Compassion, stress and school.

by Jessica Eckhardt 

We all hear it sooner or later. The anthem they sing to us when we scrape through Grade 10, and start to prepare for the hurricane that is Grade 11:

“Now is the time to pull-up your socks.”

“Subject changes at this stage would not be in your best interest.”

“These are the marks you will use to apply to university.”

Although we all appreciate and respect the realism rooted in that approach, it is essential to note that it lacks compassion.

Realistically, we learn most of what we need to know in life, outside of the four walls of school. Pythagoras does not teach us how to pay our taxes. Working out the velocity of your car, will not ensure that you know the rules of the road.

We do not know how to prepare for a job interview or how to fix a broken tap. We do not know about emotional intelligence or maturity – we only acquire these skills when we are put in situations which require it.

While this is a major flaw in the education system, schools contribute a large amount of stress which continues to grow and affect many students. Upon the realisation that Matric is around the corner, and that in less than a year from now, Grade 11 students are expected to know exactly which career they would like to pursue; the thought of leaving the safe confines of the school system is unnerving.

How do schools contribute to this? By instilling in us the art of remembering instead of the gift of retaining, understanding and true learning. We are taught to pass tests. To memorise textbooks and recollect notes promptly, so that we can jot them down on a piece of paper and be graded for it.

We are taught that that grade or code on your report card, reflects our intelligence. Indirectly, we are then taught that it reflects our worth. Whether that is something we burden ourselves with or is put onto us, is irrelevant. The core issue here, is that we have turned the privilege of education into a competition. Education is meant to propel us forward after school and act as a foundation on which tertiary education can be build.

For those at the top, that competition means motivation. For those who look at that mark and decide that they are failures, that competition results in merely enduring five years of school instead of excelling.

They spend their days stressing. They worry about how they will be accepted to a university or college, or how they will find a job if they are not performing in school. However, we have lost sight of the fact that being truly successful means trying. That does not necessarily mean always obtaining straight A’s or code 7s.

No, I am not encouraging everyone to rack up 2s on their report cards or to stop pushing themselves academically. What I am saying is that everyones brains is wired differently, so we need to consider the possibility that we all interpret information differently. Some people can comprehend certain content and teaching methods, in lightning speed. For others, it takes a bit longer to get to that point. That is okay. What is important is to try. Trying is one of the bravest things anyone can do.

It is to stare the possibility of failure in the eye, and still walk straight toward it.

The danger of the copious amounts of stress that students are subjected to, extends far beyond physical side-effects. Exhaustion, anxiety, insomnia, weight-loss – we have heard of these factors before.

A more concealed danger, however, is that with this stress comes the resentment and the fear of failure. We are taught that failure is the opposite of success, rather than the road that leads to it.

Although stress can contribute positively to our lives, such as it forces us to be productive after procrastination or push us to work harder if there is something we want to achieve; it becomes destructive when it takes out the enjoyment of life.




Stress is powerful. It can make us mentally and physically ill. The worst of all is that it can cause us to lose sight of who we are and our capabilities. When we are stressed, we doubt ourselves. We hyper-fixate on things that go wrong and forget the things we do correct.

There will always be something we get ‘right’.

Society is teaching its children to grow up and become robots who work office jobs. It wants us to think like an adult and chose our subjects for our future professions, when we are only fifteen. It is teaching students that there is a timeline for everything. When to get married, when to buy a house, when to have children. When did we let the world decide these things for us?

The youth is the future of this world. Its next leaders. Yet, we are gaining such a negative connotation to life outside of school and losing the excitement and creativity. We spend 18 years in school, stressing about being an adult, when all we are supposed to be is children.

Inside of these kids, grows tired and pressured souls who feel they need to oversell themselves and please others. All because, imbedded in us is this concept that overachieving makes others proud of us. To get full marks on a test or wear a badge that reads ‘Top 10’. What good is it that others are proud if we are not proud of ourselves?

And so, in a toxic cycle of promoting academic validation or other school-related expectations, we are raising a generation that only ever works but forgets to sometimes feel. We take away the aspect of compassion.

Compassion is critical for our lives as social beings. For our interactions and our relationships with one another and ourselves. It connects, inspires selflessness and kindness and it gives life more meaning. Through compassion, we can understand, support, uplift and create. Only through compassion, can we truly love.

So, through the university applications, the tests we either pass or fail, the late nights of cram-studying, the panic attacks, and mental breakdowns:

Don’t forget to breathe. Don’t forget to smile. Don’t forget to hug your friends. Don’t forget to spend time in awe of nature. Don’t forget to laugh. Don’t forget to appreciate your family. Don’t forget to love yourself.

Don’t forget that we all hear it. The anthem they sing to us.

Don’t let stress take away the power and the gift of knowledge. Get up, walk on and most importantly,