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The road to employability through personal development: a critical analysis of the silences and ambiguities of the British Columbia (Canada) Life Skills Curriculum

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Abstract:

This paper offers a critical discourse analysis of a life skills career education curriculum for schools in British Columbia, Canada. This curriculum calls for the development of a set of life skills that are positioned as central to students' employability. At the heart of the curriculum is a focus on personal development, in particular, the need for students to develop self understanding and learn from role models how to face and conquer adversity. This paper builds on existing criticisms of how notions of employability and life skills have displaced policy orientations and interventions that might address structural problems of unemployment, with a personal development orientation that places the burden of change and adaptation entirely on individual workers. The goal of this inquiry was to illuminate the assumptions and the underlying ideological terrain giving shape to this curriculum. Informed by the critical frameworks of Nancy Fraser and Ulrich Beck, as well as critical curriculum scholars, this inquiry found a number of disturbing silences and ambiguities in the personal development orientation. On the one hand, the lessons acknowledged the significance of emotions in students' lives and the possibilities for students to learn from family, community and the wider society. On the other hand, the emphasis on individual responsibility and a heroic orientation to transcending adversity reflects the dominant neo‐liberal ideology wherein future employment depends on having the ‘right' attitude and making the right choices – contextual and systemic factors fall away. Life skills curricula, like the one examined in this project, are important sites of investigation for they reveal the major shifts that have occurred in the political economy of career and worker education.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02601370500309543

Affiliations: University of British Columbia, Canada

Publication date: January 1, 2006

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