Internships prepare students for the future

Why internships need to go hand-in-hand with skill-based assessment
HammerandTusk, Pixabay.com, CC0 1.0
HammerandTusk, Pixabay.com, CC0 1.0

We are living in a highly competitive world. Every corporate job listing attracts an average of 250 resumes. Four to six applicants will be offered an interview, and only one will get the job. With the advent of the 4th Industrial revolution, industry is undergoing rapid and dramatic changes, technology is evolving every day and education is struggling to keep pace. There are huge discrepancies in the global education sector: Some countries have made huge strides in the use of technology, while others are still struggling to integrate technology into the school environment.

As educators, we understand that what students learn today in the classroom must prepare them for their future professions. So, what might help our students prepare for an unknown future?

Every education system should aspire to prepare students for real life challenges, ensuring that they have the skills needed to pursue their chosen profession. Assessment plays a significant role in achieving that goal. In every schooling system, assessment drives curriculum planning and is influenced by how the curriculum is implemented. We test students’ learning at regular intervals to determine whether they are achieving the desired learning objectives.

In India, for example, board assessments are currently based on the course outline, and students are tested only on content. What if we were to redesign the format so that it also focuses on assessing skills by evaluating students’ performance both within and outside school? What if we were to modify teaching and learning practices in keeping with skill-based assessments?

How might this be done? Mandatory internships in a business setting are one good approach, in that they provide ample opportunities for students and teachers to benefit from regular, constructive feedback from experts on the student’s performance. By Grade 9, most students have vague notions of the professions they might like to explore in the future, but they lack direction. So, schools and communities might help arrange for students to complete a two- or three-week internship in their industry of choice during school breaks.

“Every education system should aspire to prepare students for real life challenges, ensuring that they have the skills needed to pursue their chosen profession.”

At the end of the internship, teachers could meet with the industry experts to receive first-hand feedback on the students’ performance – their knowledge, attitude and skills. Student’s reflections on what they have learned, perhaps expressed through an essay, could offer further insight into their aptitude and affinity for the desired profession. Based on all of this information, the teacher is able to guide students as they hone their skills.

My niece recently expressed an interest in becoming a neurosurgeon, but was unsure whether she would be able to stand the sight of blood and whether she had the necessary dedication or aptitude. Her parents connected her to a surgeon who was willing to offer her a 15-day internship. This allowed her to apply to a concrete, hands-on experience the theoretical knowledge of the human systems that she had acquired throughout the year. She was able to see first-hand what a neurosurgeon does every day. She observed operations and assisted the surgeon, for example by running errands, and by the end of the internship her choice was clear. The surgeon met with her parents, expressed appreciation for her efforts, and offered further guidance. My niece has now begun to prepare for a career as a neurosurgeon.

“If education and assessment are to be skill-based and help to connect students to the real world, internships in the private sector are key.”

A similar internship-based approach might be introduced in the school context. High school teachers could create a detailed work plan, including an assessment rubric, and share it with their students as well as the participating businesses prior to the internship. Performance assessment would be based on the following objectives:

  1. Students are aware of the skills, knowledge and attitudes required by the profession.
  2. Students are able to gauge their own potential and determine whether or not they are capable of pursuing the desired profession. They work on their shortcomings or switch to a profession that is better suited to their skills.
  3. Industry experts offer guidance to students regarding further action.
  4. Concepts learned in class are connected to real life, which can transform learning.
  5. Assessments are skill-based, rather than emphasizing rote learning.
  6. Additional projects focus on problem solving.

If education and assessment are to be skill-based and help to connect students to the real world, internships in the private sector are key. Such internships open the door to multifaceted experiences and new kinds of learning for both teachers and students. They also allow teachers to see how their students perform outside of school, in different environments, and to view them through a different lens and from a different perspective. This enables them to guide students more effectively, thereby boosting learning.

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