Education Matters

The last week or so has seen several education-related issues appearing within the mainstream news media and it has certainly been interesting watching how these issues have been addressed. Education, schooling and the safety of young people are topics that appear regularly in the media, almost always in superficial, sensationalistic ways. This week, schools and education have been featured through examination of the following issues:

1. School Closures

The decision by the Queensland Government to close several schools across the state has left many parents and students angry and somewhat bemused. Yes, the Government has the right to close schools if they want to, but the few schools they have selected make the whole process seem tokenistic and somewhat pointless. Furthermore, some of the choices they have made seem very strange indeed. For example, the proposed closure of Fortitude Valley State School defies logic. Yes, the school has low enrolments, but student numbers have grown in recent years. Furthermore, with the explosion of residential development in the direct vicinity of the school and surrounding area, it seems certain that in a few years there will a considerably increased demand for schools in the area. These inner-city suburbs are boom regions for population growth and it defies belief that the Government would want to close this school to enable the subsequent sale of the land on which the school is situated. I would have thought that keeping this school operational – particularly in light of the fact that there is plenty of scope for expansion on the site should population growth require it – would be a high priority. It seems as though the Government is more interested in making a quick buck now with no regard to the potential long term consequences.

2. Stranger Danger

The recent attempted abduction near Eagle Junction State School saw the media launch into a frenzied campaign of fear mongering and hysteria. Whenever this type of thing happens, it is with such predictability that the mainstream media can always be relied upon to roll out their ‘are the streets safe’ rhetoric. Um, hello, yes the streets are fucking safe. Just as safe as they were yesterday and just as safe as they will be tomorrow. The most annoying part of these reports are the interviews with parents outside schools in the days immediately following. One parent claimed ‘I never let my child walk to school, it’s just not safe’, which really just means that they live too far away from the school or they are too disorganised in the morning for their child to have time to walk to school or they just pamper their child by driving them to school when they don’t really need to. When a child is threatened in some way, such parents rub their hands with glee because it allows them to try and convince us, and themselves, that they are some kind of ‘caring’ mother trying to protect their child from danger, when the truth is nothing of the sort. Another parent interviewed stated ‘I used to walk him to the corner and he liked to go the rest of the way by himself so he can be independent, but now I walk him all the way’. Yeah right, let’s see if dad is still walking him all the way to school in a month’s time. The novelty will soon wear off and things will return to normal once the media are no longer interested and there is no further opportunities for dad to continue his campaign for parent of the year. It is disgusting the way the media trivialises what is a very serious issue, particularly for those children who fall prey to predators. I don’t really see how reducing their exploration of these incidents, or the issue more broadly, to a series a vacuous sound bites from parents – who somehow think they are responsible for the fact that their own child has not fallen victim to such an occurrence – achieves anything at all other than to make their viewers relax safe in the knowledge (and thankful) that it happened to somebody else instead of them. Schools will ramp up their focus on ‘stranger danger’ awareness for a few weeks until the dust settles and then all will be forgotten again until the next incident.

3. Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I am getting sick of parents who enrol their child in a school and then decide that the rules they have agreed to follow as part of that enrolment somehow shouldn’t apply to them. The latest case involves a boy who has been told by his school that he cannot return to his Prep class whilst he has the stupid haircut his parents have given him. Regardless of whether schools should have rules around hair styles – and I certainly don’t think they should – the fact remains that the child has presented at school with a hairstyle that is in clear contravention of the policy that formed part of the enrolment agreement signed by the parent/s. Therefore, they have no cause for complaint, but that doesn’t stop them running to the media crying foul. Aaarrgghhh. This kid has got more problems than his hair cut with parents such as these. Yes, it may be unfair for a school to have such a rule, but if you don’t like the rule, don’t send your child to the school. Don’t enrol the child and then complain when the school actually enforce their policy. I can guarantee that these same parents would be the first to complain if they felt their child suffered in some way as a result of the school failing to implement a particular policy. This is just another case of idiotic parents using their children in an effort to secure their own few minutes of fame. They don’t really care passionately about the child’s right to have a stupid haircut, they just want some time in the spotlight so they can try and present themselves as loving parents who will do anything to ‘stick up’ for their child. Give me a break. I bet these same parents who have time to do media interviews don’t make the same effort to join the P&C and work to have the rule/policy changed. These parents should just shut up and do one of two things, either give their child a haircut that complies with the school policy or enrol the child in another school with a policy that is to their liking.

4. Falling Standards

The media again fixed a spotlight on Australia’s declining educational standards in comparison to the rest of the world, apparently dropping from fifth overall to 22nd. I wouldn’t think that any teacher would be surprised by these results, despite the amount of effort that they put in. It is exasperating at times trying to teach people anything given the number of distractions/interruptions encountered on a daily basis. Hell, on more than one occasion I have found myself with far less than the prescribed amount of class time for a subject over the course of a year because of the number of lessons lost for myriad other activities/events that, for whatever reason, are given higher priority. The excessive focus on preparing for NAPLAN also has a significant impact on curriculum delivery, along with other factors such as poor attendance levels and a real lack of effort from some schools to implement the strategies necessary to ensure students are maximising their opportunities in class. There is no doubt that funding plays a role and whilst money alone isn’t the answer, it can certainly make a difference in some schools. The biggest problem, as I see it, is that we as a nation don’t seem to take education seriously anymore. There are a lot of parents who really don’t seem to care about whether their child is educated at all, let alone worry about how well they might be doing at school. The Government certainly doesn’t treat education as a priority and many schools are failing their students by not being vigilant enough in demanding high standards and putting the strategies and resources in place to ensure students can achieve at a high level. There are too many schools for whom the focus is simply securing enrolments to ensure their survival. It’s almost as though having sufficient students enrolled is enough for principals and school administrators; now they can sit back and take it easy knowing that their jobs are secure for another year. Another problem is that students can achieve reasonable results with very little effort. There will be a very large number of students who will complete Year 12 with a passing grade in English who are practically illiterate. Universities have raised concerns about this and with good reason. For example, I was instructed by a Head of Department that I could not fail a student for an oral assessment if they refused to deliver the presentation. The argument was that their speaking/delivery was only one part of the assessment and that the content alone could be enough to secure a passing grade or better. This means that a student could pass Senior English, which means they have passed both the written AND spoken elements of the course, without having undertaken any spoken tasks at all. I had a Year 9 English student who submitted a short story for assessment that was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, almost to the point of being indecipherable. On this occasion, the Head of Department advised that I couldn’t fail the student because they had completed the assessment satisfactorily in that they submitted the required task (a short story) of the required length. Now, the student and their parents would believe that their English skills are of a suitable standard, which they clearly weren’t. It is a joke that schools and some individual teachers somehow think that it is okay to mislead students with regard to their ability simply to make the schools overall results look good or to avoid upsetting the student or the their parents. Ridiculous! This is typical of how schools will go out of their way to make sure that students get better results than their effort or ability suggests they should be getting. Of course, these shortcomings are quickly identified by universities or employers as soon as they leave school. When you think that schools are manipulating results in such a way and yet our overall results are still pretty poor, it tells us how bad things really are. It is easy enough to reverse this downward spiral, but it needs the Government, parents and school administrators to get serious about taking education seriously.

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