Class failed

Francesco Martin
Current events

The degree does not make the person, and one does not even need to attend university to be accomplished as a person and find their place in society.

During the course of our lives, no matter if long or short, each and every one of us will have to face some struggles, whether it’s a professional or personal matter, or linked to our families.

However, a natural sense of adaptability and self-preservation, along with a positive attitude towards the future and, perhaps, the support of loved ones prevent these moments from becoming unbearable weights on our shoulders and allow us to carry on past them.

I am particularly affected by the news stories of recent months maybe because influenced by the particular media coverage they’ve received, they seem to highlight an increase in such cases; I am talking about the tragic amount of suicides among university students. 

According to ISTAT’s data[1],  in 2019 the number of suicides among people between the ages of 15 and 34, including those traditionally attending university, is 514.

Although this figure also incorporates those who are not part of the academic world, it is still an alarmingly large number, even more so if compared to the various news articles on the topic.

In fact, it appears that all those who committed such an extreme gesture had something in common, which is that they did not reveal to their parents, friends or significant others the hardships and distress they were experiencing. Rather, they did the opposite.

It seems like there is a latent and quite deeply rooted sense of shame in admitting to having failed an exam or not being able to finish a Bachelor’s Degree; this is accompanied by the evaluation of one’s worth and existence solely based on academic achievements.

And maybe this is the core of the matter.

If we accept the syllogism according to which succeeding in an exam with a top score or having earned a degree within the expected time lapse is what makes a student worthy, socially accepted and fitting the required standards; then, the opposite would make them an outcast who did not just fail school, but life altogether. And then what ensues is annihilation, the despair of not being enough for life anymore, of having disappointed those close to us, society and, ultimately, the realisation and certainty of being wrong for this world and undeserving of living in it.

Let me be clear, this is not to say that merit shouldn’t be rewarded, quite the contrary; if it’s only fair that the exemplary student that made sacrifices should be acknowledged, it should also be just as fair that those who “fail” will not feel ostracised or inadequate.

In order to fight this phenomenon, some Universities have established dedicated help desks for psychological counselling, intending to help students face and eventually overcome their anguish.

While this is certainly a much-appreciated and helpful program, there is also the need for an inversion of the trends in terms of educational models and future prospects.

Those who have obtained their high-school diploma are free to choose which subject they find more compatible with them and hence to study something that truly appeals to them; far from this are the other levels of education where there is one standardised syllabus provided by the Ministry of Education.

Therefore, on closer inspection, universities should represent, albeit with the ordinary struggles being part of an exam, the place where an individual can nurture their culture and explore themes and subjects they are deeply interested in.

So why so many suicides?

Aside from what has already been mentioned and notwithstanding other personal factors in someone’s life, what actually happens most of the time is that the university choice becomes a rational and obligated consequence not necessarily with the purpose of finding job opportunities, but of feeling accomplished according to the bombastic «without a degree, you’re a nobody».

Therefore, what I believe should be done is to change this trend.

The degree does not make the person, and one does not even need to attend university to be accomplished as a person and find their place in society.

Hence, to prevent the previously reported data from increasing further, we have to award merit without glorifying it, we have to teach the generations that are approaching the end of their higher education career that the academic world is a choice, not an obligation; that their identity as an individual and a persona is not determined by the positive or negative outcome of an exam but by other, much more relevant ingredients. Failure, or rather, not being able to achieve all of our goals, by human nature, is an inherent part of each of our lives, and not crossing a certain milestone does not necessarily imply that we have failed as a person.

Finally, it is also necessary to expose young people to this concept and not only teach them that they need to excel all the time on every occasion; sooner or later they will fall short and if they are not prepared to face this aspect of life, there might be severe consequences for them.

For now, I’ll see you in our next class.

[1] Complete data is available at this link

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