My secondary school years were spent in two high-achieving, ethnically diverse and highly pressurised institutions, both part of the exclusive selective schools club. Respectively, they were the  third and fourth  most over-subscribed schools in the country, with 99-100% of students achieving the crucial five A* to C grades at GCSE. It was a professional class fantasy. Parents knew that, straight off the bat, their precious little angel would find themselves in the company of other people’s precious little angels. They knew that, with hopefully minimal prodding, their child would leave that school with worthwhile qualifications and the prospect of going on to achieve further worthwhile qualifications.

In fact, when guiding prospective students’ parents around the school, the question I’d receive most would be ‘What is the percentage of students who go on to attend Oxford or Cambridge?’ My reply would inevitably be a mumbled mix of apologetic ignorance and reassuring utterances: ‘I don’t…uh… know the statistics exactly… it depends on the cohort… a fair few though…’

The reality was, however, that while Oxbridge interviews were reasonably easy to come by at my school, the number actually gaining places was proportionately low – 3 of 150 in my academic year now attend Oxford, and none attend Cambridge. This is because, I believe, the school system makes us fundamentally boring people.

Generation Y, the unfortunate bracket in which I find myself, possesses a strange mix of traits; a cocky sense of self-entitlement and a distinct lack of personality; endless qualifications but no skills. It’s no wonder we struggle to find employment – we’re all so bloody unemployable.

At my school, the unrelenting pressure placed on students to achieve their target grades, to apply to top universities and to get places in those universities can be illustrated by their choice of decoration for the Sixth Form centre. Pictures of past students, with the name of the prestigious institution they now attend in bold letters along the bottom; accompanied by the A-level grades they achieved to cement the idea that these pictures are the pictures of success.

We are told that employers don’t value ‘soft’ subjects like drama, music and art and we are slowly weaned off them to the detriment of our personalities. We are made to prioritise becoming ‘educated’ because it is the immediate difference between us and our peers in a competitive world.

But there are countless people with the same A level results as me; a smaller but nonetheless large number will hold a degree comparable to mine. It’s at this point that other factors start to matter, your ability to converse with people, your confidence, how you present yourself. These are facets of a person which cannot be developed in such a restricted environment as our education system.

This doesn’t just apply to airy-fairy-arts students like myself. I know medical students who, by virtue of a lifetime studying under the thumb of their parents, could diagnose my ailment and prescribe my treatment without a second’s doubt. Could they make me feel at ease, establish rapport and dispel any awkwardness? I wouldn’t even want to try to find out.

To me, the saddest thing about education is that we are not taught to think. We are taught to accept things as given, not to question or debate, in order to eventually write down what someone else has said in an exam. I can’t think of a more mind-numbing job than marking a GCSE Science paper which can only be discerned from the next by the colour of the ink.

Even worse, the advent of ‘Critical Thinking’ as a qualification is dismissed as pointless and irrelevant by most employers. The British Army, historically (and in my view, unfairly) seen as a last resort for people with no qualifications, explicitly state that Critical Thinking is not accepted as an A-level. It’s a sorry state of affairs when my knowledge of bio-diversity in the Maldives is more important than my ability to decipher a problem and bring about its solution.

I am acutely aware that I am a beneficiary of this system and that I am in a position of privilege. I am now studying what I want to study, with plenty of opportunities to develop my interests and specialise my work. But this doesn’t mean I am not in a position to debate the merits of the conveyor belt that produced me.

This education system cannot possibly produce great thinkers or inventors, explorers or entrepreneurs because it has such a narrow definition of what is valuable and what is not. Nothing it encompasses is original or unique. It is irrelevant what an individual may think about an issue if their view does not correlate to a vague description on an examiner’s sheet.

We need to value the process of thinking and personal development over the process of gaining qualifications. If we don’t, we run the risk of valuing the status of being ‘educated’ above the actual content of the education.

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