Blogpost by Fatima Khuzem, who is working with Flow to design the Future Views toolkit
As we develop the toolkit to engage youth for the Future Views project, we constantly have to address what the youth of today think about their futures, do they think about it at all ? How can we help them articulate and think about the next 20 years to come.
I recently went to see a play called ‘The Future’ at the Yard Theatre produced by Company Three.
This play was written and performed by teenagers and is described as “Drawing on real-life experiences of the cast, The Future offers a personal and piercing insight into what it feels like to be at school in 2016 and what it might mean to dream of a different future.”
In 45 minutes this play took me from anxious and excited laughter to a suffocating feeling followed by confusion and bouts of worry and play, belching out towards the end some hope and a lot of uncertainty, but I guess the narrative of the play in its honest manifestation wanted to give me just that.
It brought out a dormant but imperative indication that the education system is much driven by the constraints of the institution, industry and policies rather than being driven by the potential and aspirations of its students. This leaves these teenagers in a state of limbo when they finish school, wondering if they should worry about the future. What is in the future? How long will they live? Where will they live? Will Theresa May be a good prime minister? And so on, whilst at the same time trying to celebrate having managed to get past the testing and daunting GCSC examinations.
It’s all done now, barring for their results that can make or break their aspirations. Do they dare dream of a different future not limited by the one framed by their education?
The young actors started the play confined in their boxes, dishing out a list of ‘do nots’. First for us the audience, the usual ones, do not keep your phone on for the duration of the play, do not eat during the play, do not talk, do not leave during the show etc. This light list got me smirking a bit because it felt harmless but then the list continued for over a minute and transitioned to the ‘do nots’ of school, do not shout, do not use the phone, do not wear black shoes with coloured camper tags, don’t wear your tie too loose, do not wear it too tight, raise your hand to use the toilet, do not pass notes in class… I reword just the tiny familiar portion of the list, but as the list grew on my smirk turned into an uncomfortable giggle till I itched for it to get over, it went on and I wondered to myself why did I feel so suffocated by it when it all seemed so familiar? If there are so many constraints on a daily basis where is the space for imagination, creativity and play, how could healthy learning thrive if we felt so restricted?
The list stopped, the school bells had rung and their exams were over, summer break had begun and they broke out of the boxes from behind which I heard them narrate. As they stepped out they looked curious and excited about what lay ahead for them ‘the best summer ever’ they wrote, followed by the rest of their lives. But as the young actors celebrated there would be intervals of hushed and sweaty contemplation as they stared into the future, blank, confused and anxious just until a distraction came along and they would forget it all and head back to play. This again would last just for a while before they would be back there staring at the future thinking about that all important piece of paper with their results on it, what would it be ? what would it mean ? what futures would that open up.
This back and forth during the performance of play and contemplation gave me the same puzzling feeling that perhaps they felt, when do you stop being a school student with friends taking things as they come, at what point do you think about the future and when you reach that future what ensures that we still wont be worrying about the future?
The performance drew to a close with questions and aspirations of the future left uncertain. At the end the young people left us with a simple question ‘What would you have liked to learn at school?’ and the audience scrambled down to write their opinions. I simplistically scribbled a few of my wishes too.
What I really left with besides a sense of relief and joy that these teenagers did have an opinion and perspective of the future beyond just themselves was, how should a 14/15 year old think about their future, what prepares them to live contribute and empower themselves in the years to come ?
How does the education system prepare them to live and thrive in their future communities? How do they deal with these uncertainties and what weight does the results of today’s education system hold on the choices they get to make for themselves going ahead?