As schools break up for holidays, and the next potential PM promises to improve the education system, I am reminded that our schools do not come close to overtly teaching the skills for life needed to thrive and survive. Schools were once built to build character for nation builders. A generation of snowflakes, entitled and crackable at the slightest trouble are seen by many as a modern social problem.
That’s unfair. From the greatest of all generations – that of my grandparents, those who fought for liberty in a World War to mine and those after me, there is dilution in character traits.
The most important thing I would tell my younger self, 30 years on, is a character trait which is the need of our time today; something which will see you through to success in all times. There are books on the bestseller list dealing with this – so I am not the first to have come across it. And I am still working on it myself.
The most important lesson in school: resilience and ‘anti-fragility’
Your professional and personal lives will fall apart without this. I joined Fulneck Boys School when I was 13. I was two years behind the other pupils. Resilience came from crying at midnight as I had to translate every word in my German homework, word by word. It did not come from being told I was perfect as I am, but to show courage and fight on. ‘I don’t care if you succeed or fail, I want you to show courage’ was the message from my grandmother. Damn right. Nowadays I fear it would be ‘you’re just wonderful darling.’
And winning the German Prize three years later provided serious devotion, dedication, persistence and resilience and the attitude of never giving up, even at 13 and 14 is a life lesson well worth paying the price for when I could hear the other pupils playing outside having fun.
Before that at my state school, the same thing happened, but in English - looking for synonyms, well past midnight. There, I was demoted to a lower class - not good enough in English to be in the top tier.
I promised you this, you will be in demand for the whole of your life if you make the choice to be resilient. You will be wanted personally and professionally.
Resilience does not come from being pampered and told you are perfect – but instead when you hit 93%, being told by your uncle – ‘What happened to the other 7%’? That builds resilience and makes you look up, when you think you are at the top. Not from being told you are perfect, entitled and wonderful.
Each year our schools dilute the award of top grades, no wonder everyone feels entitled to A's and A*'s – they are worthless. And this past week a report revealed that 40% of University degrees are First Class. It was 10% when I was at University. Society reinforces mediocrity as excellence. It’s time our educational establishments toughened up the snowflakes from being entitled to think nothing is ever wrong with them or their fault to looking at themselves first. But that is also the failing of my generation – we blame ourselves too much.
But that’s nothing. The kids I would see in India working at midnight under flickering light bulbs on one meal a day – that’s resilience and thank god I did not have to compete against them. In trying to top exams my fear was never the wealthier students who may have private tutors, it was always those from poorer backgrounds, the quiet ones. They were the real competition – they were hungry. I feared them the most – they could take my top spot.