We've been lying to our kids. And because the lie has perpetuated for at least a couple of generations already, many of us have also been lying to ourselves. The lie is that the more years we spend in school and the better our grades are, the better we can expect our lives to become.
The assumption makes no sense at all. We spend time in school in order to prepare ourselves. But if our lives are expected to get better, then there's no need to be prepared for it. Who needs to prepare for a life of ease? Of sipping pina coladas by a sunny beachside resort in the Bahamas? In truth, the reason why we prepare ourselves is because we expect bad things to happen. We prepare for disaster. We prepare because our lives are likely to become infinitely worse once we leave the safety zone of our school.
So why has this obviously counter-intuitive lie persisted down the generations? Somehow, people have got the mistaken idea that being in school is the way we pay our dues to society, and that the child's relative present suffering is a way of 'paying forward' a ticket to paradise in adulthood. So when the child finally graduates, he can "[habour] high hope [sic] of a good life afterwards." But it's so disappointing to see his hopes dashed in the face of adult reality.
I don't know the letter-writer personally, but I shall assume that he -- like many other of our graduated students -- has "all the A’s in [his] report card", and yet is unable to find satisfactory employment. I shall also assume that being a straight-A student meant huge sacrifices of freedom and other personal privations in order to focus on his studies and score his A's, all the while telling himself it would all be worth it in the end: a nice, cushy office job; telling the B-graders and below to make the coffee; while the money just rolls in. Because all the hard work was already done in school.
It's hard to face the truth that the shiny, golden academic degree is not the passport to the good life we were told it was. If you've worked hard for it, great! Kudos to you. But the real work begins at the workplace. Sadly, the real work involves everything else you gave up in your earlier life while you chose to mug for your A grades. There isn't a job out there that requires the employee to sit and memorize stacks of notes only to reproduce it all over again a month or six later. Xerox made that job obsolete decades ago. Sorry.
Real work involves having lots of different interests, personal, general and current; in order to be interesting to co-workers, customers and anyone else along the production or service chain. Solo muggers are at a serious disadvantage because collaboration -- i.e., working with others, quirks and all -- is a premium at the workplace. People who can think beyond the manual or even improve it are much preferred to those who can just reproduce it or require it in order to carry out their daily tasks. Workplace problems do not come with their own formulas to apply; they have to be solved with new methods all the time. Workers are comfortable with learning, unlearning and relearning, a concept unthinkable to students of our carefully structured and scaffolded system.
Employable skills are those we pick up when we get our noses out of our textbooks and learn from life itself. We can't say we've visited Rome after reading a Fodor's guide. Likewise.
So why are employers starting to rely on foreign employees? Because foreigners are not as grade-obsessed as we are. They don't view educational qualifications as a certificate of entitlement to a job good or otherwise. It's blinkered of us to keep thinking such because today, every other S'porean grad holds a string of A's, but little else to distinguish one from another. What's an employer to do?
The letter-writer is probably right to call himself a "failed product" of the system and not label the system outright as a failure. We don't have a mass unemployment situation here, so it's likely that most who pass through our system do find jobs. It's these small, unhappy minorities who can't fathom what has gone so wrong for them. I hope his new career coach can help undo the damage his schooling experience has done to him. In the meantime, I'm not going to lie to my kids any more. Never have, actually...!