In school, we are often taught material for its general principle, rather than for its specific entailment. For example, my class was assigned to study The Great Gatsby this year. Someone asked “Why do I need to know about it?”. I can understand the means behind this outrage; nobody will need to know the specifics of Gatsby to get into university (even to study English there) or to get a fantastic job in, say, construction. However, broader skills such as writing, analysis and creativity are all involved within this one study of literature, concepts which can be applied to almost every aspect of life. Correlating to this is the classic complaint, one which I gladly recited during Year 11 Maths: How will learning algebra get me a job? When will I ever use it again? Why must I learn this? I certainly wasn’t the only student with this ideology. So why did I learn it? There is actually a very simple explanation. NCEA (and possibly other education systems in New Zealand in which I do not partake) cannot tailor their offerings to every student. No matter how strategically you select your subjects, you will always be learning at least a few things which might not relate perfectly to your target career. However, within everything you do, there will always be at least one skill you can pick up or expand on. Within every algebra equation, there is something to gain. Perhaps it’s perseverance in a time of frustration. Maybe it’s the actual formula to solve it. Possibly the equation gives you an opportunity to practice penning the most beautiful ‘x’ and ‘y’ in your handwriting. No matter how ridiculous the things you are taught may seem, the best thing you can do is to take something positive from it. Try your best, and your knowledge and experience will grow. The worst thing you can do is ignorantly refuse to do the work because you, in your singular perspective, believe it is pointless.
Of all the life lessons school teaches, two of the most important come to mind. The first: Teamwork. It’s a concept you should probably include in your CV because virtually every job requires it. If you think about it, school is incredibly people-orientated. Whether you effortlessly bloom into a social butterfly or are a tad introverted (like me), you are forced to communicate – everyone is constantly surrounded by human life, morning to afternoon. Something positive comes out of cramming youth into school grounds – it’s that we all learn to interact with and tolerate each other. Well, mostly. You will learn to understand, quickly, the type of people you like and dislike. Among toleration comes patience: another vital life skill. You will need both in your career, unless you plan to embody the hermit crab for a long, long time.
The second is time management. Where would you have learned it if it weren’t for school? There’s nothing quite like juggling five internals, a part-time job, a social life, hobbies, and a healthy sleep pattern… simultaneously. Learning how to manage your time is imperative because otherwise, you will procrastinate until the cows come home, and get not a single thing done. Nobody wants to hire someone who cannot complete anything on time, which is why strict deadlines are possibly the best thing that school can enforce. They are a great catalyst for time management. I have learned to fear deadlines, which is spectacular because that means everything gets handed in on time. If not fear, having a sense of urgency when it comes to meeting deadlines can get you a long way, and prevent you from wasting much of your time.
As a student, I could not discuss school without highlighting a negative. During your education, you will learn how to retain and regurgitate information and then lose it immediately. This is the classic exam experience. Just a few months ago, I could have given you an extremely detailed description of the structure, function, and location of the chloroplast. Now, it’s a foggy memory. You will lose little bits of information like this, but you’ll never forget how you learned it in the first place. This is where the negative becomes a positive. I won’t be forgetting the writing, memory and patience skill within me it took to write that hefty paragraph in the Biology exam any time soon. The general principle of a task like this remains with you forever, because it is a life skill. Learning how to intake information and then to regurgitate it is not incredibly useful if you need to know specifics in the long-term, but that’s where further education comes in! You shouldn’t expect school to teach you absolutely everything, because that would be physically and theoretically impossible.
People lap up complaints about the school system because they want their own distaste towards it to be justified. Hardly anybody talks about how beneficial it is anymore because they’re all caught up in the stress or the tediousness of it all. Us teenagers find it easier to hate instead of appreciate. I think we need to give school a little more slack. We expect too much, without understanding what we already have. Yes, you won’t learn some specific skills, and you will learn some things which you struggle to see the relevance of, but it would be impossible for every student to have a perfect education experience. Your base-level, foundational education is there to give you the core skills to be a valued member of society, skills which can be applied to nearly everything. You can always re-learn material and expand on a topic which you are passionate about in further study. I have only touched on a few skills you have or will pick up during school. In order to understand or appreciate your education, you must learn that in little tasks like solving an equation or writing an essay, you are learning much more than first meets the eye.
Sarah is a Year 13 student who loves writing and the subject of English. She intends on one day becoming an Editor or a Technical Writer.