By The Flying Dutchman
May 16th, 2017
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The worry and intimidation that comes with academic pressure is something that every UWC student is bound to experience throughout their two years in Maastricht. However, many students feel that it has intensified during this academic year. The anxiety of students can be heard throughout the school hallways, during dinner in Mensa, and even on Friday and Saturday nights, where one ought to think teenagers would be doing irrational things rather than prepping for papers and nail-biting over extended essays. There is no doubt both first and second years can relate to this issue, however the cause of this attention to academics is still debated. Some say it is self-imposed, that a vast majority of students have set too great expectations for themselves. Others say that it is the teachers and staff putting pressure on students in form of an unusual amount of testing. Many second years agree that there has been a shift in both student’s and staff’s focus on academics since first years arrived. Perhaps it is both. It is plausible that the whole community has pushed for a shift towards a more academically focused environment. It is difficult to write any definite conclusion or give any clear answer to why this shift has happened, but it is possible to debate the consequences to this new path that we, as a community, have embarked on.
The first, more tangible, consequence of this newfound academic focus is attendance of conferences. When members of the UWCM community think of what makes UWCMaastricht different from other UWC’s, our initial thought is often; conferences. It is the greatest example of how students can take responsibility of daunting tasks, and it is essentially what lies within the core of our movement. The last week of the half-term the ToK conference took place, and it was indeed a well-organized conference. However, most of the organisers can tell every member of the community how they struggled to get students to attend the conference as soon as the weekend arrived and attendance no more was mandatory. Most first years argued that, because of the amount tests the following week, they had to skip workshops. In this instance, the concentration of test did undermine an event which we strongly link to our whole UWC experience here. Such a strong focus on academics does not just have an effect on conferences, but limits most initiatives taken by students outside of school. We have a lot of initiatives related to IB and within the frameworks of CAS or YSE, however rarely do we experience initiatives taken outside school. Most students look nostalgically back on the first month upon arriving here, where it seemed that every weekend was filled with activities. Activities such as yoga in the atrium led by a somewhat eccentric Juul. Activities which seemed fuelled by spontaneous initiatives taken simply by students who wanted to strengthen the community. Today, we rarely see such spontaneous initiatives taken in the weekends. One might argue that our school has just gone into hibernation over the winter. However, it is scary to think that students have focused so strongly on taking initiatives that benefit them in terms of academics and university applications, that initiatives outside of academics have been neglected. If we don’t have initiatives outside the frames of CAS or school in general, then how are we different from students of most international schools? It is what UWC students do outside all the frameworks already set in place, which makes them so different.
As a student I hope not just to create a debate concerning the topic, but also to encourage some action. It is true that we, as students, have indeed debated this topic for long. However, If the majority of students feel the consequences of a more academically focused environment are negative, and combat it by complaining within the student body, then students ought to realize that change, more often than not, comes from below and not from the top. In other words, if students are to change the current situation, action is required. Before the Carnival Break, Representative of Academics, Juul, asked first years about the concentration of tests within the last week of the half term. With the voices of the students, it was possible to cancel three tests and relief some of that pressure. If something is to change, it has to come from the students. We can expect no staff member, teacher or tutor to act if we don’t confront them with our problems, but if we do they will surely listen.
If you would like to contact the author to continue this debate, please do not hesitate to contact the author directly or The Flying Dutchman at TheFlyingDutchman@uwcmaastricht.nl.
The Flying Dutchman team consists of UWC students aiming to reflect the news relevant to the people engaged with the UWC movement.