As tuition fees reach £9,000 a year and the number of unemployed graduates in the UK hits 130,000 it's hard to listen out for news of a job vacancy above the hubbub of parents probing why their children can't "just get a job." With an increasingly competitive occupation market it's becoming progressively important to succeed in exams despite being continuously told by our parents that school was "so much harder in our day." It may soothe students to find that it is their Baby Boomer parents fault and not their own.
Our value systems are shaped in our early years by our families, friends, communities and significant events. This is how we can explain why people who are similarly aged, and who have therefore been exposed to the same historical and cultural pressures, view the world in the same way. Our parents, born 1940s-1960s, are Baby Boomers and we, born 1980s-2000s, are in the Millennial Generation.
It's not uncommon to hear our parents say "it was a lot harder in our day" or "we had to do so much more work" but in reality they are unable to comprehend the multiplicity of the current curriculum. Our subjects are not rigidly differentiated as they have been until now. Assignments often overlap all disciplines, for example one week's homework may demand you research your material for biology, make it read like an English essay, compile the rest of the data for maths whilst using IT skills to present it all. This is typical of a year six weekend project. Millennial nine year olds do an hour of homework a night whilst their Boomer parents were out climbing trees at the same age. It's also vital to note that the proliferation of qualifications has resulted in students having to gain more, making our parents claims that their eight-10 OLevels were excruciatingly difficult compared to our 12-14 GCSEs irrelevant. In a lot of ways I think the Baby Boomers grumbling about "how easy you all have it" stems from a deep rooted guilt about their role in the demise of their own children's economy.
According to generation theories Baby Boomers rebelled against their Silent Generation parents who grew up amidst WW2 and the Great Depression. Their 'waste not want not' attitude caused their children to indulge themselves in luxurious lifestyles after a childhood of penny-saving. They replaced the traditional 'womb to tomb' loyalty to a nine- five career for a city job that never sleeps. Globally, gross domestic product growth hovered around 10% making the purchasing power of money as good as it ever got in the twentieth century. They were the society that created the YUPPIE (Young Upwardly Mobile Professional) which symbolised the generation's materialistic, self-satisfying attitude. Most of our Baby Boomer parents are still not retired; in fact they are refusing to age quietly. These silver haired foxes, however, are unaware that their attitude has posed a great challenge for the coming generations.
Baby Boomers saw university as a human right and used any excuse to go. The economic boom coupled with the low tuition fees saw huge numbers of people graduate and new degrees like 'surfing' or 'golf management' created. The propagation of tertiary education saw the tuition fees, and entry requirements, rise which has caused the Millennial Generation to question the worth of a degree. Today we see the market for skills not degrees and are constantly being told three years of work experience is more valuable than a BA Hons. Most corporations expect to see extensive work experience, extra-curricular activities, academic records that include glowing GCSE and A Level results and at least a 2:1 to be considered for a job. How then, may I ask, do we have it easy?
The institutions that suffer the most from generation gaps are the ones where there is a big age and outlook difference between the people giving orders and those receiving them. Margaret Mead, the initial generation theorist, believed that "nowhere in the world are there elders who know what their children know" which means teachers have had to come to terms with the fact that often their pupils know more than they do. Long gone are the days when teachers 'knew it all' as some youngsters have travelled to multiple continents by the age of five and most have the ability to Google, and contradict, anything their teacher says on the spot. This has required a huge paradigm shift, which has resulted in complex curriculums and more modern teaching styles to rival the traditional, linear and frankly easier system our parents learnt with.
It is, however, not all bad. I see our generation as infinitely wiser than any other at the same age. We are taking in, and learning to add value to, information younger than ever formerly. Before we have started secondary school we have learnt how to source and analyse data from books, magazines, TV and, of course, the internet. After all it was George Bernard Shaw who said that his "education had been interrupted by having to attend school"; none prove this insight more true than Millennials who pass through the education system alongside their smartphones. We are doing our best to resist the overwhelming pressure from our parents to perform better by reassigning our priorities rather than following those of our workaholic, divorce indulgent, materialistic parents. From a young age we are identifying the need to have a work-life balance; we are a generation involved in charity and volunteer projects that are focused on travelling the world not just occupying an office 9-5. Growing up surrounded by single-parent homes has forced us to value our friendships and be cautious of relationships. Being born into a post-9/11 world where we are constantly bombarded with fear-mongering news has, ultimately, given us an underlying desire to have a job that means more than a pay cheque and to live a life where we are defined not just by our careers.
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