Damn­ing les­son in our ‘flawed’ school sys­tem

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

By all the stan­dard mark­ers, by all the ac­cepted rules and reg­u­la­tions and as­sess­ments of sec­ondary school, my daugh­ter has grad­u­ated from school a fail­ure.

Over the two years of her higher school cer­tifi­cate, she has tru­anted fre­quently, she has failed to hand in as­sign­ments, she has failed to turn up on time, she has failed to meet uni­form re­quire­ments, she has failed to at­tend some of her HSC trial ex­ams, she has ex­hausted the pa­tience of teach­ers and pushed to the outer lim­its the struc­tural sym­pa­thies of the pub­lic school sys­tem … Ex­pul­sion has been just around the corner for six months … It has been dif­fi­cult for her teach­ers; it has been dif­fi­cult for her par­ents … It has been dif­fi­cult for no one more than her.

This is how Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist, au­thor and mother Lucy Clark be­gan an ar­ti­cle that, since 2014, has been shared on Face­book 26,000 times. The wide­spread con­cern about the pres­sure be­ing ex­pe­ri­enced by teenagers made her won­der whether the topic might war­rant fur­ther ex­plo­ration. Beau­ti­ful Fail­ures: How the Quest for Suc­cess is Harm­ing Our Kids is the fruit

For Clark, who de­scribes the Na­tional As­sess­ment Pro­gram — Lit­er­acy and Numer­acy as “a blunt po­lit­i­cal tool and in­stru­ment of tor­ture for many chil­dren, par­ents and teach­ers”, the ten­dency of our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to ex­ces­sively mea­sure and rank chil­dren comes in for par­tic­u­lar crit­i­cism. This is be­cause, in Clark’s view, the con­cen­tra­tion of ed­u­ca­tion to a fi­nal mark en­cour­ages chil­dren to be ego-ori­ented rather than task-ori­ented. In this way, the task it­self, the learn­ing it­self, be­comes less im­por­tant than the ac­tual mark.

For Clark, money is an­other lead­ing cause for the in­creas­ing pres­sure sur­round­ing a child’s ed­u­ca­tion in Aus­tralia, which has one of the widest gaps be­tween ad­van­taged and dis­ad­van­taged schools of any coun­try in the OECD, a di­vide that is fur­ther strength­ened by a fund­ing model that has seen in­creased spend­ing on pri­vate schools of 107 per cent from 1991 to 2001 while spend­ing on pub­lic schools has in­creased by 52 per cent.

Thirty-five per cent of Aus­tralian chil­dren at­tend pri­vate schools and, ac­cord­ing to Clark, pres­sure mounts as many par­ents strug­gle to raise the money to pay school fees, and as the ex­pec­ta­tions on chil­dren at­tend­ing pri­vate schools are of­ten height­ened by their par­ents’ fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment in their ed­u­ca­tion.

So­cial me­dia also comes un­der scru­tiny in Beau­ti­ful Fail­ures, with Clark de­scrib­ing Face­book as a place to boast and to list achieve­ments, which then gives the im­pres­sion that those who are not achiev­ing must in­stead be fail­ing.

This, com­bined with the in­fil­tra­tion of 24hour con­nec­tiv­ity, de­prives chil­dren of what used to be a quiet place af­ter school: a place far from the school­yard mob men­tal­ity that now fol­lows them home via so­cial me­dia, and fills

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