Friday, 21 July 2017

"Back to school...

I'm a fool..." Ms W sang to me in as  mournful a voice as she could imagine.
I understood what she meant. She doesn't like leaving her father - and he doesn't like leaving her. 
Ms W is not fond of boarding even now. She knows it is essential and she recently told me that it was "probably just as well I'll have to do it until I leave school". It does mean that she doesn't need to worry about other responsibilities during the week. 
Ms W takes school seriously. 
I will be interested to hear what she makes of the report in this morning's paper...the one which tells us that "almost half" of the year 8 an year 9 students in this state are "not engaged" in the classroom. If that is true then the education system has a major problem to address.
I doubt it is true in the school Ms W attends. It's a fee paying school and the classes are small. There is a range of ability but it would also be fair to say that the majority of students are expected to be high achievers in the academic sense. Students who are not that way inclined tend to go elsewhere. The small classes mean that "day dreaming" or otherwise not paying attention is rare. I've been in and out. I have observed the students in their classrooms. The teaching  is, on the whole, excellent. There are high expectations of involvement. It's a "you are here to learn. It is not just what your parents are paying for but your responsibility to learn" sort of attitude. The teachers are engaged with their students...and the demands on them are high.
I haven't been in a state run secondary school for several years now. It may be a while before I go into one again. I have talked to teachers who work in them and, like people anywhere, they vary in the degree to which they are enthusiastic about their jobs. At the same time I have talked to a great many secondary school students -but they tend to be the students who come into the library to work. They vary too. Some work harder than others. For some "work" means sneaking in a bit of screen time on sites that have nothing to do with what they are supposed to be looking at. More than once I have been told something like, "Look at this Cat...way cool!"
And yes, sometimes, it is "way cool" - or some other equally strange teen-speak.
But, what of the students who are "not-engaged"? I am trying to remember what I was like. I know I went to school because it was what was expected of me. I did the work I was given to do because it was what was expected of me. It didn't excite me. If someone had given me the textbooks and said, "Learn that Cat." I would have done it in much less time than I did it - simply because I would have wanted to get on and learn other things, the things which interested me. 
I doubt many of the not-engaged students would do that. They have no particular desire to learn about anything. They see no point. How do you change that?
I suspect that part of the problem is that schools are simply teaching subject matter that is not going to engage many students anyway. The unspoken, unwritten requirement is that all school students should be aiming for the qualifications which will get them into post-school learning, preferably university. It is seen as the path to a "good" job, employment where you don't get your hands dirty.
I wonder what would happen if schools started teaching music, art, craft, cooking and carpentry again? Would that get more students engaged than coding? 
Ms W knows more about coding than I will ever know. Next year she has to make subject choices for life. She already knows, she tells me, that it won't be coding. Maths is okay but she loves French and Italian and she still thinks that being a librarian or an interpreter or even a lawyer like her beloved father would be pretty good. Thankfully her school will support her in her choices. Her father will. I will. 
And she can cook too. That's important. 

No comments: