It was not so long ago that Michael Gove, minister for Education in the UK, proposed scrapping design and art education from his plans for the introduction of the EBacc certification. This provoked outrage from the art and design community, and rightly so. It is a slap in the face to all of us when the government’s website states that they are proud of the creative industries which contribute over £36 billion a year, and provide around 1.5 million jobs. Not only that, but 29.17 million people are employed in the creative industries, nearly 20% of all UK employment. And, it contributes about 10% of all exports*.
Clearly, this shows that design and art education is not just about getting your colour crayons out and doing some nice doodling for your mum and dad. Design and art provide not only tangible financial returns but our work, from any area of the creative industries, improves the quality of life for many groups in society.
For me the entire EBacc debate has again made me think whether our professional education system serves our young people. Is it really such a good idea to push everyone through a university mill, leaving people tens of thousands of pounds in debt, and possibly with degrees that have little weight once the job market is entered? Can we really expect everybody to be academically minded? Should we not go back to a traditional apprenticeship system that allows people to learn a trade in a mixture of practical skills and theoretical knowledge, and that enables them to compete in the job market with tangible skills?
I benefitted from a four year traditional apprenticeship, as a typesetter in Zurich, Switzerland, that I started at the tender age of 16. When I look back, I realise that not only was I able to gain skills but more importantly, I was in an environment that allowed me the space to grow up, and to gain confidence as a human being. This was possible because in this working environment I was exposed to role models, both male and female, outside the family. To me this was probably more important than the grades I received during the regular tests.
Traditional apprenticeships provide an opportunity for many young people to learn valuable life and professional skills. Not everyone is academically minded, not everyone wants to do A-Levels, or any exams necessary to progress to university, and not everyone actually wants to spend years in higher education. But without those vital grades, without the university degree, life simply stops, and young people end up either unemployed, or in low-wage jobs. This is fundamentally wrong since it affects society for generations to come.
Youth unemployment amongst the 16-24 year group is over 20%**. This simple statistic lets us project the impact on society in 15 years time, and research explains that the long term damage to individuals and the economy is staggering ***. By introducing traditional apprenticeship schemes, funded and supported by both government and industry, we would allow for a non-academic approach to education, with the added benefit of creating a highly skilled workforce that is able to compete in both national and international markets.
I agree that a professional education must include an introduction to academic rigour, but it has to be provided in tandem with rigorous manual and craft skills. When I hire a young designer, I need that person to be able to space a line of type. It is no good to me that they can write a 10,000 word essay about it. I need that person to have experienced first hand the impact of colour choice in practical terms, how it affects different printing techniques, or how it reacts to different papers; they must be able to do more than debate the various colour theories.
I believe that many aspiring graphic designers are badly let down by the current graphic design education. They are being educated in overcrowded classrooms, are in many cases given only minimal access to tutors, and generally have to find their own way in the world. This is at a crucial time when they face many different challenges in their lives. It is our responsibility as a society, and as the parent generation, to ensure they get all the support we can give them to form them into rounded human beings, who will one day fulfil their responsibility in society. And never forget, it is the generation that will one day pay our generation’s pension.
It is not enough that we just debate education and how to prepare young people for the future. It is time that we as a society take our responsibility seriously. For this reason, Dalton Maag has always offered internships to allow design students to gain more in-depth typographic skills, and for this reason we continue to have ideas on how we can make this even more beneficial to young people and the design industry.
It is also for this reason that we must stay vigilant and look out for people like Michael Gove, people with a misguided approach to social justice, whose ambition appears to be not to improve education for all, but to create a divided society.
* See https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/making-it-easier-for-the-media-and-creative-industries-to-grow-while-protecting-the-interests-of-citizens
** See http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/sn05871
*** See http://www.cesi.org.uk/sites/default/files/event_downloads/ACEVO_report.pdf