Friday, 7 January 2011

Pick a future. Now!

When I was fourteen I wanted to be an astronaut. Actually, I wanted to be a journalist pretty much since I learnt to spell my name but that could have been plausible. I wouldn't be at all surprised if I walked into a class full of 14-year-olds and the girls said they wanted to be Lady GaGa and the boys Christiano Ronaldo.

As much as I would discourage such role models, aiming high and pursuing dreams – as far-fetched as they may be – is a crucial part of being young.

By the time you're 16 (and it wasn't that long ago for me), the pressure is mounting. Every day is a whirlwind of responsibilities, commitments and decisions you don't want to have to make.

This is why I have always opposed the UK education system which forces teenagers to decide st such as age, ruled often by hormones, to pick a path and stick to it for the rest of their lives.

Former education secretary Estelle Morris suggests that if students take their GCSEs at the age of 14 rather than 16 they will stay in school longer as they will have four years, rather than just two, in which to specialise.

I was never forced to make that choice, because I went to school in Spain, where you take around seven A Levels, four of which are obligatory subjects. For your other three you can choose between four groups of modules: arts, science, social sciences or humanities. Like most other people with the math skills of a linguist, I opted for humanities.

At the time, the idea of studying Ancient Greek, Latin and Art History seemed about as interesting to me as spending my Saturday nights writing political commentary. But I was sixteen, what did I know?

In retrospect, the Spanish system – despite the bitterness I felt at having to study subjects I hadn't the least interest in at the time - has stood me in good stead, giving me a thorough grounding in core subjects which I may never have chosen.

The idea that at sixteen you are prepared to narrow your choices down and completely limit your future is preposterous. But the idea of doing it at fourteen is a joke.

School is not supposed to be fun. It’s hard work and often tear-jerkingly dull, but once we’ve experienced what it means to study all different types of subjects, we will be ready to make a decision about a university degree based on a true understanding of our own talents and weaknesses - rather than a teenage whim.

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