During a recent grade 8 graduation ceremony at the International School of Prague, I was struck by a speech given by one of our grade 8 students, Hugo, about his take on the purpose of school. In his speech, Hugo challenged us and his fellow students to consider the true value of school. With his permission, I reprint some of Hugo’s comments below:
Depending on when you ask them, many of the students you see in front of you will say that we have learned nothing, or agree that school is a waste of time. I can sympathize with that.
For school, we have to wake up at 6:45 almost every day. Even today, when we celebrate the fact that we’re done, we still have to wake up early! We spend seven hours in this place five times a week!
We have so much homework, we have no time for what we’re passionate about—or for taking selfies of duck faces to our phones, and posting them on Facebook or Instagram or whatever kids do nowadays… Instead, we might work till late in the evening on all the homework we get from in– and outside of school!
(By the way, sixth graders, here’s a piece of advice: enjoy life while you can. Seriously.)
Seeing as we have at least four more years of this, and then who-knows-how-long for university, I say we should acknowledge why we do this. School isn’t always a waste of time; we actually learn something!
I remember seeing my friends online on Skype at 2 in the morning, trying to finish science homework. I remember chatting and helping them, only hours before it’s due.
I remember running on a treadmill at 10:30 at night after finishing my homework, to relieve the stress.
Those times, I remember when my parents come to tell me to go to bed, and I tell them “I’ll go to bed when I’ve retired.”
I remember thinking, why do we do this? Why do we adopt this mindset? What’s the point of all this?!
Now, I know what many of you students are thinking. Ms. O, how many adults in this audience do you think have actually found themselves needing to make space-saving furniture? Mr. W, how many do you think have needed to know how many electrons there are in a carbon atom?
But people, it’s not about that.
Apart from the obvious fact that the school prepares us for any careers we might want to pursue (unless we already know which), school offers something that is valuable for all of us.
You know those things that the teachers always talk about? Learning habits, or something? Yeah, those are the things that actually matter. School gives us the chance to learn to become responsible. To take care of and figure out how to balance our own work–our passions–and our friends. To set goals for ourselves that can motivate us.
We learn to think “critically, creatively and logically”—problem solving.
Above all, we learn to become learners. To take in and interpret information, to constantly understand how other people work, to recognize that our world is changing.
These are the things that matter, folks! This isn’t such a good school because the teachers make us memorize facts and equations, but because they encourage us to grow as learners, as people.
And then, what do we learn from being surrounded by people, day in, day out? We’re teenagers—our grade has seen so-called “relationships”, awkward conversations, peer pressure, pimples, and all the other negative *side-effects* of puberty and adolescence. We’re growing up! We’re learning how to socialize and interact with humans. We make friends who change the way we see the world, who who teach us just as much as our classes do. And to the students who hate having to work with people, you’ll be disappointed, because we’re sharing this planet with seven billion other people.
Our advisory sessions represent this focus on individual growth perfectly. There are reasons why we do the dreaded journals and Edublogs, which everybody seems to hate for some reason… and, surely there are reasons for why we do the ridiculous problem solving activities, and the talk-about-your-feelings sessions. In the—please excuse my pronunciation—“Niterne” sessions we write and learn more about ourselves. In the “Mezi Nami” sessions, we learn more about others. Our advisories have become almost families, with whom we can share things we normally wouldn’t be able to. We make new friends, and become better friends with old ones.
There is probably a reason why Mr. D makes us do karaoke, or why we all play Ships and Sailors together, but I can’t really see what it is. Probably just so our teachers can see us embarrass ourselves, I suppose? Doesn’t matter, it’s fun anyway, and we need that as well.
In school, what matters isn’t the grades—the elusive!, the holy!, the “High Proficient”, the dreaded “Beginning”, they don’t mean very much. What matters is what we learn; the friends we make; the skills and habits we develop—the things and the people we take with us our entire lives. Our teachers and classes don’t dictate who we are; they give us the tools we need to choose that ourselves, and decide who we want to be.
Those are the things that matter.
That’s, why we come to school everyday.
Hugo’s words should give us all pause. Supporting students to attain valuable “learning habits” and essential values, truly is or should be a major purpose of school.
The ISP school mission sums up our purpose as Inspiring, Engaging and Empowering Learners. The “empowerment” part of our mission is about enabling learners to take responsibility for their own learning and development with our support and guidance. These competencies and values are, as Hugo says, “the things that matter.”
ISP Empowers Learners to:
Think Critically and Creatively
Work Cooperatively and Independently
Listen and Communicate Effectively
Act with Compassion, Integrity, Respect and Intercultural Understanding