With thousands of students suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses, it’s obvious there is something wrong with the way our education system functions, and something needs to change. What starts as a genuine learning experience for kids quickly turns into a results-driven system that churns out students with the ability to memorise and rote-learn with little to no knowledge of how to function outside the school gates. So what’s going wrong?
1. Teachers are under the same pressures
We look at our teachers who are constantly handing out homework and assignments and blame them. Even when we’re already swamped with work and deadlines they continue to pile it on, stacking us with work to do and essays to submit. But teachers are struggling with the system as much as we are. In a results driven institution, teachers are pushed to meet education plans and curriculum requirements, and the pressure to generate stats and progression for the school and the board can mean individual students and their wellbeing get pushed to the sidelines.
2. Everything is a competition
In a system where learning is a race, and coming first is all that matters, it’s no wonder that students are struggling to keep up. We are pitted against each other with rankings and our only hope of survival is to adapt a win at all costs mentality, regardless of our mental or physical health. And because of this, it doesn’t matter if we don’t understand the concept or theory that we’re being taught. Our system of standardised testing means students are regurgitating essays and facts, spewing them onto the page into the time allotted and hoping they’ll be able to scrape together more marks than the person sitting next to them.
3. One size doesn’t fit all
Our educational model takes a one size fits all approach and, ultimately, kids are all taught the same things, the same way, regardless of their abilities. At the end of the year, they’re expected to have reached the same milestones and chart the same progression, even if they don’t have the opportunity or ability to reach it. But with so much diversity amongst students, it doesn’t make sense to expect everyone to reach the same goals at the same time. Especially when you factor in aspects like socioeconomic status it’s obvious that not everyone is on an equal playing field. In pre-school and primary school teachers are given more opportunities to tailor relevant and effective teaching plans for their students, but by the time high school rolls around it becomes increasingly hard for teachers to spare the time and resources (thanks to the top down pressure they’re dealing with) to establish holistic and individualised learning plans that could boost student engagement and enjoyment.
4. Our view of success is too narrow
We define success as the kids that do well on their exams, who get high percentages and ticks on top of all their work. With such a narrow view of success, the vast majority of kids that are filled to the brim with intelligence and creativity are written off because they can’t translate their abilities into acing a two hour exam. There is no room to appreciate anything outside the academic sphere or the talents that don’t equate to a number on a scale. We need to recognise that success doesn’t always mean getting a crazy high ATAR or an offer into a prestigious uni, and we shouldn’t restrict ourselves in defining who and what is successful by such confining standards.
5. The system values a number more than learning
You spend your final years of high school fighting tooth and nail for the holy ATAR. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you your ATAR doesn’t mean anything, because for the past 13 years you’ve been taught that your worth is defined by the final number you’re working towards. We’ve reduced our school experience to a quest for the highest number, the best score or the top ranking spot and in the process we’ve lost our chance at curious and inspiring learning. The talks and the seminars when we hit Year 12 don’t help us relax about our final year, because we’ve already internalised how important it is thanks to years of going through the system. We need to adopt a new approach, right at the beginning of kindy, so that kids know that knowledge is what’s important, and not the arbitrary number when get lumped with when we finally leave.