Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.
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I met someone I knew on the train coming home tonight who is involved in the enterprise world. I have been aware for some time that some of the people in this sector are somewhat disappointed in the Centre. I have been told by a couple of them that we have gone down 'the public sector route' and somehow they disapprove of that. But let me set out for a minute what the alternative to this would be.
Well, we could have majored on working with private business. We have done some work with businesses and have developed a programme called Confidence Plus+. However, if this had been the focus of the Centre's work how would we have been any different from the huge number of private consultancies/training providers around who are also involved in this line of work? What would have been different about the Centre? I am really happy for us to work with business but not at the expense of doing other work which we are better suited for.
What about involvement in the world of enterprise? Well when the Centre was set up almost five years ago we already had a great deal of activity in Scotland on this topic: the school programme Determined to Succeed had a great deal of money and energy behind it; the Hunter School for Enterprise was running at Strathclyde University and the Enteprise Academy had also been set up. There was also various organisations promoting the work of various entrepreneurial programmes. I have spoken at a number of enteprise events but again I doubt that this should have formed a large chunk of the Centre's work.
What we have done a lot of work on is much more about developing the confidence of young people in schools and youth work settings. This agenda is fundamentally important to business and those interested in enterprise. What the Centre has been trying to do is get people to see the dangers of some of the modern self-esteem approaches with young people which paradoxically undermine young people's skills, confidence and well-being. This approach also erodes academic standards.
If we look at what's happening in America we see how their higher education system is having to try to cope with declining standards. Kids in school are being told they are fantastic all the time when in fact they are failing to acquire basic skills. What is happening is that higher education in the US is having to become more and more involved in remedial education. A recent survey by the American Association of Community Colleges estimates that almost 60 per cent of young people graduating from high school each year are not ready for college level work. An American higher education journal recently reported:
As part of its application process for admission, the California State University system requires all eligible students (those graduating in the top 33 percent of their high school class) to take placement exams that measure their 'proficiency' in math and English. The 2008 freshman class tests results found 47 percent of the students needed remedial English and 37.2 percent needed remedial math.
No wonder so American employers are disenchanted by the skills of young Americans.
One of the things that Scotland traditionally had going for it was education. We cannot afford to see an erosion of skills and academic competence. What the Centre is saying about the dangers of overprotecting youngsters, and lowering challenge to preserve self-esteem is a hugely important issue. IF the Centre did not exist who would be out there putting this point across? This is an important argument not just for schools, parents and children but also for employers and entrepreneurs.