The thing that came through strongest, though, was the sense of resilience. The media is quick to label us as a ‘lost generation’ so I think this is really important to mention. Shanique felt that Covid-19 has given us a chance to think bigger: “There’s nothing we can’t do. We just have to decide what we want and how to get there.” Calvin agreed: “Young people face so much anxiety, especially with exams. The pandemic has allowed us to reflect and voice our concerns.”
I couldn’t put it better! The pressures of education have always been there. But with exams cancelled and learning more flexible, we’re able to focus on what really matters.
So how should education change?
The discussion moved on to the purpose of education and what changes we’d like to see. Everyone agreed that the current obsession with grades is not sustainable. It fails to treat young people as individuals with unique strengths and dreams. Shanique explained how she’d struggled to find work, despite graduating with first-class honours (including a placement year). She’s now secured a job starting later in the year, but this highlights that good grades aren’t always enough.
Overall, we felt that the system needs a greater focus on practical and employability skills. Fatma, who advocates BTECs, said that secondary education hardly prepares us for the real world: “Education is meant to prepare young people for the future. But the current curriculum doesn’t even teach us how to do practical things like write a CV or get a mortgage.”
Calvin, an HND graduate and youth advisor to Schools of Tomorrow, agreed that education must focus more on personal interests. Euan, a degree apprentice at IBM, said that we should be prepared for any path: “This should be led by young people because we know what we need.”
Jaiden summed it up best: “This country has a success before survival approach to education. I was pushed to university, with little discussion about apprenticeships or BTECs. There was no choice. Young people should feel safe, valued and nurtured. We need to build a system that values empathy, wellbeing and agency.”
This consensus from those of us inside the system shows that it’s not currently working. Employers value skills over grades and we face huge challenges in the future. End rote learning! We need practical, skills-based education and more technical options!
What can youth activists do?
What role can youth activists play in changing things? Whether promoting apprenticeships, making the case for stripped-back curriculums, or getting rid of exams (we’ve shown we can!) everyone agreed that we must raise our voices. “It’s how movements are started,” Fatma said, “It has a ripple effect.” Jaiden, meanwhile, felt that we must activate other young people as changemakers, giving them the confidence to create the change they want to see. My thoughts exactly!
Shanique had an interesting point, though, which was that many education resources – like careers services – are currently underused. She was keen for young people to maximise the opportunities available to us. This is really empowering. Our discussion focused largely on shortcomings in the system, so it was nice to acknowledge that it’s not all bad! Perhaps we can do more to promote these kinds of opportunities.
Historically, young people have little say in shaping the policies that impact us. We’re told what, when and how to learn. It feels very passive. But the pandemic is changing that. Despite the challenges, we have a new opportunity to shape our own futures. Youth voice promotes that. To everyone who tuned in, I urge you to sustain the discussion online. The dialogue does not end here… it continues. Exactly as it should!
Aliyah Irabor-York is an A-level student and founder of Pupil Power, a youth-led campaign to reimagine education in the 21st century.