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Mo Isap has recently been appointed to The Careers & Enterprise Company’s Board of Directors. Mo brings with him a wealth of experience across both industry and education. As Founding Director and Vice Chair of Star Academies, as well as founder and CEO of tech company IN4.0 Plc, Mo reflects on how we can work towards a more collaborative and responsive education system that better prepares young people for the changing world of work.

Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to adhere to the mantra of ‘doing both.’ I was inspired by CISCO’S Inder Sidhu and the lessons he taught, based around the construction of a world-famous landmark.

Before the Golden Gate Bridge was erected, ‘doing both’ was not a concept that was widely considered in construction. A large transport bridge could either be functional, sacrificing its appearance, or it could be aesthetically pleasing whilst being unable to sustain the challenges a construction of its type could face. In the case of the Golden Gate Bridge, to be able to withstand the risks of being so close to the San Andreas Fault, it was thought that elegance had to be sacrificed. But what was unveiled in 1937 could do both. It is still seen as a work of art and attracts millions of tourists every year, yet it also has the capabilities to survive challenges such as high velocity winds, heavy loads and even devastating earthquakes.

The fundamental challenges these designers faced are shared in the education and careers sector today. There is a consistent debate about whether schools should focus on making sure their children pass their exams, or commit to experiential education to prepare them for what comes after. The problems the former present could be that the younger generation cannot apply their studies to their future employment, while the latter could mean our children cannot get the qualifications, they need to pursue work in the first place.

Comparing different approaches

It is worth looking at the extremes of education systems around the world to see this debate in action. South Korea’s focus on academic success, while managing to achieve 100% literacy, has put immense pressure on both students and teachers alike. Whereas in Finland, school days are short and extra-curricular activities are school sponsored, in the belief that most learning takes place outside of the classroom.

But does this always provide a proper basis for the young generation’s future careers? The value of each method is clear, but the real challenge is deciding which system to commit to. We mostly end up making false choices, an either or, A or B. Why don’t we seize the opportunity rather than endure the sacrifice?

Just like the pioneers in California, we must strive for the third option: doing both and harness the power of ‘and’. Why can’t we aim for academic success, whilst preparing our future trailblazers for the careers that lay ahead for them?

As Vice Chair of Star Academies, a multi academy and free schools trust, I have seen first-hand the power of seeking positive exam results, in conjunction with developing employability skills and providing access to world class careers opportunism. This is the multiplier we must try to create, and something I hope I can assist with in my role at The Careers and Enterprise Company. Here’s how I believe we can do both in careers and education.

All subject teaching is careers teaching

We must develop an augmented curriculum that has the capability of transforming knowledge transfer into applied learning. Mapping subject knowledge on how it’s used in industry, providing visibility of professions and careers. Engaging and inviting businesses to help co-design and contribute to the learning pedagogy must be encouraged. So, when the student asks: “But why do I need to learn this?” the teacher answer isn’t simply: “Because it’s going to be in the exam.” 

Students and partners 

In business we have customers and in education we have students, and rightly our focus should be on delivering excellence to them. However, I believe that nurturing long term partnerships with industry and enterprise can ensure our education is future-proofed. Schools can access considerable in-kind support, sponsorship and non-executive support. Each school should invest in building an external network of partners that are committed to the school’s endeavour and more importantly can provide access to quality world-of-work experiences.  

Quality and relevance

The quality of teaching is an integral KPI for schools, one that all school leaders prioritise and invest significantly into. Once a blueprint is established and delivered successfully the focus then is to exploit and sustain. However, teaching well does not necessarily mean that we are teaching relevance; the world of work is changing rapidly, and technology is disrupting processes and traditional systems. We must ensure that quality is combined with relevance, so our young people are equipped with the skills of curation, communication, collaboration and creativity to succeed.