Opinion

Time is money – was your school worth it?

So, you’ve done it. Made it through secondary school, those seven years of homework and exam preparation flying past, you’ve sat those end of school assessments, made the grade and now you’re attending the University of Oxford. Congratulations. But now what?

Whether you’re studying Maths, History, Science, it doesn’t really matter. School has turned you into an ideal worker. You’ll fit right in to current society.

Don’t be late. Hand in your work to a given standard. Enjoy your set hours. Work well with others but rarely actually work as a team to combine strengths. You want time off? You’ll have to let someone know in advance. Even then, you can only have a set amount of time and you’ll be back soon. Because you need the money.

As I write this article at 3:30am in a dimly lit London A&E department, volunteering on a night shift, it feels so different from this time last year, when I was being thrown out of a closing Oxford nightclub. COVID has turned everyone’s life upside down, though some are more harshly affected than others. Being at home away from university life and stuck in a series of never-ending lockdowns has been a challenging experience (or to use the now cliche term ‘an unprecedented time’) but this has given us time for important self-reflection. What exactly is it we want to do in life after university?

Perhaps you have a powerful calling to a set profession and are reading up on how best to prepare. Maybe you have already got an internship secured (that wasn’t cancelled last minute due to COVID) that will lead you to a job in your dream sector. Or perhaps you have just started thinking about your future and have no idea. Regardless, there will be aspects of your future life you dread. Taxes. Responsibility. Being able to get a mortgage on a property in a location you want. Making choices you regret. 

Unfortunately, the one area where school really fails us is how to live in the real world. The Oxford bubble is even worse in being so far, far apart from the people struggling to make ends meet, in the many impoverished areas of the UK, let alone whole countries in the world. Education is all well and good for obtaining qualifications, but job security is a relic of the past. Nothing has proved this more than the pandemic, and the staff forced onto ‘fire & rehire’ contracts, put on furlough struggling to find employment, who are barely able to afford to maintain their previous lifestyles.

When a Ladbible article is gleefully reporting on a 26 year old plumber who turned to selling dental products in the pandemic and made a small million in monthly profits, or Bloomberg is celebrating that the world’s newest youngest billionaire is a 25 year old who dropped out of college, surely this is the time to reflect: what was the point of school?

Did we waste our time learning about circle theorems? When has regurgitating phrases from a Dickens book been useful? Why do we barely learn about financial literacy and let the whole LGBTQ community have but a fleeting mention in a single PSHE lesson? Did you even know the self-assessment tax return deadline is now the 28th of February after the Government has extended the deadline due to the pandemic?

And that’s before we examine the mess of the constantly changing examinations system and how its inherent flaws and perceived importance in later life by students have been pulled apart by Gavin William’s last-minute alterations.

There are simply too many questions as to why the UK education system is built the way it is with such a random correlation between apparent academic performance and ability to thrive in the real world. Looking back, what have you forgotten from school, and even in Oxford, which you know you will never need to know again? What could you have learned instead? 

It is too late to change how poorly the education system has prepared us, and the fact that we have to educate ourselves on the topics we want to know. Still, it will be a real shame if we do nothing to stop the next cohort of budding youngsters (and our younger siblings and future children), from being dealt the same cards.

How would we go about some kind of reform? Changing the education system is a huge task and one that will require political input, money and probably years of debate. However, one simple way is to inform young people, NOW, that school is not the be all and end all; few people enjoyed all aspects of it and fewer still will use everything they have learned in life after school. If schools aren’t going to mention certain topics, then we will have to learn about them elsewhere. And no, that doesn’t just mean a daily lesson on Duolingo.

For example, a quick Google brought up the following resources on the topics listed below, which are barely mentioned at school or university:

Even the brightest students are going to find life a struggle at some point if they limit their learning to what is on the curriculum. This is almost guaranteed if they turn to entrepreneurship, which comes with its own difficulties and risks but can reap greater long-term rewards. If the curriculum won’t change and schools continue to fail in preparing us for the real world, then it is in our hands what we choose to do about it.

Read more about the topic of UK Education Reform and the failings of the current UK school curriculum in JP Ay’s book ‘What’s the Point of School’ available here on Amazon: