What I Hated about School/ University/ (please insert any educational institution here).

21 Mar

I’m just in a rambling sort of mood which has inspired me to write a rambling sort of piece on my experiences at school and university in England.

Apart from the standard and perfectly valid argument that textbooks can only teach you so much, I think the educational system can actually be damaging in the long term.  At primary school (so for those of you from the US, this is when you are 4 to 11 years old), I’d like to think I was a pretty good student, apart from random things you do as a child that seem inexplicable to the adult mind.  (Example: I used to hide bits of fruit my mum used to give me around the classroom and when my teacher tried to confront me with this, I would take some perverse pleasure in pretending to be offended at the mere accusation).  But the rigidities of the education system inevitably bind you down and for me, this was especially apparent during secondary school.  Box-ticking, ‘academic progress’ folders and mentors were the norm and this was when I really started to find myself hating – yes, hating – many teachers that didn’t seem to want to be there, lacked passion and empathy and basically just couldn’t give a toss.  At a time when you’re entering puberty and your hormones are flying around like crazy anyway, I remember being utterly disillusioned by school.  In particular, my disillusionment peaked at secondary school as this was the time I had that eye-opening realisation that just because someone is technically a ‘grown up’, this in no way means they know better than you or know what’s best for you.  From my experience, working in various schools around the world, I doubt you will ever come across as many sullen, broken and downright bitter teachers than at a UK secondary school.  Cue numerous incidents where I was chucked out of school and requests from teachers to speak with my mum about my behaviour.

In sixth form, unsure of what I wanted to do, school seems to tell you that the only way to succeed is to get into a ‘good’ university and pursue a ‘professional’ career.  This pressure was most likely compounded by the fact that I’m Asian and I’m sure you’re aware of all those annoying stereotypes out there about the Asian ideal of success.  So – there I was, generally confused but apparently certain that I wanted to get into Cambridge or some other prestigious university.  I remember asking my English teacher if she could look over my personal statement and she laughed at me, saying that that would be the last thing she would do.  I physically recoiled at her response and sarcastically answered back through gritted teeth, seething with anger.  This was the general attitude among teachers at my school.  Do what’s expected of you, begrudgingly and for God’s sake, NOTHING MORE. I noticed the most ‘powerful’ teachers in the school were largely the most inept.  Nothing but bureaucratic paper-pushers.  One friend told me how in her sixth form A Level Maths class, her teacher, who was quite high up in the ranks, came in and tried to teach this bunch of 17 year olds how to add and subtract.  I know there is a case that when you reach a certain age, you need to embrace independent learning but there’s still a need for helpful guidance.  A lot of my friends and I had to use our initiative and keep ourselves motivated to work.  I was lucky in that my family have always valued education highly but if I had been less inclined, I am certain I would have come out of school with very few qualifications to speak of.

This lack of passion among teachers was also prevalent when I went to the LSE to complete my studies.  You are paying a ridiculous amount of money for a ‘name’, a status (which in retrospect, means nothing compared with your wellbeing) and those who are struggling are often left to fall by the wayside.  I understand that talents of bright students need to be nurtured but the general attitude at the university was to focus solely on this at the expense of everyone else.  Even my undergraduate tutor lacked any real passion to help the students.  On one occasion, I was called in to see her as I had been suffering bouts of depression and had missed a substantial number of classes.  In our meeting, I must have learnt more about her and how she had cheated on her ex husband in the past than she did about my mental well-being.  Only at the end of our speech, did she chuck me over a paper on ‘The Economics of Suicide’ which she said I would probably identify with.  It is this complete lack of empathy and genuine interpersonal skills that can make such institutions breeding grounds for mental health problems.

Regardless of, or perhaps because of, all of this, I believe it is of the utmost importance to educate yourself in life.  Although I hated most of my time in these places, there were positives, for example, I made some lifelong friends.  I can also honestly say that the most useful things I have learnt in life derived from the painful experiences in these places.  I reached some of my lowest points during my time at school and university and often felt very little support there when I needed it the most.  A lot of institutions view ‘learning’ very narrowly and do not realise the ill-informed and destructive beliefs they can instil in impressionable young people.  I spent most of my life thinking that academic achievement was all I could aspire to and being unable to match other people’s high test results was a testament to my weakness and failings.  The disillusionment I and many others experience when a teacher refuses to ‘go that extra mile’ made me resentful and bitter and I find it difficult to look back on my experiences with anything other than a sense of relief that it is all over.  This should not be what learning is all about.  It impedes the creative process and doesn’t engender a sense of self-acceptance and understanding within oneself.

As Einstein said, ‘Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned at school’ and I wholeheartedly agree.

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8 Responses to “What I Hated about School/ University/ (please insert any educational institution here).”

  1. Hansa Vagadiya (@HansaVagadiya) March 21, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

    This is a really great article! More young people really do need to understand that Academic education is not the be all end all to their successes in life. It is unfortunate that children have this ingrained in their minds from a young age.

    • jadeinlondon March 21, 2013 at 11:23 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, couldn’t agree more xx

  2. IQ Unlimited.org May 24, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    x2 on the great article, I would add I have learnt most from my mistakes post formal schooling. I now realise I learn in my own unique way, I think a lot of people are like this as well, to expect one method of teaching to work for a class of many seems odd to me.

    • jadeinlondon May 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

      Thanks for your lovely comment. Of course, everyone is different and so it makes sense that we all learn best differently although many people do not understand or, indeed, believe this!

  3. The Unique I June 13, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    This is a wonderful article! I completely agree that education is utmost important, but our system is a complete failure be it the UK or anywhere else. What really ticks me off though is the value of the piece of paper we get upon graduating is far more than what we’ve ever learnt. However, these degrees really don’t say much. And I’m glad I’m not the only one with such opinions 🙂

    • jadeinlondon June 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

      You’re definitely not the only one feeling this :)! It’s so ridiculous that a degree – in many cases, achieved by learning how to tactically ‘get by’ such a narrow,box-ticking system – is looked upon by many employers as the only indicator for someone’s intelligence. I am not saying that degrees are completely of no value but I totally agree with you that ‘the value of the piece of paper we get upon graduating is far more than what we’ve ever learnt’! Thanks for such a lovely and thoughtful comment Xx

  4. Denise August 31, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

    Hi,
    I’m sorry you had such an experience. I valued the good teachers I had who inspired me, and am grateful to the good teachers my children have (not all of them I must say.)

    It’s a shame, especially as you seem to have such a determined and focused personality – such as the way you are able to read about your craft of writing and apply it so well. I wish I had started to be so focused at a young age like you.

  5. jadeinlondon September 3, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Hi Denise, thanks a lot for your comment. Not all of my teachers were bad, some were simply average but I think to find passionate teachers that inspire you is unfortunately quite rare. I suppose many people go into teaching, not because they have some inherent urge to teach, but because it simply pays the bills. Or perhaps they go into teaching with the hope that they will inspire but are soon dispirited after a few years working in the UK education system!
    And I’m not that focused! I wish I were, it’s something I’m constantly aiming towards – hopefully it’s something I can get better at in time.
    Jade x

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