While I still have many years before my daughter starts school I couldn’t help thinking about the prospect the other day. Primarily as the need to enroll children up to the local or chosen school is needed earlier and earlier in their lives, so I found myself wandering in my mind back to when I was walking down the halls and carrying my school books, and more importantly that my poor decisions in work life balance probably began as far back as my school days.
I’ve made no secret over the years of the fact that I did not have a happy time when I was at school and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t biased in certain ways against some of the ways our educational systems operate and some of the things we turn a blind eye to when it comes to our what goes on. I’ve opinions on the problems of bullying, private schools, under qualified teachers or my personal gripe with the weight of books and school bags, but something completely different struck me yesterday while I was thinking about what we expect when we get the jobs after we leave school.
More specifically work / life balance. This is one of those topics that is very much in people’s minds in the last few years, and not a day goes by when on social media when we don’t see an inspirational video from someone who has shown that there really is more to life than work and the stress of the rat race. We all know it, we all wish we had better control over the delicate juggling act of personal lives, family and career, and it made me think that perhaps one of the biggest issues, like so many things, is getting people talking about it early.
You might be thinking, really? you want to educate kids on work life balance? It’s probably hard enough to get your kids to do their homework on a regular basis, so teaching them that there’s more to life than their career and their studies might be counter productive, but hear me out. Yes, I think parents need to always lead by example but in this case I feel that the schools have a lot to answer for in this area. Let’s look at a couple of things in the last couple of years that are noteworthy before I talk about what schools can do.
More and more companies around the world are conscious that people want to spend more time on their personal interests or with family and the idea of balancing that with getting the most from their employees is something that most businesses are embracing. Gone are the days when people stayed in one company for life, now people have options, and businesses know that to keep the best people they need to be happy, and for this they need to have the balance that they want, or, at least perceive that they have this balance.
One issue I have noticed from many people I have worked with over the years is that, even when given more control of their work / life balance, often don’t use it well. They take their work home with them, work unsociable hours, or fall into the deception that because a company is giving you perks that you ‘need’ to do more and more for them. Yes that is the expectation, and there are lots of businesses who say they want you to be more flexible and yet penalize you when you try, but the truth is often times we, collectively, let them away with this. So why are we so conditioned to sacrifice our own lives for the company? Is there a root cause?
I have a theory, and it’s a strange one, but in my case at lease it might hold some weight. When I was in secondary school, (that’s high school for those of you across the pond) We had compulsory sports 4 days a week. Yup, you heard that right, 4 days, and I don’t mean during the school day, I mean after the day was finished. The day started at 8.30am and you had anywhere between 5 and 8 classes each day and this was assuming you didn’t take any extra-curricular activities or extra subjects. Depending on the day I ended up getting home after sports some time between 5.30 and 6pm and I was wrecked tired. By the way I’m not looking for sympathy here, I’m just reminding you that it’s highly likely you had the same experience in school as countless thousands of other students like us before and since.
Now, given all that and arriving home at, say optimistically 5.30, you then had homework from your 5 to 8 classes which, again depending on how well you did it, how good you were at the subject and whether the teacher took into consideration that you had everything else going on, could take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes a piece to get done, this is a lot. Am I alone in remembering days when school work wasn’t finished with until 8.30 and later in the evening only to have to rinse and repeat the next day? It seems like I’m exaggerating, but I remember many instances where I just didn’t have everything done for the next day. Add this to the years when we had state exams and you were expected to study on top of all of that I remember this as a punishing schedule.
This is a lot for any child or teenage to take on, and while I know there’s a lot of pressure and the topic of work load on kids has been discussed countless times, I have a strong belief that we are in fact conditioning children to accept that they a have to bring all this work home with them and not have a life outside of this. I have no doubt that there might be parents reading this with an eyebrow raised and thinking that their kids have homework done in 20 minutes and they’re in front of the TV or out playing, but maybe, just maybe check if everything is done, and done right. Sure you could halfheartedly do homework, but then it just defeats the purpose altogether also.
Bottom line is that kids will end up going into jobs and just blindly accepting that there is ‘homework’ there too. Yeah, there are deadlines and things to achieve, but do we need to subtly teach them that this is the way of life from when they are young? I don’t think a complete removal of homework is the answer, as for exams and other events study and additional reading is essential, but I do believe that schools and the system needs to look at how they balance the work load for kids, otherwise we are ingraining in them the acceptance that this is the norm.