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Education Corner: Taking flight after graduation
Saturday 28 March 2020, 01:00PM
High school seniors are completing the final steps of secondary education. They are taxiing towards the active runway, called “exams”, down which they will lumber like a fully loaded 747 and then, just like that, they will be airborne. The mathematical miracle of flight is, I believe, less complicated than the transition of a young person on their way to autonomy. The runway to independence intersects the university planning process, a process which is often thought to facilitate the transition from childhood to adulthood. Recently, I visited with a group of seniors to reflect on this “quasi” rite-of-passage. As senior year begins, the recognisable force is “drag”. Students don’t expect applications to be difficult, time-consuming or complicated. Quickly, they are overwhelmed by downpours of information, thunderstruck by rigid entry requirements, and a fog of ambivalence clouds previous itineraries for coveted destinations: lengthy forms and impossible essays fuel feelings of inadequacy. A teen’s emotional control panel glows red with warning lights. Reliably, the mechanical failure is procrastination. A college applicant’s first flight is always delayed, until that is, the pilot realises, it’s not a solo. Eventually, students persuaded by fellow passengers and flight crews, reignite their internal electrical system, and the preflight checklist begins anew. Teachers are invaluable, providing mock interviews, essay editing and coaching for exam questions designed to trick well-trained critical thinkers. Counsellors keep a realistic eye on the forecast, maintain calm, solve problems, replenish confidence and leverage networks for alternative flight plans. Classmates and parents provide essential companionship helping students steer through the turbulent anticipation. By early December, the tarmac is full of applicants, requesting clearance for take-off. The primary thrust, to let their applications fly, is trust. Most students will describe this dynamic as a force transferred from parents. Students report; “My parents allowed me to express my choices and decisions.” Or, “Although they did not help me much, they played critical roles, supporting me when I was overwhelmed.” And, “Even the question of whether to attend university was a choice of ‘if’ rather than ‘when’. My desires motivated the universities I chose.” Adding, “My parents were mostly hands-off, trusting me to make my application without pressuring me; they helped me complete personal and financial data.” The confidence a student feels from significant others helps them withstand the grounding, gravitational pull of doubt. University applications are submitted between November and March. Students are in the air for days, often months. In the event of weather, students have learned to trust themselves while employing a practical toolkit of skills for navigation. A new class of pilots will soon graduate from the life simulation of university applications. It’s not quite a rite of passage, but useful just the same. Casey Nolen Jackson is one of two University Counsellors at British Inter­national School, Phuket.
Education Corner: A less specialised curriculum can better equip students for the future
Sunday 23 February 2020, 10:00AM
As counsellors, we always receive questions from students on how to prepare for university and a career. In spite of compelling pitches to “be the explorer,” students are choosing to narrow their focus and to place emphasis on a possible career. While accurate vocabulary for the next generation of jobs is always evolving, employers are precise: employees who are the most agile are also the most valuable. The global workforce values people who can write and solve problems, who are creative, flexible and critical thinkers, who are multicultural, adaptable, technologically able and ethical, all in one. Our observations, from many career fairs, is that success is rarely the result of a consistent trajectory or focus. Therefore, we suggest to study broadly, choose subjects that challenge and require different skills. Resist the temptation to skip the arts or the traditional humanities. Modern executives and engineers will approach problems by integrating domains and they will weather uncomfortable challenges to find new solutions. Creative innovators, able to draw from a wide array of knowledge and experience, will be the small and great leaders of our time. It’s not just us! Recently, the McKinsey and Financial Times Book of the Year, ‘Range’ by British author, David Epstein, argues persuasively for breadth, and cautions against early, single-minded specialisation. Specialisation, he argues, is useful in rigid situations where learners must master a narrow set of patterns, and feedback is quick and accurate. Generalists, research suggests, are better suited to work in more challenging environments where trends are more difficult to discern, and the feedback is unreliable or inaccurate. Many professionals credit a broad range of subjects in school and unusual life experiences for their ability to persist through challenges. How does a student prepare for a dynamic future that requires agility? Possibly, by not doing the obvious. Doubling-down on a single preparation at the expense of Arts and Humanities is a missed opportunity to create a treasure chest of knowledge. Students in Phuket are fortunate. The location offers impressive, unique life experiences. Society needs people who can combine expertise, doctors of the ocean or physicians for social-justice. Tourism, too, searches for new combinations. Soon, the carbon footprints of every traveller might be mapped and stored in databases. The conscientious vacationer might use a data engineer of geography to ask, ‘Where shall I go next?’ The most respected schools in the world aggregate the disciplines, requiring students to study multiple disciplines; science, language, literature, technology, the arts, the humanities, and maths. School curriculums, like the IGCSE, and the IB, provide for students to take advantage of this philosophy. Our advice is to explore and don’t leave anything out! Casey Nolen Jackson and Jacqui Brelsford are the two University Counsellors at British International School, Phuket - BISP. For more information, visit them at