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There’s going to be a large swathe of the current generation of youth and young adults, who, to their dismay, are going to find themselves in a ‘quarter-life crisis’.

That’s the finding in America, and the signs are that the same is happening here.

Having been encouraged to keep their options open by taking a range of NCEA subjects at school, from memory and accuracy subjects like mathematics and science, to creative ones like art and drama, never forgetting that sport is in the mix too (because of concerns about obesity), they’re finding that career options are actually restricted.

And, without the memory and accuracy training at school, students can find it extremely difficult to pick up these subjects later in their educational career says Massey University Director of Agriculture, Professor Jacqueline Rowarth.

Well known as a science communicator, Rowarth says the NCEA’s structure, as well as the encouragement from parents and teachers to take the subjects they enjoy at high school, on the basis that the children then feel positive about schooling and do well, can have major ramifications later, though still comparatively early, in a young person’s life.

“Students at high school are astute,” she says. “They are balancing a whole lot of needs, wants and desires — which include a social life and earning money. They’ve embraced the concept of work-life balance much earlier than did their parents, and they have internalised the ‘work smarter not harder’ mantra. They do look for the time involved in achieving rewards. Some NCEA credits are known to be easier to achieve than others, and unless the students have the long term goals — medicine or veterinary studies, for instance, they often don’t see the rewards in sticking with what have been shown in British research to be the ‘difficult’ subjects — the memory and accuracy ones.”

“But a lot of these subjects used to be after school activities!”

Data out of America shows that the ‘quarter life crisis’ is associated with young adults coming into the job market primed with a qualification there’s not that much demand for — partiucalrly the liberal arts, and performing and creative arts degrees. The figures show suicide and counseling rates increasing dramatically as the world doesn’t need many new Julia Roberts’ or a Beyonce’s. (And that’s if the person has talent!).

“What I want parents to encourage and high school students to know is to keep their options open,” Rowarth says. “Do those memory and accuracy subjects for as long as possible. Then they’re able to make open ended decisions and choices later on, because the right tramlines in their brains have been kept open.”

She says most young people she meets want to “make a difference.”

People are much more likely to achieve this by doing subjects such as science or engineering. These subjects don’t exclude ‘creativity’, and indeed many of her colleagues are wonderful artists and writers and actors in their spare time.

‘Of more importance is that they use their creativity in their work — Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, puts scientists and engineers at the top of the creativity list (followed by University Professors) because they create new knowledge,” she says.

And with this ability, you can do anything.

From her Agricultural Science degree, Rowarth has earned money teaching, milking cows, drafting sheep, and the inevitable pouring drinks….

She has also been employed as an actress, and contributes to the media in interviews, articles and columns.

‘Editors ask me to write because I have knowledge about subjects that matter to people — food and environment,” Rowarth says.

“You can ensure varied employment by keeping your options open by doing the school subjects that underpin the issues for the world — and you can enjoy them because they are challenging and allow you to make a difference to people’s lives,” she says

“And you can avoid not only the quarter-life crisis, but also that mid-life one as well.’