial aid, which will still leave a gap for some students that then must be filled somehow.
Our hands are sometimes tied. We should be supportive of our students, help them to make decisions about their future that are responsible and best-suited to them, but we’re also supposed to push them toward college and, I believe, professions that are better-viewed by society.
I believe we should never deride a student if they genuinely want to be a hairdresser, or an auto mechanic, or a med tech. We should ask them why they want to go into these fields. We should ask them if they’ve looked at all their options, if there’s anything related they’d like to shoot for but don’t feel they can achieve, because that can happen. But we should never tell a student outright, “Why would you waste your time on that?”
Yes, there are people in the world who are bank tellers or daycare assistants or heating techs because they didn’t make choices that let them do “greater” things. But there are also people out there who know that this is what they want to do. There are people who go into high school knowing that they want to do hair.
Help your students see what their options are. When they choose a career path lacking further education that someone thinks is “beneath” that student, let them know that there are college majors out there that, even if they leave college and go right into that field anyway, could help them in that field and could give them the opportunity to explore that field further than a given position. But sometimes work-based learning and apprenticeships are important, even necessary — anything involving job shadowing or exploration is especially so, because it might keep a student from making the mistake of forgoing more education for the sake a profession it turns out they don’t want.
And besides…when you show disrespect to a student’s ideas, I doubt they’re going to be listening whole-heartedly to the advice that follows.
It should also be noted that for society to function, we need people in all sorts of jobs. There should be no less value placed on people as human beings for working in what you might personally consider a “lower” position than what you might consider a “higher” position. If we want our students to treat all people with respect — from the principal to the custodian — we have to practice the same.