Creating one’s future through education

A survey of family expectations for offspring, covering ethno-cultural communities from West Asia to East Asia, as well as some Australian Aboriginal families, found that one ambition was shared by all. Each family wanted to produce a medical doctor. This means that a teenager displaying a good memory would be harnessed (and driven, if necessary) to become a medico.

In Australia 45% of our youth are expected to obtain a university degree. I am not sure whether the intention is to keep young adults off the job-seeker list. Two-thirds of the universities are transmogrified colleges of vocational training. Are the degrees issued vocationally loaded? A teaching degree had sociology as one of two majors; how relevant would that be in terms of providing a student with teaching skills?

Then, a relative of mine, with a pass mark about 40 at end of year 12, enrolled and graduated from one of these universities! Yet, reportedly, about 40% of entrants to the first year of a degree course had been dropping out. (This suggests that the government subsidy per enrolment might be replaced by one based on graduation.)  There is also the issue whether the curricula are ‘mile-wide, inch-deep’ (a phrase I borrowed from Andreas Schleicher in Lucy Clark’s article ‘Learning Curve’ – see my previous post.)

I know from experience that a student can be in Year 12 and yet be unable to carry out a simple calculation; for example, to calculate the cost of traveling from one city to another, given the distance to be covered, the petrol consumption of a particular car, and the cost of petrol. Employers are reportedly complaining about the limited educational levels of applicants for jobs. Universities are said to be imposing ‘filler’ courses on students accepted for coursework.

Yet, the top students in our local high schools are of excellent value, also with ambition and drive. Through my involvement in public speaking competitions for primary school children in the national capital and surrounding townships, I know what a self-motivated education can achieve. I was the founder of that competition, and the co-founder of a national public speaking competition for secondary schools. My local experience is as an adjudicator at ‘Student of the Year’ competitions for both the Quota Club and the Lions Club.

My concern is about the future of those of our youth who are allowed to complete school without being adequately equipped to become economically viable. Who cares for these students?

Having spent years in the past supporting the education of children, and reading about what is happening in recent years, I hope that there could be less semantically-confusing terminology of a very high level of abstraction, and more practical schemes to enable our children to compete with East Asian and European education systems.

Can we learn from Singapore about improving the quality of teaching, in the national interest, and without referring to the joy of learning or the stress of exams? Competent teaching, if seen to be relevant, can be expected to hold the interest of students.