I still have a friend from school. We met when we were eleven at an all-girls grammar school, run by a Catholic nun.
Recently, some thirty five years later, my friend and I reminisced about school days and talked about the other girls in our class. We also rehashed a conversation we have every five years or so – what had attending school for all those years given us?
The class consisted of thirty girls, half of which formed into a sort of sub-culture group. This group, of which I hovered around the periphery, were the ‘live-wires’ – rebellious and loud with a distain for the authoritative figures within the school. Most had disengaged from all but a couple of the lessons and got through the day with a sense of ‘togetherness’ and humour.
These were bright girls, they had passed the 11+ and gained a place at a grammar school. They were quick-thinking and possessed an acerbic wit that left teachers speechless. The track that was meticulously laid down – O-levels, A-Levels, university, career – was rejected by that particular group of grammar girls, they derailed and went off in different directions.
It didn’t feel like failure, maybe from the schools perspective, but not from ours. We were all in the same boat, glad to get through a few exams and get on with life. As with newly released prisoners, we took some time to review the landscape and when we were ready, some would enter the world of learning again, some would travel, or move to different countries, some would set up small business’ or enroll in apprenticeship programs. Something about the rebellious experience had left us resourceful, we were confident, adaptive and ready to take on life.
Contrasting that experience with the rail-stayers, who embarked on a journey with a non-tranferable ticket to a destination containing the much valued degree. Thirty years ago (unlike today) a degree in anything was a certainty to employment. However, when talking to people who attained the degree and secured the great job, varying stories emerge. Some are happy with the way things worked out, but many feel that they were on a runaway train, having to make decisions that would last the rest of their lives. They found themselves in a profession they didn’t feel any passion for, didn’t feel connected to, but with little confidence to make a change and throw away the investment they had made.
It seems strange that the same track is laid down in most schools today – exams at 16 and 18, university then a career. For most schools that is still the only option which is seen as successful, and kids who derail, fail. Of course there are the vocational colleges but this seems like a second option for school-leavers, if they haven’t been able to apply themselves academically.
Though the transition has been painfully slow, with virtually no change in education in the past fifty years, there are beacons of light beginning to shine. My hope for this blog is to explore those shiny new initiatives in education, and to explore the question – what are we supposed to get from our education anyway?