Most of us know that educational success is no guarantee of wellbeing in adulthood. Fewer of us are familiar with the debate on how educational success is related to precariousness.

This is particularly relevant in Malta, where parental concern with choice of school is testified by oversubscription of Church schools (hence the need to ballot draw) and soaring demand for independent schools.

Even though I’m a proud state education beneficiary - as well as an educator in publicly-funded educational institutions - I can understand that documented higher formal educational achievement among Church and independent schools’ students can be a prime mover in parents’ choice of formal schooling.

Evidence includes the PISA 2015 Malta Report, which recorded that attainment in reading, mathematics and science was lower for students attending state schools; as well as the Tracer Study Report 2015, which documented that a higher percentage of students from church and independent schools chose to further their education to post-secondary level.

Choices concerning type of school are based on the assumption that successful formal schooling yields wellbeing in adulthood

Consequently, trust in non-state education as a higher quality education provider comes across as empirically justifiable. Trust is an indicator of social capital, of which ‘capital’ also comprises networks, reciprocity and cooperation.

Church and independent school ethos are also associated with higher cultural capital. This translates to education, intellect, style of speech, dress and related non-monetary markers of social privilege.

However, choices concerning type of school are based on the assumption that successful formal schooling yields wellbeing in adulthood.

Nevertheless, concurrent discussion concerning millennials' cohort (generally grouping those concurrently aged 22-37 years) flags how, ironically, conventionally upheld and desirable higher educational levels and cultural tastes are fuelling precariousness that is blemishing wellbeing in adulthood.

In practical terms, the will to invest in a gym membership or organic meat is informed by education and cultural capital. Similarly, as Forbes’ flags delayed gratification as the first predictor of long-term success, educated millennials in possession of cultural capital are likely to delay higher wage gratification to invest in internships, traineeships, temporary and casualized employment to embellish their résumé and increase their networks.

Yet these ‘opportunities’ also ‘castigate’ their recipients with limited funds for timely investment, long-term savings and, consequently, work-life balance.

Moreover, comparative research across EU countries shows that non-governmental educational institutions that benefit from state grants, which – take heed – in Malta include church schools and independent schools, cater for cohorts that are grappling with social mobility.

Such less formal educational outcomes illuminate a type of precariousness that is an unintended outcome of good-willed, albeit limited, upbringing.

Are contemporary formal education and related discourses and debates underpinned by an old-fashioned appraisal of qualifications and cultural capital? An appraisal that fails to account for the less financially profitable yields that an educated mind-set is liable to?

Such collateral precariousness affecting millennials raises dilemmas for those invested in children’s (post-millennials’) education today.

This goes beyond educational success not being a guarantee of long-term wellbeing. The cue here is that, when instrumentally deployed, educational success might actually backfire.

It’s time to discuss mismatch between choice of school and corresponding parental motivations and aspirations; and to question the rationale of studies and statistics dominating discourse on desirable educational outcomes.


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