There are many problems with the current state of British education. However, many of the problems boil down to a single root cause. Put simply, the way in which British education is approached has not changed much since the Victorian era. Though this problem is most obvious in Britain, this backward approach to learning is a significant issue in Russia, the Middle East and South East Asia. This is not to say that this approach was never fit for purpose. In a time where people were expected to execute very simple tasks consistently, the idea of spoon feeding knowledge and making students recall that information was appealing. It was a simple philosophy, do as you are told and keep the knowledge given to you by those in positions of authority.
However, the needs of the 21st Century are very different from that of the 19th. Where learning masses of knowledge was useful in the past, the world of today needs people who are able to think critically about the status quo. The people who have learnt the most are not those who have read the most books, but those who have been most willing to engage with a subject on a more fundamental level and formulate their own view. The internet age has rendered the importance of human memory almost entirely redundant.
Interestingly enough, the ability to apply information or manipulate it to fit a particular argument (as opposed to merely recall it) is exactly what the top universities are looking for. It is also something you are rarely taught to do at school until your final 2 years. In schools where the IB is taken, it is questionable as to whether it is ever taught to you. So, in order to succeed, it is important to start developing a new way of thinking about problems as quickly as possible.
The first way to do this is to forget everything that your teachers ever taught you about thinking about an issue. It is of critical importance that you start thinking for yourself, and making all the mistakes that come with doing so. We are now a world obsessed with making sure that we get everything right. This is true of politicians, of academics, of parents and of those in all matters of life. This means that no risk is taken in trying to move things forward. Failures are often more informative than successes. It is important to put to one side the idea that you should just be aiming for a high mark as is defined by a specification drawn up by someone educated 40 years before you.
The other bad habit to get rid of as quickly as possible is viewing education as a zero-sum game, where you are in conflict with your peers. Because of the way in which grade boundaries are set, it encourages a culture of competition which means you are unlikely to share notes and plug one another’s knowledge gaps. This is such a counterproductive way of approaching learning and will make life at any university very difficult. It is important to view your peers as one of the most valuable resources available to you and to recognise that helping them helps you as well. Whether through new facts, or new interpretations, working with others makes sure that you are the best that you can be. In a university application, it is paramount to display that you understand the importance of the academic community.
Sunny is a Managing Partner at Allen & Jain Education who have 75% success rate for Oxford and over 80% success rate for Ivy League universities. Sunny has an undergraduate degree in Materials Science from Oxford. He is also an incoming Fellow at the Harvard Davis Centre. You can reach Allen & Jain Education on WhatsApp at + 44 749 662 5544