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Education Is Boring And Stressful... And Boring

25/08/2017 12:24
SergeyNivens via Getty Images

Having been in education for ten years, I've seen some real changes - all as dull as a Brexit talk at a vegan dinner party on a Friday night, one that, as usual, I haven't been directly invited to. (Being a teacher I don't usually get invited, to any sort of party). Education is boring, run by boring people, making boring plans, talking about boring changes, that they are too bored to bother implementing; they're too boring, you see.

I mean the millennial period passed me by; I'm the wrong (or maybe right) side of 30, but if my Google map doesn't open within a second, I'll find the closest stranger and shout at them. I want immediate action and immediate gratification for everything I do, I want answers now, not in five minutes. I want to know why geeks are taking over the world; I want to know why coffee shops are run by people with beards and pattern shirts; I want to know why algebra is even a thing; I want to know why anyone would ever want to be a lawyer; I want to know why every other person is a now a self-proclaimed start-up guru, a despot, a cofounding COO; I want to know why the only beer I can now drink is small batch, organically grown, recycle apple core craft beer. I want answers now, and Google will help me to them find out, with speed, agility and accuracy; the opposite of a classroom, look at how quickly everything is changing, then look at how quickly education isn't. And that is the issue with education; it hasn't changed in a hundred years. Kids are still asked to undertake low grade, low ambiguity subordinate work from the age of four to 18, and we wonder why they are anxious, depressed and constantly worried.

It's a simple algorithm really:

Constant boring school tests + need for immediate gratification = anxiety, upset and dread.

And yet, the schooling system, which should seek to quell this anxiety, actually contributes to it more. School should act as a rest bite for adolescents, a chance to distance themselves from the ingrained paranoia of an ever-pinging phone, from the shiny likes (or lack thereof) on Instagram, from Whatsapp's blue ticks but no responses and from status updates of faceless friends with information that is wholly vacuous. Schools must seek to engage students differently, not with the instant gratification of the end result (which comes so quickly through social media), but rather through understanding and enjoying the learning process, being inspired by subject matter, and definitely staying far away from boring pupils.

So, who is to blame?

Then we have the issue that it is not the schools fault, it's the Government! Constantly changing things; syllabi, assessing exams, testing, some more bloody testing, school meals, funding, the list goes on... And you wonder why teacher retention rates are 70%. I guess the Government could always "promise" to pay for your tuition fees for university, on the proviso that you go to Glastonbury, but that's another rant.

Yet, we (when I say we, one person, Michael Gove - what is he now Environment something?) pile the stress and anxiety on children during their most formative years, insisting that the end process (their grades) are all that matter. Instead of understanding the art and beauty of Shakespeare, the syllabus is rushed to allow time for students to memorise it line by line so that they can quote the Bard for their exams. Rather than place an emphasis on the bigger picture of history and how it affects our world today, students must memorise exact dates and secondary sources. Rather than learn to paint themselves, they must regurgitate canonical artists from stuffy textbooks; never actually assessing for themselves whether they feel the artist is any good.

Moreover, the schooling system keeps the archaic and never-changing exam dynamic; memorise, regurgitate, mark. For example, the Cambridge Pre-U, which is the UK-version of the Cambridge International Baccalaureate and is now a substitute for A-Levels in a lot of private schools, is simply a harder version of the latter. While it relies heavily on coursework, the marking system is totally diverged and far more complex than the regular A-Level grade standard that universities have come to know. Despite big posh schools having adopted this benign exam practice for almost nine years, universities still haven't cottoned on to its existence. I have spoken to several universities to discuss our student's prospects with them having done their Pre-Us, which is often met by a vacuous, "Pre-U? Is that an International qualification?"

Ultimately, the change to Pre-Us and the scrapping of AS-Levels are just a mask for a never-changing system. Students will continue to be marked by a 100-year old doctrine that prioritises memory and exam technique over insight and intellect, creativity, spark and individual differences. Yet we continually seek to "change" these systems, while never actually doing so. Instead the constant exam "reform" adds more pressure and anxiety for students that already are under pressure to conform with their peers. That sounds a lot like Brexit.

What the hell is all of it for though? Kids instinctively know that this information doesn't correlate to real life, homework is simply repressing their instincts, they should be climbing trees, not preparing for a 4+ exam. Unless you were at the aforementioned vegan dinner party and had to discuss how successful Louis XIV's foreign policy was in improving France's security in the years 1661 to 1685 (a genuine exam question), then most the information we are urging pupils to recite is ultimately useless. All the while, leaving school with a head full of "knowledge" that one will never use, whilst not knowing how to boil an egg is a poor reflection on the schooling system today.

School remains boring; the same archaic methods of teaching, and the same outdated means of assessing pupils' abilities, the least we could do is take the stress off a bit. Tutoring on the other hand, 1-1 personal, tailored, individual support, now that is helpful, and you know what, it always will be!

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