Thursday, 1 September 2016

Going to a country school

is not the same as going to a big city school.
There is a piece in this morning's paper about the cutting of "bonus points" for students in rural schools. These are additional points given to some students who are aiming for university. They are supposed to recognise disadvantage and put the students on an equal footing with everyone else. I am not sure that anything can really do that. However perhaps it is one way of trying to ensure that students in rural or other disadvantaged areas at least have a chance of success.
It's a topic I know something about from first hand experience. The Senior Cat had the challenge of setting up one of the state's "area schools". He had in effect to add a secondary section to an existing primary school. It was not an easy job. 
There were not a lot of students in the secondary section. It was only because I was going to join the little group that there were even considered to be enough students. The Senior Cat had to run the school and teach us English and History. There were three more teachers who taught some secondary work. As a group we were often left alone to get on with some work while the teachers taught younger students elsewhere in the school. (We were simply expected to behave - and we did.) 
It was not an ideal situation by any means. The Senior Cat knew that. It was my love of books that saw me through but it also meant that I was never able to study a modern language at school. That my present job involves working with multiple modern languages is, to say the least, a little ironic.
At the time, and in keeping with the social expectations of the time, these "area" schools were set up with boys rather than girls in mind. The "public examination stream" (think "O" levels) was set up for boys to do maths and science. Girls went off to do book keeping and typing. I did maths and science - and I wanted to do French and more history. I read a lot more history but the "Teach Yourself French" book wasn't much help as I had no idea how to pronounce any of it. The Senior Cat gave me a book called "An intermediate Latin grammar" and told me to learn what was in it. He didn't have time to do anything else.
So, was I disadvantaged? Well yes, I think I was. There were no subject choices and I was always more of an English and history child than a maths and science child. We weren't really being taught a lot. We had to teach ourselves with help from the teachers when they had time. It was the way things were though and nobody knew how to solve the problems.  There were no extra points back then for a student aiming for any sort of post-secondary education.
Even in the second "area" school my father was sent to things were not much better. It was larger but there were multiple other problems. He had been sent there to sort those problems out but it didn't help that the teachers were not trained to teach the subjects they were supposed to be teaching. I managed to pass physics - but the person who was supposed to be teaching us in the third year had only done fourth year physics himself. As "the head's kid" I knew to keep my mouth firmly shut about the fact that this teacher would sometimes get me to quiz him the night before he had to teach one of the required "practicals".  It showed a degree of trust in a stroppy teenager (and I was stroppy) that I still find remarkable.
I got where I wanted to go in the end but it took longer, much longer, than it should have done. I didn't get the extra time I needed to write enough to scrape through exams I should have been getting "A's" for but I expected that and the results. In one sense it didn't bother me. I was much more bothered by the fact that I wasn't learning enough. I wanted to learn. I constantly ran out of books to read. I had to learn alone. It was probably good in that it taught me to work alone.
But not all students are like me. There are students who need to be taught in classrooms. They need to be taught by competent teachers. If they are going to have a "fair go" then they are going to need a few extra points simply because their schools don't have the resources, their internet access will be patchy and they need to spend hours on a school bus each day - and they are expected to do chores on the farm as well.
If they get to post-secondary education of any sort they have done very well indeed. 


Jodiebodie said...

A timely post considering my family is currently suffering the 'joys' of high school subject selection (disagreements and complexities). With choice comes complexity and greater responsibility as a parent to ensure that our children have future options available to them so there is much studying of the senior curriculum prerequisites even though we are choosing for junior secondary. Nevertheless it is better to have more than fewer subjects from which to choose. We truly are privileged to have the wide range of subjects that a school with a large urban population offers.

I will be extremely disappointed if the government chooses to remove the bonus points system. There are kids from disadvantage in urban areas too that benefit. Often city students need to travel hours across the city to access the course that best suits their interests and aptitudes. I agree though that country students have an extra tough time.

Sometimes I feel that the people in parliament do not have a true understanding of the hurdles many children face in order to reach their educational goals whether in the city or the country. The effects can be profound. If the decision makers realised this, they would not be scrapping bonus points. As you say, it is a little helping hand to make an impossible dream become possible for many students and their families.

Melodye Traupel said...

I wish I had known you when you were a "stroppy" teen. I haven't heard that word in years but I bet it fit you perfectly.
Love Sister Cat