With the current round of Sats being taken by primary school children aged 5-12 around the UK, debate has been raging about methods of teaching our children, and of methods of assessing them. I should add, that the purpose of this piece is genuinely to ask questions, allow some debate, at the very least give the reader food for thought. The perception in the UK seems to be that the quality of education is declining here while countries such as Finland are being lauded for their results, which are achieved via a system that cherishes the free thinking of the children.......starting school later at age 7 than the UK, little or no homework given in early years and freedom to play for large chunks of the school day. This, so the argument goes, has been producing better educated, and happier, children by the end of secondary school.
Bearing this in mind, what is the effect of our schools, and our home environment, on the happiness of our children? In the "western world" rates of depression and anxiety have been increasing for the last 50+ years across all age ranges in virtually every community, and the growth is seen most in the young, especially teens. While we make progress in the world of medicine, technology and business, when it comes to mental health and happiness, things seem to be going backwards.
Why is this happening? Rates of anxiety and depression among children and adolescents were far lower during the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and the turbulent 1960s and early ‘70s than they are today. The changes seem to be more about the way young people view the world than the way the world actually is! Things are tough for many of us now, but compared to World War II.........?!
One important factor contributing to anxiety and depression is control, or lack of it, and we increasingly seem to feel that we have a lack of control in the modern world. While we have made great advancements in medicine to extend life expectancy, made great strides in limiting prejudice and increasing acceptance of gender, race, religion and sexual orientation, and increased the standard of living of the average person, somehow the belief that young people feel they have control of their own destinies has decreased.
This may be a consequence of where our personal ambition lies. I would guess that many of us target external goals rather than internal ones. Instead of focusing on one’s own development as a person, we are far more likely to strive for material rewards and acceptance via other people’s judgements. We are choosing high income, status and good looks over personal development and a meaningful philosophy of life………..that is all well and good, but we have far less control over these external goals than we do our internal personal ones, and thus far less control over our own emotional wellbeing.
There is clearly a cultural shift in mainstream society across the globe, fuelled predominantly by an ever growing and more powerful media, to focus on material rewards. However, there is a feeling amongst some that the education and upbringing of our children is also a major contributing factor…..which brings us back to the subject at the beginning of my piece, children’s education here in the UK.
The opportunity for “free play” has declined continuously throughout the last 50 years. A major cause of this has been the reluctance of parents to trust society with their children – “it’s not safe for our kids to play in the street like we used to” – and the education system has done little to encourage the independent thinking of students. This free play, is how children historically learn to solve problems, form relationships, develop their own interests, discover what makes them happy, and control their own lives…......….and perhaps internal focus rather than external.
While free play has declined over the years, school activities and extra-curricular activities has increased. Instead of free play, children are spending more and more time under direct adult supervision and control. Whether it’s school based or family related, our children are being deprived of the opportunity to learn how to take control of their lives. We may think we are protecting them from the big bad world but we are in fact diminishing their joy, their sense of control and their ability to discover and explore activities they may love.
Children today spend more time in school than ever before. More weight is given to tests and grades than ever. Outside of school, children spend more time than ever in settings in which they are directed, protected, catered to, ranked, judged, and rewarded by adults. In all of these settings adults are in control, not children.
In school what’s important is not the kids’ choice of activities or their judgement of competence, but the teachers and the administrators, and their choices. The goal is not competence it is good grades, so given a choice between really learning and understanding a subject or getting a Grade A, most students would opt for the latter. With our constant testing and evaluation becoming increasingly intense each year this merely encourages the substitution of external goals for internal ones.
Is there another way?.... ..can freedom, play, and self-directed exploration make a re-emergence in our modern society? Surely we don't need to drive kids crazy to educate them. Given freedom and opportunity, would young people happily educate themselves, and in the process develop internal values, personal self-control, and emotional wellbeing?
We are living in a world in which we are constantly bombarded with messages to strive for external rewards, we are creating anxious and depressive citizens in increasing numbers. Our children are surely going to perpetuate this spiral if they continue in the current climate. How can we stem the tide for our next generation? How can we hand control back to our children........of their actions, their thoughts, their emotions, their lives?
#sats #happiness # children #education #freeplay #anxiety #depression
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