Dealing with the Immense Pressures of VCE

We’ve talked about motivation and success when it comes to study and examinations.

But an increasingly important issue surrounding these ideas is the pressure that is put on our students…

By the education system, by parents, and by the students themselves.

Studies show that in Australia, we are bordering on an adolescent mental health epidemic.

Instances of anxiety and depression in young people are becoming increasingly and alarmingly common.

And a huge source of these conditions is stress from schooling.

The pressure is even taking a toll on parents, with a mental health organisation setting up extra counselling services for parents of high school students.

So how do we help our kids, and ourselves, to deal with the pressure?

Lucy Clark of The Guardian appropriately suggests that this is the wrong question we should be asking…

Rather than working on dealing with pressure, we should be working on reducing it.

This is not a simple task, given that so much of the pressure is systemically implicit, and rigorous academic routines sometimes occur before kindergarten has even started.

Thankfully, and importantly, you can take the pressure of your kids outside of school, making the home ‘a haven for kids, not an extension of the pressure they feel at school.’

This is a undoubtedly a challenge in itself.

We have been conditioned to treat adolescent education as an incredibly high-stake pursuit — arguably the most important and defining factor of teenager’s life — where the end result is a single number that will define their future.

But if you can be ‘brave’ enough, as Lucy puts it, to let go of your expectations around your child’s results — and encourage them to do the same — you will be doing your child a huge service.

This is not to say that you should allow your children to slack-off during their final school years.

The regular routine and discipline of homework and study should always be maintained.

But rather, refocus your attention, and theirs, onto the lifelong benefits, and the inherent privilege, of being able to spend their teenage years prioritising learning, gaining knowledge, and discovering their passions.

Refocus your attention on the process, rather than on the result (what we have discussed at length as part of the Fixed versus Growth mindset).

And remind them, and yourselves, that the end result does not have to define their lives…

That is not a black and white reflection of their ability or intelligence…

And that they will have enormous and fruitful opportunities ahead of them, regardless of what their final score may be.

The immense pressures of VCE will still be ingrained in the schooling system for years to come.

But Victorian schools are coming to terms with the inadequacies and biases of the examination processes, with massive changes to the state-wide curriculum planned for next year.

These changes will see students assessed on new non-academic ‘capabilities’, including:

  • critical and creative thinking
  • personal and social abilities
  • intercultural skills and ethical skills, and
  • curiosity, creativity and problem solving

This is part of an attempt to narrow the huge divide between what is taught in the classroom and what are ‘real-world’ life skills.

Professor Bill Lucas says that these skills are ‘what we need kids to do to be employable, but it is exactly what the assessment system is not set up to do.’

‘We don’t need all kids to know how to manipulate quadratic equations.’

Hopefully, these changes to the curriculum will help students to understand that academic achievement is not the be all and end all of studying and schooling, in turn, taking some of the pressure off, along with the mental health challenges that come with it.

But in the meantime, work on reducing these pressures at home, and reassuring your children that there really is ‘life after VCE’, and it’s something to look forward to — not dread.



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