Finishing ahead but starting behind

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

Tim Douge – Co-Owner and Exercise Physiologist on damaging our school leavers with our focus on exit scores.

When it comes to having a successful career, why do we think academic success if the only answer?

We have a problem in our society which we seem determined to perpetuate; the sacrifice of our health and wellbeing for the sake of performance.

I work with organisations throughout Brisbane as a health advisor, and week in, week out, I see staff giving up precious sleep, ditching exercise or damaging their personal relationships all to meet a deadline, attain a KPI or simply reach a self-imposed benchmark.

This culture is one we foster from a young age, telling our year eleven and twelve students that their future success is dependent on their OP score, not their interests and passions. Many parents will watch their kids give up their hobbies, put friendships on hold and unravel under a motherload of stress.

As adults, we are constantly searching for balance. We have a better understanding of the world around us and a deeper acceptance of what matters most. This puts us in a unique position to help the younger generations; to change this warped culture from the bottom up. Rather than seeing our students sacrifice their health and wellbeing for a slightly higher test score, we need to take responsibility to ensure they have every opportunity to pursue meaningful activities away from the books.

As we approach the end of the year, our year twelve students will be awaiting their OP score; what senior students describe as the most stressful year of their lives.

They are constantly reminded that each grade or project could ultimately impact their future and, according to the OECD, Australian students are feeling the pinch.

Australian students have higher academic related stress than the global average (47% versus 37%) and admit that their highest source of pressure is themselves. Even when they felt well prepared for a test, our kids reported feeling very anxious 67% of the time. While some adrenaline is good for performance, this level of consistent stress can lead to depressive symptoms, disrupted relationships, decreased physical health and (surprise, surprise) even worse academic results.

Reflecting on my time in high school, I realise how lucky I was. My parents, both teachers, always encouraged me to pursue and maintain balance throughout my senior years. Instead of driving me to sacrifice any spare time for study, I was supported to stay active in multiple sports and maintain my friendship groups as a social base instead of academic competition.

So what can we do, as parents, teachers and coaches, to help our students find that balance?

Get active. Higher levels of cardiovascular fitness have been proven to improve academic performance, while regular exercise decreases the likelihood and severity of depressive episodes.

Talk about mental health. Schools with well implemented mental health programs achieve significantly higher academic results than those who don’t. Classrooms that encourage positive emotional experiences with peers and teachers, have higher student engagement and lower levels of stress.

Remember their happiness. Participation in meaningful social or creative endeavours helps to regulate emotional development. Adolescents with high academic achievement do not have significantly

higher life satisfaction compared to average students.

Read any job ad these days, and it will undoubtedly mention an array of interpersonal skills and life experiences that rank as being equally, if not more, important than technical skills.

There are several schools in Queensland leading the way when it comes to their students’ health and happiness, including physical and mental wellbeing as part of their mission to create well rounded adults. Working with schools and heads of student wellbeing around Brisbane has given me hope for the years to come.

I believe we, as the ones who have walked in their shoes, have a responsibility to support the physical and emotional health of our students, to create the passionate, driven and balanced individuals and leaders of tomorrow, who will surely change the world as we know it.

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