Societal changes impacting on education

The mid-Seventies brought in some very significant changes in society, due to a change of government after twenty-three years. Schoolteachers were empowered but not enriched, and social engineering was in. In my schools, the teachers insisted that achievement should not be rewarded, only effort. … …

… … at my son’s high school … Teachers were openly political and dressed as they wished; before an election, political badges were worn into class by teachers. The younger teachers were still talking about “actualising the child’s potential,” an objective of early primary school, whereas the older teachers and parents hoped that our offspring would not need to be supported by us forever … …

At the beginning of each year at our high school, a student’s ability was assessed by his teachers. There were no formal assessment procedures, offering the opportunity for verification of an assessment. At intervals, usually once a year, each student was evaluated against his assessed ability. That was how a neighbour’s son got As for every subject, every year. Assessed at D-level ability, if his effort and achievement came to that D-level, he received an A assessment. My son was assessed as more competent, but he was lucky to get past a B. What was his initial assessed ability? I could never find out. I was told that this varied with each teacher, and it wasn’t being formalised, you know…. …

My daughter was unfortunate enough to be in the first batch of students in the new college system, representing the last two years of secondary schooling (years 11 and 12). The focus of the new colleges was on acquiring qualifications for tertiary entrance, … the non-tertiary-oriented could still matriculate (a requirement sought by some employers) apparently at a much lower level of competence. … There are many students in the country who have matriculated but whose capacity to read or write or to think clearly suggests that their pass was based on non-tertiary subjects of the most interesting kind, but of the least financial value to them in life.

… … changes reminded us of the introduction of Cuisenaire rods in the first year of primary school. We were told most emphatically that the children would not need to learn any tables or memorise any numerical relationships, ever. By year three, of course, they were relying on memory. Later, we were told that, because the children had calculators, they did not have to learn how to do sums by hand, or in their heads. How would they know when the calculator produced the wrong answer?

… … A girl spent four years studying a foreign language at high school; she could not speak the language at all, in any form, much less understand it, at the end of that period. Neither could any of her classmates. Convert from 70 degrees F to Celsius? Two schoolteachers did not know how to start, even after I showed them the relationship. Some of the words my peer group uses had not been heard of by some of today’s university graduates. Even if they had, they could not spell them. And they were not all the offspring of ethnics.

… … Claims by employers and others that current crops of school leavers and university graduates are progressively less competent is challenged by teachers and by some academic educationalists. These assert that, statistically, there is no basis for such a comparison. This is what I call a technical defence, as happens in the law.

… … When employability is the issue, the defence raised is the development of self-confidence through free expression. One would think that expression needs concepts; and that free communication, but only at the simplest level, would leave this country at a relative disadvantage in a global, competitive workplace.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ reflect my experience in the education system in the national capital from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. And I do say that I received a more comprehensive education in a colonial territory than did my children in Australia.

Indeed, recently, a retired deputy-principal told me that what he had taught my daughter in Year 6 in primary school was, in later years, taught in Year 8 in high school. As well, a few years ago, 2 local students, in years 11 and 12, did not how to begin a simple calculation about the cost of driving from one city to another. Now, universities have to offer remedial English to Australian students before commencing a degree.

Was there no requirement to reach set standards before being promoted year by year in school? Were some parents misled as to the educational competence of their offspring? I would say so! What about the viability of the nation’s children against children force-fed in some countries – in the name of survival?)