Today I find myself writing about stress and tragedy in the UK education system. It’s not a cheerful subject, and I was prompted to think about it when I saw these two headlines BBC Education website.
The first was ‘Stressed teachers being ‘reduced to tears’.
The second was ‘Rising numbers of stressed students seek help.’
I have personal experience of both problems, unfortunately.
A few years ago, when I was teaching, I experienced extreme anxiety when faced with a very difficult class in an inner city school in Luton.
I managed to find some strategies to turn the class around and ended up having a very close relationship with them and enjoying my experience of teaching them.
However, before that, I remember feeling like giving up never seeing them again or, stepping foot in that school again.
Relating to the subject of mental illness in students and stress in higher education I will sadly relate the story of my youngest daughter who is now in her third year at a UK university studying Sociology.
In her first year, she was having a little get-together with five or six other students high up in an apartment building on the campus. They were all in the kitchen of a student’s flat preparing something to eat left one of the boys alone in the sitting room. She said she went back into the sitting room, but he wasn’t there.
She looked around the room but couldn’t see anybody but noticed the window was open. She looked in the hallway but nobody was there and with a growing sense of trepidation went to look out of the window.
When she looked down, she saw his body on the ground below.
It was a desperately sad incident for the whole University, and everyone involved including the family of the dead boy, of course. To this day in nobody knows what happened but all the students present were traumatised and depressed for a long period. Some of them dropped out of their course, and some took time out.
I’m sure nobody will ever forget it, and I just mentioned this in case anybody thinks the stories are exaggerated.
I’ve written a long and often about education reform and the indications that our education system is not working.
However, when I saw these two headlines this morning, I was prompted to write something relating to my experiences and those of my daughter.
It is depressing that some teachers and students feel this way when we all know how good learning is when it goes well.
Apart from the statistics that exist about stressed teachers and students it is impossible to measure the damaging effect of these bad learning experiences upon the futures of teachers, students and ultimately, all of society.
We know that the world needs millions more teachers in the very near future, and we also know that many teachers are leaving the profession for reasons that are largely not measured or specified.
More importantly we have no figures for the damage that this is doing to our society in general.
If only we could turn this around and make the experience of teaching and learning the exciting and pleasurable things it should be. We have Sir Anthony Selsdon, the former headmaster of Wellington School, commenting that the Chinese should change their systems and do away with ‘rote’ learning. He goes on to say that our system is preferable to their’s
But is he right, is ours that much better?
We have a system that is clearly not working and which is damaging people teachers and students. Furthermore when you talk to employers, the output that they are receiving from the education system is not as it should be, and we have millions of graduate students unemployed, or underemployed in jobs that they shouldn’t be doing.
Employers are crying out that in the current buoyant UK economic conditions they have jobs available and cannot find people with the right skills to fill the vacancies?
Against this background, all that the government does is to pay lip service to supporting teachers, while dumbing the system down to improve the statistics on a false basis to make everybody think that it’s okay.
If you have any friends who are teachers, talk to them about what’s happening and make up your minds up. Talk to your children about how they feel about their school they will be happy to tell you.
Sir Anthony, much as I respect your achievements and your consideration of the problems in education, should we not look to our system before we criticise other people’s?
The frightening thing is that it is not just the UK that is suffering these problems, they are global. From the USA to Saudi Arabia and from the UK to Greece the problems are very similar. It is only in Asia where are the culture is different that we have students achieving great results but at the cost of their independence and ability to think creatively.
Inevitably things will change, particularly with the disintermediation of the Internet and the fact that education is now a worldwide market. The intervention of bodies outside the official education system will force it as the law of supply and demand inevitably takes its effect on a failing system. If the education system does not change fast enough, it will be found to be increasingly irrelevant which would be very sad.
However, if things could change faster to include all those millions of teachers and well-intentioned education managers, we would all be much better off.
Unfortunately, the current indications would seem to say this may not happen?