Education Engagement & Motivation

Only the “bright” allowed to shine…

In the latest Sun-Herald in Sydney, there is an eight page spread about how parents should choose an independent school. obviously it has had significant input from various independent schools as well as including a 39-point checklist for things to look for when choosing the right school for your child. It spoke of looking at the individual needs of the child, the extra curricular opportunities,as well as the policies in regard to religion, homework and bullying. Countless articles and advertisements spoke of how schools value the students’ individuality in their quest to achieve their potential.

Nothing much to write home about here you might think, let alone enough ammunition for a blog piece!

Then I read the piece regarding accelerated learning, and in thirteen words it shone a light on what I believe is a glaring flaw in the education of our children as it stands in the majority of schools today.

In bold type The Sun Herald proclaimed, “Research shows that if bright children aren’t challenged… then they will underperform”

Indeed they will, and not only underperform in the particular field that they are strong, but elsewhere in their studies/school/ and possibly life.

The problem I have is not with the statement itself, rather I take issue with the way in which we interpret and act on the statement. In schools we run accelerated learning programs for our “brightest” students.

Accelerated learning is when schools react to the ability of the child, and teaches them with regard to their aptitude rather than their age. So a Year 7 student could well be studying at a Year 9 level, if they are considered “bright” enough.

Accelerated learning takes place predominantly in maths and the languages – that is to say schools identify “brightness” with aptitude in these fields.

And because schools do… generally speaking, so do parents.

By identifying “brightness” in the narrow band offered by academics, they dismiss intelligence in other fields as insignificant. How many of us have been told (or told someone) “Don’t waste your time on that, you won’t get a job doing it…” As if intelligence can only be quantified by earning potential.

Now I’m not saying that accelerated learning is a bad thing. On the contrary, I think it is a great idea. It just needs to be applied across the board.

Now more than ever, parents and schools need to identify exactly how are their children intelligent, and they need to be given the flexibility in the curriculum to push these students in the same way we do the gifted mathematician.

I wonder how many talented artists, musicians, poets, writers, sculptors, carpenters, mechanics, acrobats, dancers, comedians or actors are underperforming right now because their talents have not been recognised or validated by their school or parents? Moreover, how many of these potentially brilliant individuals are lost to their field in their early years through lack of recognition or validation? Imagine if accelerated learning in these particular fields was the norm rather than the exception. Imagine the levels of engagement in their learning across the student population.

The Moral Imperative

Too many people end up doing things they hate. They endure what they do rather than enjoy it. (Thanks Sir Ken!) 

I firmly believe that this plays a significant role (along with other factors) in the rising levels of depression. Furthermore I believe they have ended up in this situation because of their education. (See my last blog entry)

If I’m right, then the moral imperative for education and parents in the 21st century is to help students identify, nurture and validate their strengths and passions regardless of their academic or non-academic nature.

The World Health Organisation tells us we are set on a course for a depression epidemic… this could just head it off.


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Education Leadership

How Should We Measure The Effectiveness of a School?

Consider the following students…

Christopher* is a Year 12 student who is on course for a top ATAR. He is likely to be the Dux of the School. However, Christopher has always had issues socializing, and suffers anxiety. It is not clear how he will function outside the structure of a small high school.

David has been in the bottom sets his whole school career. His teachers constantly recognize the fact that he appears to be working to the best of his abilities. However, because of the nature of the school system the best he can hope to achieve is a “C” and sometimes he falls short of this grade. As a result of this he has been constantly reminded that despite his best efforts he does not succeed in the subjects at school. He is close to leaving without any real insight into what he is actually good at.

Sally is a top academic student. She has graduated from School with an ATAR that gives her the choice of courses at University. She is keen to do teaching or some kind of social work but her parents are eager for her to go into the Law profession, and given the capacity to earn more money as a lawyer she elects to study law at University.

Eric is good musician and singer. He has decided to pursue his passion by heading to Nashville in America to hone his songwriting craft. As a consequence he has made it clear that school work is no longer a priority. As well as practicing music everyday, he is working as many hours as possible in his part time job to save for his flight to America. He has agreed to complete his HSC to keep his parents happy, but it is obvious that his heart is not in it. He credits his decision to follow his passion to his Head of House and Music Teacher who have always encouraged him to focus on his music.

The review of NAPLAN and HSC results provides an avenue for assessing the effectiveness of the school. Indeed it is this data that the Australian MySchool website is built around. In doing this the Government imply that this the most important information parents require in determining the appropriate school for their children.

The majority of educational systems are structured from the top down. Universities determine the kind of students they want in their respective courses. The assumption is that a student with an ATAR of 99 will make a better doctor/physio/lawyer than the student with an ATAR of 85.

The issue with determining effectiveness in this way is the inherent impact it has on the teaching and learning at school. It reinforces the antiquated hierarchy of subjects that places a higher value on subjects like Mathematics and English than subjects such as Woodwork the Arts.

As such the student who excels at Drama or Art is not validated in the same way as the student who excels at Mathematics or English.

You could argue that of all the students above; it is with Eric, the musician, that the school has had the most success. He has found his passion and he feels confident in his abilities to pursue his dream.

You could also argue that the school has “failed” every time a student graduates in the same scenario as David. Surely the very least a school should be doing is ensuring that students find something that they not only good at, but are passionate about and can engage with.

With regard to Christopher, as Dux of the School, his exam results will undoubtedly open doors for him, but for how long given his lack of social skills?

And how about Sally? Should the school revel in the fact they have produced another Law undergraduate, or should they reflect on the fact a student has left not being true to herself?

Unfortunately there is no statistic to reflect the Christopher Complex, David Disorder, Eric Effect or Sally Syndrome, on the MySchool website (or anywhere else to my knowledge). If there was, in conjunction with the standardized test scores, parents would be able to better ascertain what the school could offer their child.

*All names have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty and everyone in between