Joy of learning has been lost to tests | Letter

Higher education counsellor Rebecca Hiscock says that a culture of relentless grading and exams is affecting students’ sense of self-worth

Re the long read (Learning the hard way, Journal, 27 September), as a counsellor working in higher education, I agree that there are many ways that university life unnecessarily exacerbates stress for students. However, I don’t think it is university practices that are the cause of the current situation with student mental health.

I think we need to look at what has gone on before students arrive at university, and the damage that has been done to their wellbeing by the educational system they have just left.

The relentless testing, measuring and judging that prevails in our culture of key performance indicators has produced young people whose sense of self-worth is almost totally dependent upon their academic performance.

I have lost count of the number of students who have said to me: “If I don’t get a 2.1 there’s no point going on”, “My life will be over”, “I will be a failure”.

The focus on external measures for any sense of value or meaning has extended into social life, and is played out on social media where “friends” and “likes” are numerically catalogued and experienced as validating – or the opposite.

The level of shame associated with “not doing well” is paralysing for many young people. My colleagues and I spend a lot of time helping students to manage their anxieties, and to develop a resilient self-esteem independent of external measures. I often feel like I am trying to undo years of educational conditioning about the terror of failure (a terror that has infected the schools and teachers themselves under Ofsted).

Over the last two decades the real joy of learning has been lost and the self-directed learning characteristic of university has, for our young people, become an unmanageable stress.
Rebecca Hiscock

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