Drawing the future: What children want to be when they grow up

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, Directorate for Education and Skills

The next generation of children will need to create jobs, not just seek jobs. They will draw on their curiosity, imagination, entrepreneurship and resilience, the joy of failing forward. Their schools will help them discover their passions and aspirations, develop their potential, and find their place in society.

But that is easier said than done, and good reading, math and science skills are just part of the answer. To develop their dreams and invest the effort it takes to realise them, children need, first of all, to be aware of the world and the opportunities it offers them.

We often take that awareness for granted, perhaps because schools tend to be designed and run by people who succeeded in them. But this report paints a different picture. Statistics showed previously that more than one in five teenagers are looking to secure the 2.4% of new and replacement jobs in the UK economy that are predicted to be found in culture, media and sports occupations. More generally, over one-third of 15-16 year-olds career interests lie in just 10 occupations. And 7 out of the ‘bottom 10’ young peoples’ occupation choices are actually well-paid jobs. The Drawing the Future survey shows that primary children’s aspiration is also concentrated around similar occupations.

It all starts early. When children between the age of 7 and 11 were asked to draw their future, the most popular job for UK children was a sportsman/woman, with 21% leading by a margin of over 10 percentage points over the next popular occupation; and the sportsman/woman was 10 times more highly rated than a nurse or health visitor (2%). Will these children invest the necessary effort to study tough subjects such as math and science when they don’t see them related to their own aspirations?

Perhaps the most worrying finding of the Drawing the Future survey is the myopic view that children from disadvantaged backgrounds have about the possibility set of their futures. Their sense of awareness remains often limited to the jobs of their parents, and that holds across all countries taking part in this study, except Uganda and Zambia, where teachers were the biggest influencers.

Giving children a better sense of the world of work is not just a matter of social justice. It is also a matter of bringing the potential of the next generation fully to bear. At a time when our economies count on everyone’s contribution, we cannot afford that disadvantaged youths rule themselves out of careers that they could successfully pursue. Having children know someone who did the job they aspire to turns out to be key, and schools can play such a powerful role in helping children meet more people from more occupations.

The drawings also show clear gender patterns. Boys have a preference for working with things, girls tend to prioritise working with people. Over 4 times the number of boys wanted to become engineers compared to girls, and nearly double the number of boys drew scientists as their future jobs compared to girls in the sample. To be fair, the UK has done a lot to level the playing field. For example, 15-year-old boys and girls in the UK achieved the same science results in the global PISA test. But also in this age group far more boys than girls said they wanted to become science and engineering professionals. So more science lessons may be missing the point. The question is rather how to make science learning more relevant to children and youths, including through broadening their views of the world by given them greater exposure to a wider range of occupations. Career counselling in secondary schooling comes far too late. It is clear from the drawings that children arrive in school with strong assumptions based on their own day to day experiences, which are shaped by ideas surrounding gender, ethnicity and social class. Those who still have doubts should watch the 2 minute Redraw the Balance film featuring 66 pictures of a firefighter, surgeon and a fighter pilot, of which 61 were drawn of men and just 5 with women.

So the future will need more primary schools with teachers who help children see their future and the value of learning beyond knowledge acquisition, who are designers of imaginative problem-based environments, who scaffold problem inquiry and nurture critical evaluation, and who bring in parents and volunteers from the world of work into instruction to show children the richness of life and work. Clearly, schools cannot do this alone, but they can play a key part, and the bottom line is that we owe all youths the education that wise parents want for their own children.

The Drawing the Future report will be formally launched at #Davos on the 25th January #WEF18

Drawing the Future survey
Video: The impact of volunteers on children from disadvantaged backgrounds, interview with Andreas Schleicher, Director of OECD Directorate for Education and Skills
The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
OECD Skills Beyond School

Follow the conversation on twitter: #OECDPISA  and #DrawingtheFuture

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