Let’s talk about school. The formative years. ‘The most important years of your life yet easiest years of your life.’ I’m not the only one who rolled my eyes at that right?
It begins in early childhood and seems to quickly devolve into some sort of bizarre competition of whose child is better, more advanced. Parents are then offered the options of selling their soul for tuition to a private school, or, to in some circles, have their child’s education be considered lesser.
Pressure rolls downhill
Parents want the best for their kid, to be able to offer the best future they can, and that rolls onto teachers. Teachers, who are expected to singlehandedly wrangle classes of up to 30 kids while simultaneously offering the quality of education one would expect of a 1:1 ratio.
It’s no surprise then, when that pressure continues to roll, right on down to the students. Then we take into account the students who struggle. Whether it’s due to home life, learning difficulties, or students who just simply struggle with school as a whole. No one has the resources to fully accomodate this, so those students often fall through the cracks. And once a student starts slipping behind, it is very, very hard to catch back up.
There is this weird expectation put on high school, the idea that those 4 years will decide the rest of your life. Here is where you’ll start to hear the phrases I put at the start of the post. Don’t get me wrong, I am not disputing the value of a basic education, of course it’s necessary, but at 23 do you want to know how many people care about my high school education? Zero. I can practically hear some people currently screaming, ‘but what about higher education?!’ Which leads into my next point.
College. No sooner have you finished high school, you are probed by every adult around you to pin down your college courses. At the tender age of 16 you are expected to have a roadmap to follow for the rest of your life and to be studying something that will get you there. Hell it begins even before that, raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimised by a pathway planner asking you ‘What do you want to be?’ (No offence to pathway planners, I know you’re trying to help.) At 23 years old I’m still barely figuring out what I want to be. But off we dutifully trot to college for year 11 and 12, lest we be labelled a failure. We have now spent over a decade in schooling.
But the train doesn’t stop there. Oh no, now it’s all about ATARs because now you’re expected to have a uni course in mind! It is drilled into us that higher education is paramount, that it’s the only way to make something of yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire every single student who knows their purpose, who have locked eyes on their future and know exactly what they want. But can we stop pretending that this is every student? Can we stop assigning labels of failure or success to teenagers who are just figuring life out, based on a grade, or their foresight into careers? Can we instead start recognising the impact of this pressure that is placed on teenagers?
The stress, anxiety and expectations can be suffocating. The system fails those who don’t have a support system, or those who may have things happening in their lives that pushes school to the lowest priority. I wasn’t the best student in my class. I had no idea what I wanted to be. But that does not mean I was, or am, a failure.
One thing I have learnt from this? Those years don’t matter as much as people lead you to believe. If you have no idea what you want to be don’t stress. It’s ok. Life is a wild journey, it’s not static and you don’t have to have it all figured out.
Take it one step at a time and remember to enjoy yourself! Learn the lessons from each stage of your life and flow on to the rest. The idea that we all have it together and know exactly what we want is a lie. Don’t fall for it! You are valid and doing just fine, even if you don’t know what you want.