It’s very saddening to read of yet another report about the pressures of our exam system pushing children to depression, self harm and thoughts of suicide.
Professor Merryn Hutchings from the London Metropolitan University says that pupils are becoming anxious, stressed and disaffected because of the intensity of the academic structure forced upon them. And incidences of self harm, even in quite young children, are increasing according to some teachers.
Many professionals agree that the prescriptive and exam factory approach to children’s learning has led to a narrowing of their education rather than a broadening of it, and this has arisen because of curricula and outcome restraints.
Children’s learning has been squeezed to fit into a narrow band of expected outcomes putting pressure on both pupils and teachers to achieve them. Thus education, which should be a broadening experience, is being pared down to a dictatorial and restrictive practise that is causing pupils and staff much stress.
It is the rigidity of this test and exam orientated approach which many parents want to move away from when they home educate. And they do so successfully without that kind of intense curriculum pressure, without the prescriptive, tested-to-death, learning structure, and without making children ill for an education.
Learning can be approached in a far more unstructured way, (see this article) particularly in the early part of children’s school lives, and based on a more project orientated approach that arises from the interests and activities of the children, as they hope to do Finland (a recent post on that here)
Youngsters need far more skills than those just required to pass exams and reach targets as they are primed for in schools. They need the skills for learning itself; the desire to learn, an ability to research independently, the motivation to better themselves and why it is of benefit to them, the skills for independence living and earning.
They acquire these through education being a positive and enlightening experience which they want to remain engaged with and take on for themselves, from having some charge over their education, from it being a shared and encouraging partnership with others.
It is hard for that to happen within an enforced authoritarian regime and endurance test in dumb obedience, as the system has become, with outcomes far more important to the politics than the child.
There seems to be an increase in reports like this one which outline the adverse effects that the educational system is having on children – and staff. But sadly politicians, many of whom have no experience in the educational field, are unable to find successful solutions. More intense structure is not the answer.
So it’s probably likely that more and more families will turn away from systemised schooling towards an educational experience that succeeds without it, like home education, for with the support the Net offers this option is increasingly feasible.