Commentary on “AI” and the education experience

Andy Haldane:

I am suffering from PESD (post-examination stress disorder). This is a new condition — indeed, I have just invented it — but it afflicts millions of parents whose children are put through the psychological mangle of school examinations.

The trauma is, of course, not confined to parents. Pity the students each year facing trial by examination, followed by weeks waiting on the verdict. Little wonder there is an epidemic of wellbeing and mental health problems among the young.

In the UK, a terrifying one in five young people aged 17 to 24 were reported as having a probable mental health disorder in 2022. Of course, not all are rooted in education and examinations. But the correlation is strikingly high between the incidence of mental health problems and low educational attainment in young people. It can be seen, too, in surveys of wellbeing — as many as a quarter of young people leave education loathing, rather than loving, learning. It would be hard to think of a worse endowment.

This means those departing education with fewest skills are also least likely to engage in life-long learning. And it means the gaps in attainment in early years are likely to widen over time, becoming chasms in adult opportunity and income. Education can entrench inequality, rather than redress it.

What could be done to close those chasms? A good start would be to rethink the metrics of success. Currently, examination results and school league tables are paramount. But if the key arbiter of later-life success is learning attitudes and experiences, rather than outcomes per se, it would be better to target those directly by measuring pupil wellbeing.