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What are we really learning for?

  • Published at 06:24 pm July 26th, 2018
Report cards aren’t reflections of our identities
Report cards aren’t reflections of our identities Photo: BIGSTOCK

We are turning a blind eye to individuality

More than anything, grade school has given me an identity crisis. 

Throughout grade school, I received “outstanding grades” (I still don’t know what that phrase means -- am I smart? Or am I exceptionally good at adapting to the system?), but it never occurred to me that these numbers would later come back to haunt me. 

Every time I perform poorly on a test now, I’m angry, torn between “I did all the past papers, everything I could have done! Is there something wrong with me?” and “Why do these numbers suddenly matter so much?” 

It’s almost like my brain subconsciously rejects the idea of not being perfect every single time. 

However, over time, I decided to turn to the education system to look for answers to the question I kept asking myself: What am I really learning for? 

Learning everything means nothing 

Although I am extremely grateful for the education I’ve received, during my last year, I can’t help but question what I’ve really been learning in school. 

Of course, I can’t question the large abundance of international schools which “encourage creative thinking and innovation” since they’re set up to produce all-rounded children and send them off to the “best colleges,” thus I can’t question my own school.

My school did this by emphasizing standardized testing and arbitrary discipline, for example, if your hair is not in two braids, and you’re not clean shaven every single day of your high school life, you will never get anywhere in life. 

I can vouch for this -- I never shaved, and am currently unemployed. 

But I must say, my school taught me something I’ll never forget, the importance of a piece of printed paper -- it can predetermine my numerical worth for an entire semester, and carve out my life for me. 

This, naturally, didn’t overwhelm me, but reignited the passion of learning in me.

As I grew older and entered high school, the classes that I always looked forward to turned dreadful -- my curiosity is now seen as a childlike phenomenon, and if I want to be successful, I need to be more “realistic” and stick my nose in my textbook. 

In 2018, being a high school student means being constantly reminded that everything you’re doing is never enough, you can never make mistakes, teenage stress is a joke, and you’re probably wrong. 

Eventually, I realized something -- for the most part, the education I’ve received so far has focused on employing disorganized schemes in attempt to “prepare” me for the 9-to-5 desk jobs I must land by the time I’m in my early 20s. 

I don’t know how taxes work, never received sex or mental health education, don’t know how to cook, but I know every single step of photosynthesis in detail, so I’m good.

The irony epiphany 

In my physics class, my teacher would write a list of objectives for the day -- topics we had to perfect by the end of our 80 minute class. One day, I sat staring at the objectives, and the absurd irony of the situation hit me. 

In 80 minutes, we had to “understand” several difficult topics, practice questions on them, and fill a feedback form on how much we understood -- all only for the purpose of writing a test on it the week after. 

Since you’re reading this right now, you know I obviously didn’t understand too much. To me, all the test did was measure my ability to absorb information at a high speed regardless of whether I completely understood it or not, and regurgitate it onto the paper in front of me. 

After that day, I finally found an answer to that question: What am I really learning for?

To pass a test. Nothing more, nothing less. 

One of the many problems with the education system in most of the world today lies in the notion of a “whole education.” Not every student can excel at academics, sports, art, linguistics, etc and have “model” behaviour. 

By accepting the idea of institutions that produce these “ideal” students, we’re only turning a blind eye to individuality. 

This is not to say that you must revolt against your teachers and throw away your textbooks -- no, I’m just saying, don’t simmer yourself down to a number. 

If you’re paying for an expensive education, you should use all the resources you receive to pursue your interests. Just remember, your report card is not a reflection of your intellect or ability. 

Annie Vaka is a freelance contributor.