In a move likely to cause concern, several schools have issued a Product Recall for the students produced in the last 5-10 years. According to the schools, the students are missing key aspects of their educational development. A series of Sydney Morning Herald articles sparked the recall with rates of HSC students reporting psychological and psychiatric issues rising 30% between 2005 and 2009 and Universities decrying the lack of resilience in modern day undergraduates. *
One definition of education is: the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.
I repeat; “Preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.” Research and anecdotal evidence suggests that whilst academic levels continue to rise, it is at the expense of social, emotional and spiritual intellect; three aspects of mature life that are arguably of far greater consequence than academic intellect. Add to that the fact that good academic marks, a degree or even PhD no longer guarantees entry into the work force as it once did.
In an attempt to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, it has been deemed a National Curriculum is required to ensure that all Australian Schools are (in the words of Minister for Schools, Peter Garrett)”Great”. However this process is proving to be something of a farce. In order to get the writers of the curriculum thinking straight, Garrett has asserted it should be ready by December; this year; two months from now. The last time Garrett pushed to rubber stamp a policy in a hurry it concluded with the roof insulation scheme, which received mixed reviews at best! One would hope the Government would not be so quick to try and push through legislation that will impact on every child in Australia.
From drug education, sex education, resilience, self awareness or dealing with stress, more and more schools are turning to outside agencies to deliver programs and/or sessions that deal with the aspect of life skills. A colleague of mine who works in the field of Positive Psychology tells me she has never been busier fielding calls from school principals looking for experts to run programs in their schools to help “rescue” their students. Time and again extra things are bolted on to the curriculum offered by the school. If the curriculum needs so much attention at the back end, surely it’s time for a serious re-modelling process and not just a Back to Basics approach.
But more than that, it needs a significant shift in perspective from schools, teachers and communities. The days of the science teacher saying, “It’s not my job!” when it comes to looking out for a student’s wellbeing are long gone. Research paper after research paper tells us we are living in a less cohesive, more demanding society, that is asking more of our children than ever before. The majority of students spend many more hours per week with their teachers than with any other significant adult in their life.
With that exposure to Australia’s youth, education leaders, schools and teachers have a huge responsibility for their students’ wellbeing.
With a depression epidemic predicted by the World Health Organisation, now is the time to ensure that the health, identity and wellbeing of the student is front and centre of the school experience. Academics are important, of course, but only in so far as to enhance, and not at the expense of the three fundamental concepts I have identified.
In 2011 I’ll be speaking at the Positive Psychology in Education Symposium at Sydney Uni, as well as the Positive Schools conferences in Perth and Brisbane, alongside the likes of Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry and renowned psychologist and author, Steve Biddulph. I intend to continue this discussion there, here and everywhere in between. Please sign up for email updates (top right) to stay in touch…