I loved school, because I was good at it. And I don’t just mean assignments and exams, I mean I knew the system and worked it. Where I live, at the age of 17-18, we complete the Victorian Certificate of Education, which is essentially the qualifying requirement to attend a tertiary institute. In my personal, educated opinion, the VCE is 85% academic achievement and 15% playing the game. You could be the most intelligent person on the planet, or have a wealth of knowledge about the Russian Revolution that would rival Lenin himself, but if you don’t know how to answer the question as per the system, you have no hope. There are two fundamental issues with the education system; the belief or practise that one style of intelligent is correct, and the moulding of students to fit one life path.
And that is why I believe, our education system sets us up for failure.
Recently my younger brother left high school without finishing his VCE. Initially, I was incredibly wary. All I have known is education. Primary school to high school to university, so naturally, his decision to veer off the course I knew as ‘right’ was a shock to the system. We had all heard of high school drop outs, who work in fast food until they are 25, who maybe started a TAFE diploma but couldn’t hash it. We sneered at them, knowing we were on a better track. But instead of sneering at them, I now feel sorry for them. Because our education system did not give them the opportunities they needed to fulfil their potential, simply because they could not structure an appropriate answer.
My brother is quite the contrary to these people. He left school to pursue alternative means of education that high school could not provide for him. Seeing him succeed in chasing his field of choice, without attaining a VCE certificate is both admirable and thought-shifting. He has in fact changed my view point on the whole education system. It was not working for him, and he took matters into his own hands and changed it.
The sad truth is, however, that thousands of kids out there are in the same position he was, but don’t have the knowledge, opportunity, or for want for a better word, guts to change their situation. And that is not an insult, as I can imagine it is a truly terrifying experience. Think about the thing you are most passionate about; you know it inside and out, you could talk to anyone about it for hours. But the way you talk about it doesn’t meet some prearranged structural outline. So therefore, it is wrong. Now imagine you’re a 17 year old, who is told repeatedly that they are not smart enough, maybe indirectly, but still persistently. They will start to believe it. They will start to believe that they are not cut out for school, for education. And the terrifying reality is that many spiral off of a path they could have succeeded in if they had had the right support, for them.
Despite providing alternative subjects at school for those who do not wish to take the academic route, I still believe there needs to be more done as these classes are still subjected to the same scrutiny and marking requirements as the academic ones, and are scaled accordingly. How is it fair that an artist performs outstandingly in an art class, but their mark is scaled down against a biology students mark because it is not ‘as hard.’ How does that allow students to feel that what they do is valued? High school creates a world of pressure about how you should live your life, and when you need to achieve certain goals by. It propels you into a methodical linear model in which school must be finished by 18, university by 21, this by then and that by then. I was cannon-balled into this life, convinced that if I wasn’t doing exactly what was laid out for me, exactly when it was, I was failing. I went to university straight out of high school and studied a course I didn’t even want to do simply because I felt I HAD to do something. Because doing nothing was wrong.
This attitude ultimately led to self-destruction and a realm of negative thinking which caused me to drop out. Leading to an extended sense of failure and more questions than answers. Why did I have to know what I wanted to do at such a young age? Why were these milestones set out for me and why did they have to be knocked off like pigeons on a shooting range?
It has now been 4 years since I left high school, and I have still not answered these questions. But what I do know is that it’s okay to NOT know. I still don’t know where I want to be in 10 years time, but I’m on a track that makes me happy and wherever I go, I’ll know it’s because I allowed myself the time to figure out what I wanted. Not because, I followed someone else’s opinion on what I should do with my life. I have my own milestones set out now, but it is not the be all and end all if I don’t reach them in order, or in time.
I was set up for failure, and true to my path, I followed through with that failure. But it has taught me more lessons than a classroom ever could. I still love school, and I still love education in every single form it comes in. It is the most powerful weapon we as humans have. But I do believe this is one weapon where it cannot be used incorrectly. Every single soul that enters the education system has a different path and very different needs. The one path attitude of high school-university-job is of the past and we need to take the pressure off of students who do not fit this path, and guide them into the correct one for them.