While at Griffith, I was in charge of the education of the worst year 10 class you could ever want. Most of them were nice guys and girls, some of them are future inmates but virtually all of them didn't give a toss about what they were learning. What was surprising was that about 25% of them wanted to go on to years 11 and 12 - as though somehow they would actually learn something.
So as I was sitting there one day I thought to myself "Why not make it a condition of entry into year 11 a 50% mark in the School Certificate?" I passed this thought around to a number of teachers and they thought it was a great idea.
Now, Professor Cooney from Macquarie University has suggested that people who don't get a "pass" mark in their HSC should not be awarded it. Shock horror! While the SMH article that reported this comment mentioned the resistance of teachers and the P&C to the idea, I can safely say that there would also be a lot of teachers who would back the idea.
School, in theory, should be a way that students learn about life (I know what you're going to say but I did say "in theory" so nyahh!). When a student leaves school and enters TAFE or Uni and/or finds employment, they will be confronted with the demand for minimum acceptable results. It only stands to reason that schools should encourage this. But they don't.
As I stood at the year 10 farewell assembly I couldn't feel anything but frustration as members of my year 10 class got up and received their school certificates. If I had it my way, none of them would have passed - none of them put in the effort or showed any inkling of getting beyond even 40%. Some might say that this was an indictment of my teaching - that I had failed as a teacher. Yet the results of my year 9 class that year were fantastic so the only thing I can conclude is that the problem lay with the basic attitudes of the students themselves.
As much as I support the idea of having a positive educational experience, there needs to be a point where school students can clearly and unambiguously see failure staring into their face. This can't be done when students who do no work, fight in class constantly and/or listen to iPods while I'm talking end up being presented with a School Certificate.
It's a lie. It's not education at all. These kids leave school with a Certificate in hand and then present this bit of paper to a potential employer. Once they have been employed, their true attitude and level of knowledge is likely to be borne out. As that occurs, the employer will ask themselves "what DO they teach in schools these days?".
At this stage, both the School Certificate and the HSC are glorified attendance awards. So long as students turn up to 50% of the classes and hand in assessment tasks, they'll get their bit of paper. It is a tragic and nonsensical state of affairs and is a good reason why so many parents are opting to use private education or even home school their kids.
If the system works, why don't we just give everyone PhDs for turning up to University 50% of the time and handing in gibberish for their assignments? Surely having a nation of PhDs will boost our economy and show how intelligent we are?
But handing out bits of paper will not achieve anything. They are worthless nowadays, except for those who actually put in the effort. Increasing school retention rates and awarding HSCs to lazy and bored teenagers isn't going to make our nation better.
There needs to be a point where we say "No. That is not acceptable!". Removing that point isn't going to solve anything - but diverting resources to give students a better than even chance of reaching that point will.
© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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