Tuesday, 4 October 2022

School tired?

I had a long letter in the state newspaper yesterday. This was unusual in itself. The paper does not really like long letters. They prefer more short letters, perhaps a greater range of opinion. 

But I thought they might print mine - and they did. I was suggesting part of the current discipline problems in schools might, among other things, be due to the changing way we are educating students and what we expect of them.

Inevitably I found more than one local dog walker ready to challenge me.

"We have to get more students to university," he told me, "They won't get jobs if they leave school as soon as they can."

I disagreed. I still disagree. I am likely to go on disagreeing.

We do not need more students going to university. We need less. I have never been a believer in "all students should aim for university". I have had to try and help far too many students who have gone to university simply because they have been told they "must". They have no desire to learn more. What they really want to do is "get out there and get a job". They want to, as some of them put it, "start living". It doesn't work that way of course but they believe it will.We probably need more of them to take "gap years". If they end up not going to university at the end of that year then fine. They may never be ready to go but some of them will go later. 

But there is another cohort of students who are not getting the attention they should be getting. They are the students who are most definitely not university material. They are not even school material. They are the students who would have left school very early, at twelve or fourteen. They would have gone into the workforce. There would have been jobs for them in the trades. Some of them would have been apprenticed others would have simply been employed in perhaps quite menial but nevertheless essential jobs like garbage collection and roadworks, cleaning and shop work. Some of them still achieved great things.

The Senior Cat had a cousin who left school at fourteen. He was apprenticed in the metalwork trade and won an award. He was never out of employment and eventually ended up working in very senior positions indeed. Even when he "retired" he was called back in to give of his experience and expertise. He was at the same technical high school as a man who later became the Governor of the state. Neither of them thought university was for them.

We have done away with technical high schools of course. They were considered "wrong". They were thought to mean some students were never going to "achieve their best". But what does that mean? 

There were still problems in those schools and in the "normal" high schools, of course there were. At the same time I don't think there were as many problems. Students who were more interested in making things with their hands had an opportunity to do metalwork, woodwork, dressmaking, "domestic science" and more. They saw some point in learning the arithmetic needed to measure and cut. Now we expect the same type of student to learn to computer code.

I can still clearly remember the pride on the faces of the Swedish boys at a residential centre for those "at risk". They were all considered to be potential school drop outs. They had not been achieving in the classroom. These boys were spending time in a residence for what was termed "school tired students" and they had built an "ice yacht". Their pride in it was justified and they had all developed skills they would be able to use for the rest of their lives. It must have seemed an expensive program but I think it would have paid for itself in the end.

Perhaps we have the wrong expectations of some students. They are "school tired".  They need to learn with their hands as well as their heads.

1 comment:

Adelaide Dupont said...

Congratulations Catriona!

yes - this school-tired thing is a big thing.

It also has a way of making people life-tired and work-tired.

It also contributes to burnout and a distrust in government and its institutions

and that is a thing that your paper would worry about a lot.

And it is a letter which contains an issue which a great many people would need to think about.