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Education: A Silo, Entire of Itself

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This is the first instalment in a series of posts that will look at the lack of synergy between education and the world of work as well as the difficulties that this causes for the young person leaving school.

I've found a neat way of encapsulating this situation: the education system is a silo, entire of itself.

To understand what I mean by this I want to take some time to look at the work of Gillian Tett, anthropologist, managing editor of the FT and silo specialist, and later I will outline why education cannot carry on being a silo, entire of itself.

So what is a silo?

Gillian Tett has been making a lot of noise in the last number of years about intellectual silos, silo busting and silo jumping and she put it this way: silos are self contained realms of activity and knowledge that only experts in those areas can truly understand.

Or in other words: an intellectual silo is a concentration of specialist knowledge such as a corporation, public body or university department.

Silo busting is the notion that great benefits can come about from spilling open a silo and sharing the knowledge with another silo.

It's essentially a philosophy that advocates interdisciplinary collaboration and mutual interaction instead of notions of strict ring fencing and the non-interference of disciplines.

Through busting intellectual silos and opening up specialist knowledge we can share industry best practice, make efficiencies and pass on innovative advances. And for the lay community we can also demystify trades and professions and break the wall of opacity that surrounds corporates and decision makers.

Gillian Tett pictures great things coming from silo smashing: helping towards upending the power structure and challenging conventional hierarchies.

And so we come back to the title to explain why the idea of silo-busting should apply to the education system in the UK.

For too long, education and the world of work have been impenetrable silos - silos, entire of themselves.

Our current policy and practice that maintains a strict and impenetrable divide between education and the world of work has ensured that our schools and universities produce, year after year, masses of real world illiterates who often don't even know career they want to get into.

How can young people be real world literate and know what career they want if all they've ever known is the class room? Often they've never had contact with any industry professionals or set foot in an office, workshop or business environment.

But if our policy makers we were to encourage a practice that sees public and private businesses play into schools and universities we could properly prepare our young people for the world of work.

I've outlined a number of points below of how businesses could feed into the schooling of the young person:

Firstly, through regular speaking events young people could taste success first hand. The Future First initiative in London does this by bringing past-pupils back into schools for weekly talks making the speakers success even more real.

Secondly, mentoring is hugely important to the development of a young person and is a standard part of American culture; however the concept of mentoring is pretty alien in the UK. By having a mentor a young person can receive the signposting and expert sound bytes that no career teacher, parent or text book can give. The Big Brothers Big Sisters programme in America is just one such example that we could look to bring to Britain.

Thirdly, regular, structured work experience is critical and it's only through this can a young person can get a real insight, taste and grasp of what the world of work is like.

For too long there has been a social silence around the issue of young people and the world of work; a mysticism, opacity and a sense of unknown about how work works that has often made the transition profoundly difficult.

By tearing down the silo walls, breaking the social silence and sharing information between education and the world of work we can imbue our young people with the knowledge, contacts and tangible experiences of how the world of work actually looks and works.

Moreover, such synergy would add more carrot to schooling and lessen the stick by making earning a salary a real and touchable proposition; as opposed to being some far off and seemingly impossible destination.

Ultimately the youth unemployment crisis is not just a story of economic stagnation and austerity but a deeply troubling problem of social silence and silo policy.

As we look forward we must work to break education's silo policy and work to create a symbiotic relationship between the education system and the world of work.

Only then will schools produce real world literates and only then can we ensure equality of opportunity, true social mobility and the collective fulfillment of potentials.