A production line called ‘School’

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a parents evening at my eldest daughter’s school. The purpose of the evening was for the teachers and the Director to give an overview of what was the focus of this school year. This is her second year at high school and there are two more years to follow. I was told that this year is very important because depending on her performance it shapes which stream she will go into the following two years. The school Director gave a presentation that absolutely amazed me. Within the presentation there was the structure of the courses, the structured variation of the one exam that she will take, and then a list of all the jobs that she would be be qualified to do after leaving school. To be honest, I’m not sure why I was so amazed. The entire structure of the modern education system is premised upon a production line. By it’s very nature it tends to kill creativity and individualism. I don’t believe this was a conscious decision but it’s an output of having all these children conform to a certain structure, a certain flow and a certain outcome. Schools were actually created at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when there was a realisation that there was a requirement for educated people to work in factories and on production lines. They were taught certain specific skills, allowing them to become useful and productive within a factory environment. It is clear that fundamentally little has really changed. This is not strictly a criticism, because I am still really impressed by the breadth and choice of the subjects that my daughter can do which provides much greater intellectual stimulation than the dross that was served up at my school, purporting to be education.

Something that I do find a bit scary is the cultural imperative in Dutch schools to label everybody and put them in a box. The definition of this box is actually the exam that you passed at school. This does determine where you do end up in Dutch society. In my own experience, when I first arrived here and looked for jobs, one of the first questions was what exams did I pass at school. I quickly understood that it was very important to make this answer as confusing as possible. This of course made it nigh impossible for them to put me into a “job box”. This allowed for much more interesting conversations, albeit very confusing for the Dutch interviewer. However, what I have realised is that for the average Dutch person, breaking out of this set of labels and boxes is virtually impossible unless you then go on to do much more study, many more exams, and gain more qualifications, but ironically you just get transfered into a ‘higher educated’ box. The one way to beat the system is to leave the country, travel overseas and get a lot more experience by choosing varied jobs and gaining confidence in your own abilities to think and move outside of the box that defines you in Holland.

There are some very good videos by Sir Ken Robinson on Ted.com, who describes with considerable humour the waste of human capital because societies have failed to recognise the need to bring the education system into the 21st-century.


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