STUDENT LIFE / JUN. 24, 2014
version 3, draft 3

Schools Failing to Teach Students Foreign Languages

kid in school foreign languages

A new survey has discovered that businesses place a high value on second languages. This is addition to the other vital workplace skills not being taught effectively just adds to the ways the education system is failing young people, leaving them unprepared for the world of work.

In a recent survey carried out by the CBI and Pearson Education roughly two-thirds of the 300 firms surveyed stated that they placed a high value on candidates with a second language. 41% of the businesses believed it would be beneficial candidates to have a second language, with 21% saying that it would help build better relations with overseas clients.

The most in demand languages from employers were French (50%), German (49%) and Spanish (44%). However, due to the growing importance of China, Russia, and the Arabic world other languages have started to become increasingly popular. Mandarin (31%), Arabic (23%), Polish (19%), Russian (18%), Cantonese (16%) and Japanese (15%).

Despite the increasing importance of these language skills, only 49% of students are taking a second language at GCSE compared to 75% in 2002.

In fact according to CBI deputy director general, Katja Hall one fifth of schools in the UK performed poorly in languages:

"With the EU still our largest export market, it’s no surprise to see German, French and Spanish language skills so highly prized by companies. But with China and Latin America seeing solid growth, ambitious firms want the language skills that can smooth the path into new markets, she added. It has been a worry to see foreign-language study in our schools under pressure. The jury remains out as to whether recent government initiatives can help spur a resurgence in language learning. Young people considering their future subject choices should be made more aware of the benefits to their careers that can come from studying a foreign language."

This is just one of an increasing number of skills that have been identified by employers as lacking from UK school leavers.  Science, technology, engineering and maths skills, also known as STEM skills have been persistently highlighted as lacking in UK school-leavers. Employers have found that many school leavers are not only unskilled in areas such as maths and engineering, but often lack the most basic numeracy skills.

STEM skills as they are known are the most talked about skills; however the lack of work experience is also greatly affecting their overall workplace readiness. According to the director General of the British Chamber of Commerce, John Longworth: 

“Businesses I speak to up and down the country want to work with young people and are happy to train and employ them, But they are often disheartened if not downright frustrated to find school leavers and graduates do not have the minimum skills they need to join the workforce – poor literacy and numeracy, and behaviour and attitudes that don’t meet business expectations. There is no silver-bullet solution to the youth unemployment challenge, yet there are some simple things that can be done… The government must stop fixating on exam results alone, and ensure that soft workplace skills are taught in our schools, or young people will continue to be left out in the cold.”

The thing that remains clear is that young people in the UK are for the most part not ready for the workplace. Whether it is language, STEM or work experience skills, young people in the UK are not being taught the skills that employers are looking for. Unless there is a drastic change, then UK school leavers are not going to be able to compete for jobs even within their own country.

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