Comment Writer Natalia Carter conducts a survey to determine whether sex education in the UK is satisfactoryWritten by Natalia Carter on 23rd March 2018
Education and the Illusion of Success
Comment Writer Jadzia Samuel criticises the education system’s preoccupation with image in favour of quality
For as long as human beings have existed in sentient societies, we have always been competing with each other for the most fashionable animal skin loincloth, or the most extravagantly decorated dining room, just to give off a good image, and we all know that this image we project to the world is only a façade that we create.
The performative nature of our personal daily lives is so much a part of reality that it almost transcends the point of relevant discussion. However, when this fixation on image translates itself into other aspects of society it becomes slightly more problematic. This incessant need for the illusion of perfection has seeped into our culture to such an extent that it even infects our education system.
“While I am proud of my results on paper, if you tried to test me on the most basic concept in Hook’s law a week after my exam I wouldn’t be able to answer
How many people remember secondary school as a time of educational exploration; when teachers were eager to delve into the aspects of their subject which students found most stimulating, and limitless knowledge was at your fingertips simply for the joy of learning? I’ll wager nobody. Personally, when I recollect my experience in the education system, the phrase ‘exam factory’ is the first thing to spring to mind. Do I remember anything from the Physics I studied for five years? Of course not; I remember spending two months cramming facts into my head before my exam.
While I am proud of my results on paper, if you tried to test me on the most basic concept in Hook’s law a week after my exam I wouldn’t be able to answer. The reality is, schooling is about generating exam results in order to project the appearance of having learnt something, without actually knowing anything. The illusion of success is more important than the actual success itself. Both my parents are teachers and they describe the constant pressure they are under to achieve the best possible GCSE results, to have the most impressive statistics of student progress. For my Dad, even his bonuses now depend on the results his students get at the end of the year. Many institutions underestimate students’ predicted grades just so that the progression statistics appear more impressive. What schools want is to be able to present a sheet of paper filled with numbers to “prove” that they are the best school in the country. Instead of being institutions of learning and development, schools are becoming politically-charged businesses, intent on creating a hegemonic illusion of student productivity.
“Many institutions underestimate students’ predicted grades just so that the progression statistics appear more impressive
This capitalistic obsession with productivity, or rather the appearance of it, moves up the education system into universities too. Every university you look around in Year 12 will claim to be superior to all the others, and will probably bombard you with some statistic to back it up too – each place will find a different figure from a different study which manipulates the data in such a way as to confirm that their university is in fact the best for employment/research/student experience/insert buzzword here. At the University of Birmingham, we too love to perform this ‘perfect university’ – any criticism of the system is shushed, because heaven forbid that students find fault in this educational utopia.
Additionally, both the newly-built library and gym were designed to look impressive, yet neither actually cater to the students’ needs. This new Green Heart will, I’m sure, be very aesthetically pleasing once it is finished, and will boost our statistics about being “the greenest university”, but ask any student whether they’d prefer more seats in the library or a jazzed-up garden and I’m sure you can guess what their answer would be.
“This capitalistic obsession with productivity, or rather the appearance of it, moves up the education system into universities too
My point is: schools, universities, and colleges are being sucked into this venture for exterior perfection, and the illusion of extreme productivity, while neglecting to address the internal issues (such as available study space) which might be more relevant to the students, but are irrelevant to the statistics. Instead of working from the inside out, in order to create genuinely productive and successful members of society, the education system simply teaches students how to best convince the world of our intellect, without actually having anything of substance to offer.