Why our education system needs to carry a health warning

In a book we published last year, we argued that one of the main purposes of education should be to instil in students a love of learning. Only by stimulating such curiosity and energising students to learn, can we start to move towards giving everyone the desire and motivation for lifelong learning – an essential part of being employable and productive in rapidly changing economies.

We also argued that our education system was failing dramatically in this regard. As Zoe Williams put it in the Guardian, educational establishments are being turned into joyless exam factories.

Now we have yet more evidence of this mounting failure: a trebling of the number of university students suffering mental health problems – mainly driven by anxiety. A shocking rise of 210 per cent since 2009-10 in the number of students dropping out of university due to mental health problems.

Yet all we get in response are calls for more counsellors, more funding for mental health:

“The figures have prompted charities, counsellors and health experts to urge higher education institutions to ensure the right support is in place.”

While support is, of course to be welcomed, this response shows a head-in-the-sand approach that fails to tackle the root cause. And that is the sausage-factory approach to education and the obsessive focus on exam results with students whipped (metaphorically, at least so far) into a frenzy of competing with themselves to meet inane targets that will enable universities to get more funding.

It is time that we moved away from this unproductive approach to education. It does not serve the needs of a 21st century society nor a 21st century economy. It kills any form of creativity and makes education an almost unbearable hardship rather than a joy for students.

In our book, we put forward suggestions as to how this violation of students’ lives can start to be corrected. I don’t have much hope that we will be moving in that direction any time soon. Until then, all educational establishments should be mandated to have a large sign above their portals: “Entering this establishment will likely be harmful to your health”.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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