A testing time for education?

“An international ranking puts Australian schools in the middle of the pack, way behind many Asian regions – and Finland. But could striving to reach the top signal ‘the end of joy’ for our kids?” So reads the lead-in paragraph in the 9 July 2016 issue of the Good Weekend Magazine of the Sydney Morning Herald about an article by Lucy Clark titled Learning Curve. This article ends thus: “… something is very wrong about the pressure kids are under during their education, and a never-ending array of individual stories of disengagement, suffering pain and loss …”

“Without statistical proof of direct social harm” (I quote Clark), this article (in my view) could join those recent articles which tell us how exams and tests are terribly stressful to students. However, “without data ‘you are just another person with an opinion’” as the author herself says, quoting Andreas Schleicher, a Director of the OECD.

Instead of railing against international rankings with their emphasis on maths, science and reading (core skills surely necessary for survival and economic viability), the dropout rate (school?) apparently caused by learning being seen as not meaningful, etc., etc., why not focus on what education is all about?

Success in education means “helping children to shape their future and to participate meaningfully in our societies” –  Schleicher, as quoted by Clark.

To do that well, one must deal with a few core policy questions about education. However, to be able to examine these questions objectively, one needs to accept that being alive involves some stress. While children can be expected to be protected, survival by adults requires usable skills, accompanied by certain mental attributes, especially resilience.

Cultural differences in a globalising world need not be an excuse for failure to adapt to reality, to be competitive, to excel. The harshness of an uncompromising reality may be a necessary spur. Enjoyment cannot be a prerogative in the real world; ask the millions in the highly-ranked Asian economies who scrabble for a living.

Who are the people qualified to take children to a viable existence, where State welfare, drawn upon other peoples’ incomes, is not available? As well, to be seen by the students to be relevant, should education in schools be ancillary to training in usable skills? Why spend 12 years learning from books, acquiring information most of which would turn out to be useless? Those who seek knowledge for its own sake will seek it out for themselves.