High School and Its Purpose for Adolescents

Adolescence is a crucial age in a person’s life – one in which a person acquires values, direction, and meaning for a life in the future. The period of adolescence makes incredibly complex demands on the developing individual. In addition to coping with rapid biological and cognitive changes, adolescents must make well-balanced commitments of time and effort to determine choices in life (Adams and Berzonsky, 2003).

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Choices made about high school may increase or constrict the number of choices available in the world of work. Abilities and skills nurtured or neglected in childhood and adolescence could be the difference between the line of satisfaction and success and one of misery and failure. High schools provide adolescents with opportunities necessary for success. High school education provides a foundation for the growth of an individual and helps him make the transition from a dependent adolescent to a responsible adult successfully.

Thus the goals of high school education are quite varied: imparting knowledge, providing a base for exploring numerous interests and activities, imparting vocational and interpersonal skills, personality development, getting a certificate, and so on. In Western society, being a productive worker is one of the cardinal tasks of adulthood, and it is during the high school period that a person begins to acquire a vocational identity. Thesis: The single most important purpose of high school should be to provide vocational identity development for adolescents.

Theorists in the field of human development and experts in the educational realm generally agree with this thesis. According to them, one of the main tasks during adolescence is to become prepared for eventually assuming a viable role in the world of adult work, and adolescents become adults when they first undertake a ‘real job’ (Inhelder and Piaget, 1958). Bandura (1995, p. 23) says that the choices people make during formative periods shape the course of their life, and the most important of these choices are those that center on occupational choice and development. Apart from developmental theorists, modern educationists also agree that vocational identity is a major issue in high schools.

Bill Gates rues the fact that “Only one-third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work and citizenship” (Mundy, 2005). The Berkeley School System holds that the purpose of high school is to prepare students for a meaningful life in the 21st century, to be good citizens, economically self-sufficient, and respectful of themselves and others. All of this is possible only when high school education gives the students a vocational identity. Another supporting piece of evidence comes from a study of junior/senior high school students, which clearly demonstrated that identity development tended to be more advanced in the vocational domain than in a number of other domains, including those of religion, lifestyle, and politics.

Secondly, the high school offers many opportunities for exploration of varied interests and choices in life. Almost every high school student takes at least one career and technical education course, and one in four students takes three or more courses in a single program area. It has been eighty-five years since the passage of the first piece of federal vocational education legislation. Today’s career and technical education program includes challenging academic content, and sometimes it offers a unique set of courses leading to an industry-recognized credential or certificate or an associate or baccalaureate degree (AVOE, 2008).

High school also offers opportunities to explore an individual’s talent through extracurricular activities such as drama, dance, singing, elocution, writing, sports, etc. Many studies show that among Americans, about 10% of the differences in earnings can be attributed to pre-employment learning in school (Carnevale, 1993).

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Apart from the views of others and opportunities in high school, one must remember that adolescent age is a highly impressionable age. High school experiences bring impressionable youngsters in contact with great personalities in the form of teachers, guest lecturers, chief guests, and highly talented colleagues. Adolescents frequently choose peers from within the school setting and often from within their educational track. Hence one’s choice of friends shapes academic and vocational choices, abilities, and interests. In such an atmosphere, it’s easily perceived that high school education is best for developing a vocational identity.

High school education has many goals. It can impart knowledge and skills to students. It can help students develop character and also give them a passport to higher studies. But of all such goals, the main one is to provide a vocational identity for adolescent students. This is because of three main factors: experts feel that vocational identity develops first in high school; high school curriculum is so designed to provide students with maximum opportunities for vocational development, and finally, the high school brings numerous vocational influences to the children. To conclude, the primary goal of high school education is to develop a vocational identity in students.


Adams, R. Gerald and Berzonsky, D. Michael (2003). Blackwell Handbook of Adolescence. Blackwell Publishing.

Carnevale, P. Anthony (1993). The Learning Enterprise. Diane Publishing.

Mundy, Alicia (2005). Gates “appalled” by high schools. The Seattle Times.

OVAE (Office of Vocational and Adult Education) (2008). Career and Technical Education. U.S. Department of Education. Web.

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