Lessons in education from a self-taught student

Contributed by Zahra Seyyad

Languages Graduate

Fri 18 Sep 2020

Nine years ago, I decided not to go to school to continue my education. After living abroad for a few years, I had just returned to the UK and was excited to reintegrate back into a British school as though I had never left. The feeling was short-lived. Soon, I was told that schools in my local authority were so oversubscribed that I could expect to wait up to a year before getting a place anywhere. I needed to start Year 9, and I worried that spending a year in limbo would leave me unable to catch up in time for GCSEs whenever I went back. So, I chose not to. 

I was very fortunate that those around me supported my decision, but that was all they could do. The stereotypical image of home-schooling usually consists of having a personal do-it-all tutor who meets all your educational needs. Given that it was an inaccessible option, my mum and I kept researching until we found these huge binders, which covered entire GCSE syllabi in one place.

As I would have at school, I chose my subjects and had a folder for each one, which I independently worked through to study and then prepare for exams. Knowing I had reliable resources meant I could focus on learning rather than sourcing material to support my studies. In the absence of teachers, the importance of books only became more obvious to me.

Education relies on good habits as well as academic potential

Books2All blog - Zahra Seyyad Lessons in education from a self-taught student

This distance learning phase lasted three years (Year 9 -11), and the biggest takeaways from my experience will always be completely unrelated to any of the content I studied. 

First, my self-awareness developed much faster. In the end, my grades were average, but the experience taught me how I learnt best and what I enjoyed. This confidence boost allowed me to pursue what fits into those categories unapologetically. The disruption to my education had proven that any academic potential was only fulfilled in conjunction with effective working habits and genuine interests.

Setting goals and remembering the bigger picture kept me motivated. I discovered how to pace my studies appropriately to make sure I was ready for exams – all daily progress was valuable. Having a rough timeline for each subject also steadily allowed me to work through the content.

Taking on responsibilities like these, which teachers usually handled, were the moments when I remembered that I was both teacher and student. Ultimately, I knew I wanted to attend a local sixth form and a good university after, so it became clear that getting on with it was the only way of getting there! Being goal-oriented has since served me well beyond academia too.

When it came to the practicalities of learning the content, a few ground rules helped me get through it all. Whilst I did have the lesson material I needed, this did not automatically translate into an immediate, in-depth understanding of every topic. On that basis, I resolved to not move onto a new chapter until I had understood the previous one. That way, I reduced the risk of it never being revisited and permanently forgotten, alongside inspiring me to be resourceful and find explanations that were more accessible.

I also enjoyed talking about what I had learnt every day; it was a small change that held me accountable to those around me. Beyond that, I took my normal school holidays and enjoyed the luxury of working at my own pace.

Finally, I made the space around me support my studies. Emulating a typical school timetable, I made one for myself. Allocating the hours similarly spent on each subject ensured I kept up with them evenly. My work was organised by subject and topic, which I kept in one designated place at home. I also created revision materials to put up around the house to test myself as I walked past them. 

This last point closely aligns with Books2All’s mission. Having easy access to books is an important pillar of educational equality. Books are the keystone to a good education – from revision guides for academic support to non-fiction for expanding your horizons. The charity hopes that, by getting books to everyone who needs them, students receive the education they deserve. 

Thank you for visiting our blog. Our vision here at Books2All is a world where every child finds the books that help them reach their true potential. If you have spare books in good condition at home that you think might be appropriate for school children, please sign up for our app’s pre-release waiting list. If you represent a school, please register to receive books for your students.

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