Learning what exactly?
Russell Degnan

The first time I was at university, a friend in my maths class told me that "you're never really at uni until you've failed something". I had no intention of failing anything at university, but I got close enough - thrice - to get his point.

You only get out of university what you put into it, and you, personally, are responsible for setting those expectations.

In high school, and primary school, this is not the case. As well as your own, your expectations are set by your teachers, the school culture, your parents, and your friends. This confuses the issue on what makes a good education, who can provide it, and how to achieve it. Nice facilities raise expectations, as does academic selection, good teachers, a history of good academic performance, smaller schools, testing, and uniforms; but for a wide variety of reasons. But extracting the effect of these disparate factors is near impossible when doing research, which is why government school policy contents itself with such measurable but useless figures as class sizes and retention rates. In addition to outright destructive policies like changing the curriculum - which normally only serves to confuse students.

Expectations are everything when you are learning. There is no part of the high school curriculum, nor in most spheres of knowledge, that someone of even mediocre intelligence could not learn given sufficient motivation to do so. It is finding the motivation that is difficult. By contrast with the time when public education was created, policy on what students should and need to know at all levels is nothing but a hodge podge of standardised tests and political grand-standing.

For starters, some egregious assumptions need to be changed regarding students.

The learning experience is talked about as if it is always the same. It is not. A student's attitude to learning and school undergoes enormous change as they progress through the system at all levels. There is a big difference in intellectual development, and the potential to grasp some concepts between (for example) a year 7 and a year 9. Likewise socially, where schools tend towards an anarchist distopia, while students stumble into a moral system noone is willing to tell them about.

In conception, they are polarised between pliant sinkholes that will learn if all conditions are right, and completely independent entities that sink or swim on their own merit. Again, they are not, they are complex, slightly naive, highly impressionable, and constantly changing individuals. It is a testament to their abilities that students learn anything in the rigid structure they are forced through.

A debate needs to be had about what students can and should be expected to learn at each level of education. A trend towards universal university education is useless unless there is some expectation beyond "you need it to get a job". And students, in whose interests the interminable debate on education quality is carried out, need to know what these are and why.

This is where private schools do better right now, not in funding, facilities, teachers, or discipline, but in expectations. They - and state selectives - sell one expectation - that of getting to university - to parents willing to pay for it. It may be a shallow limited view of scholing but it is apparently what people want. For state schools, there is no funding impediment to a good education. They have some good teachers, their facilities can be inadequate but they serve, and any student can do research and reading on the internet. But they are getting worse, because with a few exceptions, the students with high expectations aren't there, and their parents with high expectations aren't there, and those teachers with high expectations get discouraged or leave.

As it is, we are putting children through thirteen - or seventeen - years of education with no end goal. It is not quite using teachers as Glorified Babysitters. But it is not far off.

Sterner Matters 31st July, 2004 18:57:22   [#] 


Of course, my solution would be to close down all those private schools by government mandate and force all those high-expectation kids back into the public system ;)
Rob  2nd August, 2004 12:35:20  

You can't do that! We'll be spat on by the lower class *coughcitizenscough* students!
Tom  15th August, 2004 18:47:25