Im writing this whilst looking at an 8 year old hunched over a screen. Shes eating into her daily allotted smartphone time, but I still feel uneasy. Ive read horror stories about the smartphones deleterious effects on mental health. It worries me. I also know Anthony Joshua would come off second best in a tussle over her smartphone (technically, its her mothers .but once she has her mitts on it .).
We recently ran a survey on Kloodle exploring young peoples perception of the effects their smartphone has on their mental health. I got into an interesting discussion with a young lady who made a valid point: people are quick to blame the smartphone for depression, anxiety and a whole raft of mental ailments, yet no-one looks at the continual pressure our academic system places on young people – forever comparing each to their peers, scaremongering about the hazardous effects failure could have??our education system seems to panic young people more than their Samsung.
Yet we continue to pile on the pressure. People are made to feel inadequate if they arent able to memorise vast tracts of material and regurgitate it in silence (i.e. an exam). We stifle skills and talents that reside in other areas in favour of the ability to revise like hell, follow instructions and hand work in on time.
But its for their own good I hear you say!
Id argue that the pressure for grades has more impact on a teacher than it does the student. You see, teachers are under pressure to get a class full of good results. Their career depends on it. Young people are passed this pressure on in the form of you need good grades to have a good career, so you better work hard.
There are various scores and systems developed to judge teachers by, yet teachers are ADULTS and PROFESSIONALS. Creating a national system to compare them against each other obliterates integrity. We train teachers to postgraduate level, yet treat them like the GCSE & A Level students theyre meant to mentor. We measure them, compare them, applaud them if they get a certain score and deride them if they dont. Its farcical.
We need to treat education as an ongoing journey and not a short trip to A star-dom. By measuring teachers based on their kids exam performance, we skip over the true essence of learning. We deform teaching into an activity of syllabus-covering, spoon-feeding and exam-peddling. This is wrong. We must grant teachers the autonomy and professional respect they deserve. Let local problems be solved locally??i.e. let each school, department and class have the power to solve their issues at a local level. If a cohort of students needs to spend more time going over hundreds, tens and units because they havent mastered it yet, why pressurise them into studying trigonometry because they must get through the syllabus? Switzerland has a lauded system of government revolved around municipalities. Each municipality is autonomous and solves their own problems on a local level. This results in much stronger performance. Our schools must be granted the same autonomy.
By pressuring teachers, were pressuring students, and in turn, creating mental health issues. We have a system that champions students with a certain- limited- skillset (read: memorisation, doing as told, regurgitating the right answer). Others without these skills experience diminished self-esteem and anxiety issues. We must build a system that allows teachers to TEACH; to spend time generating enthusiasm, building knowledge and celebrating the process of learning. Instead, were developing a cynical profession stifled by big government and arbitrary targets.
I bet if you quizzed 100 teachers why they entered the profession, the majority would say because they wanted to make a difference and help young people. We kick this out of them by pressuring them to meet targets. Young people feel this and can sense the disconnect. By creating happier mentors, well have happier young people. By empowering our teachers to spend the time to truly care for our young people instead of rendering them fearful of their career, well have a better society.
Education is a process. Learning should be celebrated daily and not only when you open a slip of paper on August. Each day is a chance to really develop and teach our young people. We miss this opportunity in favour of short-termism. Lets relieve the pressure on our school system by reducing the prominence of exams and increasing the focus on skill development.