Establishing freedom in education


Raunak Lally, Staff Writer

Until my sophomore year, when I arrived at ASL, I was never given an opportunity to explore subjects by taking on a packed schedule, nor to make my schedule more manageable. The American curriculum allows students to fit as many A-level-equivalent classes into their schedule, or to take more free periods than science classes. For eight years, I was educated in the British school system: my classes were fixed, I was always scheduled to meet my academic requirements and I had a substantial amount of extracurricular experiences under my belt because they were mandatory.

Considering that my school life was essentially constructed for me – bar the few GCSE subjects I chose for myself – it was a shock to come to a school where I had the opportunity to construct the majority of my schedule and start exploring what subjects interest me.

After spending more time immersed in a new, perplexing environment, I found the number of tasks I have had to do overwhelming: writing extensive applications just to join a club, scheduling full meetings with teachers to ask a couple of questions and ensuring that I have enough free time away from homework to start with test preparation and college research in my junior year.

While none of these activities are compulsory, they might as well be. Participation in these activities is seemingly the only way to have a chance to have a leg up on others applying to college – who most likely also have a similarly packed CV. Forming new connections and doing research outside of the classroom is essential. Because no one is obligated to join a club or begin excessive test prep, those new to the high school run the risk of falling behind compared to other students who have already added many extracurricular experiences to their applications, especially if they are unfamiliar that these are not already a mandatory part of their schedule. However, the British school system tends to rigidly structure their students’ schedules, both inside and out of the classroom.

At my previous school, it was mandatory for students to play in their sports team and to take part in their weekly leadership activity until they were in the final year of their GCSE course. During this year, students had the option to drop their time-consuming extracurriculars in order to free up some of their time for exam revision, but would still have several experiences up until this point to add onto their college applications.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“While none of these activities are compulsory, they seem to be the only way to have a chance to have a leg up on others applying to college.”[/perfectpullquote]

However, the issue with dropping their clubs and teams and solely prioritizing exams is that students become so immersed in their preparation for their GCSEs and A-Levels that they spend less time developing their communication and leadership skills, which often come from participation in extracurriculars.

According to an article in the Independent from August 2015, 76 percent of students in the U.K. said that their school prepares them more for work, as opposed to real-life situations and workplace experience. Consequently, students are stuck in a rigid curriculum where they are heavily trained to memorize information just for a short set of exams, rather than taking time over their academic year to develop the skills needed for life after school.

Conversely, the American school curriculum does not solely provide students with an education which can just about get them through a final exam. Essentially, British schools rely on ingraining facts into students which benefit them for little other than their exam, whereas the American curriculum leans more towards the application of knowledge and structuring their classes to mirror a college-level environment – particularly in AP courses. Therefore, American students take the initiative to stay organized and on top of their work constantly, whereas British students could theoretically put in less effort throughout the year and then rush to study for their final exams.

In order to prepare for life after high school, ASL gives students the opportunity to understand what a workplace environment entails through programs like WorkX. Even though applying for the program is not compulsory, students are given this freedom to think about where they would like to see themselves after university. This program highlights the contrast between the ASL and general British curriculum, as ‘a third [of 1000 surveyed students] don’t think they have been actively encouraged to undertake work experience as part of the [British] school curriculum,’ the Independent article stated.

For some learners, the British system could definitely benefit them if they need more discipline in terms of being given a schedule, or if they prefer memorizing information rather than truly learning to apply it. After being at an American high school for a year and a half now, I have noticed an improvement in my organization skills, how I enjoy taking several hours each week to explore the vast catalog of extracurricular activities and how my newfound independence in my education will help me in the long run to become a better people-person in university and in the workplace.