Musing on Apprenticeships, p1.

09.03.2011 01:00

Asmentioned in an earlier article, the concept of apprentice, and ofapprenticeships, is come to us from the middle-ages. It was here beforegraduations, internships, and before any of the grand diplomas that youngpeople nowadays comment. But it is even more than that, and this article ismeant to dwell on its nature, its scope, and its evolving demystification.

As we said,apprenticeships were (once) highly sought out as the most straightforward wayto gain a marketable job skill that would sustain one. Seamstresses and smiths,stone-carvers and watchmakers…  The greatphilosopher of education, Jean Jacques Rousseau, was at one time in his lifeapprenticed to an engraver, Mr. Ducommun, who apparently thought very poorly ofhis young trainee. Which only goes to show how exalted and important the tradewas… Once.

Sadly, thisdoes not seem to have carried over in more modern days. Although many European countriescontinue to have apprenticeship schemes, in many of them, these are meant togive job skills to young people that conventional education has failed. InFrance, these degrees are meant for young people who do not mean to pursueuniversity studies. Although there is a training for these young people, and adegree at the end of this training, the French education in its inception wasmeant to produce a person with a certain kind of academic background, a certainlevel of social skills, and to go into an apprenticeship essentially amounts tohaving failed in that attempt.

In the UnitedKingdom, the picture is not much different; according to the recently-releasedWolf report on vocational training, “betweena quarter and a third of 16-19 year olds (up to 400,000 pupils) are enrolled invocational courses that will lead to neither a job nor study“. Which is tosay that some 30% of apprentices will be practically unemployable at the end oftheir apprenticeship.

Is thepicture much different in other EU Member states? Conventional education inGreece, Romania, and other countries privileges traditionally academiccoursework. In the German-speaking world, the weaker students are weeded out ofthe system at the age of 10, and sent to a practical school, from which theywill emerge as fully-trained professionals at 16. Some students can of coursestill progress from one school to the other, but some voices are makingthemselves heard nowadays, putting forth the view that 11 is much too young toseal one’s fate; in essence, such a system damages the meritocratic principlesof society, in inducing practically irrevocable decisions at an impossiblyyoung age.

Can theECo-C truly counter a picture that is so overwhelmingly negative on a continentwide basis? Can it so much as contribute to an improvement, and if so, whichkind of improvement would that be?
THAT, dear reader, is an article for another week.

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