An ever-complicating system

Is increasing complexity in our education system harming our children?

An ever-complicating system

We are in an age where school children can set up their own businesses and make money.[1][2] Youngsters today know full well that there are more options when it comes to earning a living than the traditional route of going to university or getting an entry level job where you work your way up through the ranks. This is not to negate the traditional routes, and getting a university education will always be necessary for many professions.

However, with the ever-changing world of work, I would like to look at the recent changes in the UK education system where, in a nutshell, more complex content from higher up in the school system has been cascaded down to younger pupils, and some secondary school content is now being taught in primary schools.

One example that springs to mind is the teaching of ‘Moments’ to year 7 students, which formerly was only taught to year 11s doing triple science. For anyone who doesn’t know, ‘Moments’ are the name given to turning forces, and for a system to be in equilibrium with no external forces acting, the clockwise ‘Moments’ must be equal to the anticlockwise ‘Moments’. This relationship is also accompanied by an equation. As a Physics teacher, it’s easy enough for me to summarise; however, when the topic is only given 1 hour of teaching time on the curriculum and has to be delivered to 11-year-olds, it can be a recipe for confusion.

I have no doubt there are many youngsters who can learn more challenging content, however, who does this serve? In my experience as a secondary school teacher I have seen how adding more complex subjects means students don’t necessarily get the time to learn at a pace that enables deep understanding. The depth that enables the dots to get connected is skirted over and consequently I have found myself teaching things in isolation without the enrichment of the bigger picture.

A further complication is the new GCSE system which scrapped the old A*, A, B C, D, E, F grades etc., in favour of a numerical system from 1 up to 9. It has caused a lot of anxiety and confusion amongst students, teachers and parents alike. It seems things come full circle and get changed for the sake of change as there was a numerical system back in the 1970s that got scrapped. Recent changes to the UK education systems were designed to make the curriculum more robust and exams more difficult. But has this really served in improving the education of our children?

I wonder with this shift to delivering more complex content whether our young people are leaving school any better equipped than before the change? Does having to learn more complicated content mean they will be better employees who will have the ability to negotiate the ins and outs of relationships; not be afraid to ask for help; express when they have an idea to contribute; be a supportive team member; be committed, hardworking and diligent? What I see and hear from students every day is how anxious and overwhelmed they are, feeling not good enough because of the sheer volume of content they must learn, much of which may never come in useful.

There is a growing attitude of despondency across the board, which many of us teachers feel in schools, from the high achievers who really want to get the best grades, to those who already anticipate failure and feel there is no point because they have never managed to get to grips with performing in exams. Increasingly, I have observed a rise in students missing school for days, weeks and even months where stress and anxiety about performance in exams is the reason given for their absence.

Are we doing our young adults a grave disservice when they leave school feeling worn out, stressed out and not really ready for their next steps in life?

In a world where it was predicted our lives would get easier through technology, it seems we have become busier, sicker and more stressed than ever. Interestingly, at the time of writing this article we are in lockdown due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Students all around the world will not get to take their final exams. Will they be less equipped to deal with life than last year’s students? And if not, it calls into question whether our education system would benefit from some radical changes.

Maybe it’s time to restart with simplicity and do away with complexity.


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AnxietyTeachersTeenagers School

  • By Anonymous

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