Down with Skool! (Geoffrey Willans)

Initially, my reaction to the recent student protests in schools was that they were taking the P—. However, I retracted my comment after realising it was an inappropriate pun. 

These protests have centred around such issues as toilet breaks and school uniforms; there’s nothing new here. As someone who once owned a school uniform shop, I recall that many parents and school leaders wanted skirts that couldn’t be temporarily shortened by rolling. But mothers, even grandmothers and teachers, admitted to doing exactly the same in the past.  Nevertheless, disciplinary measures such as banning toilet breaks are most likely the result of a few disruptive individuals, causing the majority to suffer.

It’s possible that some Year 10 and Year 11 students are uninterested in an academic education, further compounded by the pandemic lockdowns, leading to boredom. As protagonists of rebellion, they lead their peers. In the USA, students of this age (15-16) are called sophomores (sophos: wise, mores: foolish) ie those who have knowledge to argue a point, but not enough to understand the bigger picture.

So, what’s different this time around? Students are much more aware of protests happening globally and in real time, such as public worker and rail strikes, and movements like Extinction Rebellion. Widespread social media and mobile phones enable students globally and instantly to transmit video information, providing a news dissemination platform for protest.

To improve the situation, it’s crucial to formalise from an early age the development of core life skills, such as: resilience, self-awareness, social relationships, communication challenges, and goal achievement. These skills should be taught in a way that is not academically tested, allowing students to break from other curriculum work. A programme of core life skills taught in a discussive, subjective, and non-judgmental manner would empower students positively and benefit the whole school. Reducing class disruption, increasing student focus, improving academic performance, and reducing teacher stress could be excellent, measurable goals readily achievable by such a programme.

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