Betraying a lost generation

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31 mei 2013 | “It is sad to see that many young people are tricked into ‘mediastudies’. It is deception, betrayal even” says Irish Education Minister Ruairí Quinn, now EU President. The two worlds of work and education urgently need reconnection.

At a Friends of Europe-debate on Europe’s ‘lost generation’, Minister Ruairí Quinn (Minister for Education and Skills) gave an interview to ScienceGuide. Whereas others pointed out that interns are often misused as cheap staff, Quinn took a more realist stance and focused on teaching youngsters the right skills.

“It is realistic to point out to youngsters that the fat years are definitively over, and they are not coming back either. Within seven years China will turn out more qualified young people now than Europe and the U.S. together.”

“We have to look at what works best getting young people into jobs. It took many generations to get rid of people that see no connection between income and work: the aristocracy. Likewise the young unemployed today see no connection between income and work. We have to reconnect the world of work and the world of education.”

Minimum rate of pay

One way of reconnecting the classroom with the workplace is through 21st century apprenticeships. Ruairí Quinn: “It’s not exploitation, apprenticeships mean learning on the spot. Of course there will always be cases of abuse with interns that don’t get any pay at all. And I agree there should be a minimum rate of pay. In Ireland we have a combination of academic support and training on the job.”

In the Republic of Ireland, a country of 4,5 million people, the way forward is through close dialogue between regional technical colleges and businesses. Quinn: “We need to know what the market wants instead of predicting it. I find it sad to see that many young people are tricked into mediastudies. There is deception with students and parents, a sense of betrayal even. Many students think the mere fact of going to college is good enough for the labour markets. Where do they get the skills if not in universities?”

A Gutenberg moment

Minister Quinn’s economic view is that Europe has to “Inflate its way back into growth, like the U.S., the UK and Japan are doing. We need to get a stimulus in the European wider economy. Austerity will only prolong the suffering of young unemployed.”

“Education is at a new Gutenberg moment: we can now store information 1000-fold, but this hasn’t changed the way of our education yet. Besides, skills now only have a shelf-life of 5 years.”

In that context Mr. Quinn applauded the CoderDojo-initiative that started in Ireland in 2011 and spread out its wings ever since. CoderDojo is a movement of free not-for-profit coding clubs and regular sessions for young people. Quinn: “Attempts have been made to bring this coding-course into the school system, but honestly I think this would destroy it. Most teachers are frightened to death for technology. It will be a big challenge to re-educate the educators.”

No more boring meetings

During the Irish EU Presidency Mr. Ruairí Quinn took his innovative approach to the Education Council meetings in Brussels. “A year ago these meetings were most boring, with 27 people reading out their statements and no discussion. I don’t know if you know the meeting rooms, but you can hardly see each other there.”

“I changed the setting, putting all Ministers in the middle of the room and inviting guest speakers to create more of an exchange of ideas. We are all facing the same problems in Europe. We should at least exchange the different solutions that member states have tried.”

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