I hold a rather conflicting view of my education. On one hand, it gave me some life-long friends, some great qualifications and a sense that I could go on to achieve great things (as long as I worked hard, of course). But on the flip side, it has left me frustrated and resentful.
Defined by our grades and sets, pigeon- holed as bad at maths and good at English, education has become a kind of identity mantra that remains within our sub-conscious for the rest of our lives. To reach that grade, that ideal, we constantly whip that stick. In the end, we expect too much from ourselves because our measure of our own success relies heavily on the concept of perfection, whatever that really is.
Having thought about this in quite some depth, it comes as no surprise to me then that many of my peers and I are facing what we like to term, “a mid-twenties crisis.” By this I mean we have no idea of what direction we should go in, we are not where we thought we would be and ultimately, we are having a severe identity crisis. And quite frankly, it’s scary.
Part of this crisis, I believe, partly stems from the sense of failure that we inevitably set ourselves up for; with high expectations knocked into us from an early age and a tougher, more ruthless and competitive job market, we were doomed to sink rather than swim. We are measured, tested and compared all the way through our life but as human beings we are drawn to focusing to much on the criticisms and not enough on the attributes and strengths that we have acquired.
I am not saying that I am unappreciative of the education I was given, nor am I saying that I have never experienced the feeling of success.
But what I am saying is that we need to re-think the structure of our education and to do that we need to think more holistically about the concept of success and what really motivates us as people.
Good grades does not equate to confidence for life. With such a high bar set from the outset, we expect so much from ourselves – I see this all the time, not least in myself. Believing in yourself shouldn’t come from the grades you get, whether you are further ahead of your friends, but rather it should come from within ourselves. It is time our society realised that in order to grow, there is much value in failure and going through a really rubbish time in order to develop as a person.
What does this mean in practice? Simply, that schools should concentrate on giving students real, life skills rather than being so exam-centric. After all, life is not an exam, it is complex beyond measure or grade. It is full of ebbs and flows, and it is how we deal with these that I suppose is the real test of our lives. And whilst I understand the rigidity of sets, grades and exams cannot be expelled completely, it is important to reinforce to our students that such identity boundaries can be challenged, contested and even broken in life.