Expediency in Secondary Education

Going through the HSC myself, I decided to dedicate some time to ‘critiquing’ some of the aspects of NSW schooling that I felt were conflicting with the ideals and values of genuine education. To me, education is the systematic or coordinated learning to increase or better one’s own knowledge about whatever it is they are studying. This in turn allows the student to broaden the understanding of the world, and become a much deeper and richer (also interesting) person. The pursuit of knowledge is so tantalising because there is always and will always be something to learn. It is simply impossible to know everything, but what is not impossible is a devoted and genuine attempt at learning and understanding as much as your lifetime will allow. In doing this we develop both as students and individuals. Personally, I believe there is no useless information. Everything is valuable in some respect, BUT somethings are more imperative in the grand scheme of things. Knowledge of the Ancient Roman social structure may not be of substantial monetary value, but it is valuable in that it is fascinating to learn and know (at least for me), and being well-versed in a variety of disciplines creates a much more interesting person. An understanding of medicine or law, is useful as it typically leads to higher paying profession, so obviously talented students will gravitate towards those degrees in their tertiary study, which is fair, as we do live in a capitalistic society. My personal issue is with how students arrive at their future plans. Were they childhood dreams? Are they the products of noble motives? More often than not, they aren’t. They are the results of a rational decision which concludes that high marks equals money, and I believe that the current educational system in place for secondary schools is largely responsible for this attitude. I may be wrong, it might be that the HSC is the perfect way to foster and develop a love for learning and creates this insatiable desire for learning, but to me it seems more like a breeding ground for stress. It’s a place where students shift their focus from actually learning what they are taught and instead concentrating on how to maximise their marks with minimal effort (minimal effort only because the enormity of the HSC itself – a minimum of 5 separate subjects all of which contribute to an Atar). To me it seems that HSC has actually destroyed many kids desire to learn and replaced it with a rationalistic drive that revolves around increasing marks. Regardless of what I think I believed this warranted an investigation.

 

In our modern society based on excess and entitlement, education is now an expectation. In keeping with social expectations, the government now has to appease a populous whose values now centre on their precious kids deserving an education. Whereas historically, education was much more class dependent and even more dependent on hereditary talent, now it is a basic requirement to life. This means the government has had to change the parameters (and even the definition) of education to accommodate the enormous amount of students who believe it to be a requirement that they go to school, instead of a privilege. Naturally, in order to educate these masses (roughly 750,000 pupils), a utilitarian method, that is the greatest good for the greatest number of people has to be adopted. The problem that emerges is has this initially utilitarian method degraded into a lazy and expedient policy instigated by a government that has lost sight of what actual education is? Receiving a rudimentary HSC education is not what I consider proper education. It’s the bare minimum. It’s me learning the most basic Legal principles (Legal studies), or the quick summary of the Battle of the Somme, to quickly get a HSC certificate and get out of there. I have received my high school education, but am I educated? Not really, instead I have missed out on abundance of opportunities in learning some fascinating topics, to study other subjects that ultimately bore me, but which scale well so it’s only rational that I choose that. This is not even bringing into the fact that the syllabus and HSC is structured in such a way that only engages a very select group of learners. Many people do not in fact learn in the way that the HSC has been pre-disposed to have been taught. What may have started as a sensible utilitarian system of education, has degraded to an expedient process that compromises a student’s ability to foster a love for learning..

 

You might be wondering how something as mainstream as the HSC could be classed as expedient. Well firstly, defining expediency is the quality of being convenient and practical despite being immoral and/or improper. How then is school expedient? Well first you must consider what is the purpose of school, to me (as has been told by my mum 100’s of times) it is to learn!! But I’m sure that I am not the only HSC student who feels like his finals year is spent not actually on learning (and by learning I mean cultivating a deep understanding of the topics being taught) but rather learning how to recite facts and stats and essays structure, and legislation, and dates, and the worst of the bunch…. Quotes. I also spend an enormous amount of time doing practice papers which have no value outside of this exam. So why am I spending all this time remembering irrelevant things like the Young Offenders Act 1997 (NSW)? Because I want a good Atar of course, and you cannot have a good atar with a deep and thorough understanding of the fundamental concepts. No No, you need to show the markers that you are a cut above the rest, you have to show them you know useless things like the reason Rockets are launched down at Cape Canaveral is not because they are close to the equator but because it is further away from populations. Beginning to see something improper? That our final years of school, the culmination of our 12 year career, is not spent learning anything valuable, but instead remembering and reciting irrelevant add-ons that are supposed to push us into BAND 6 Range. Why would the lovely people at NESA do this you might ask? Well it’s practical, rather than marking 200 conceptually rich and thought-provoking papers, it is easier to look for noticeable traits like “Oh my, he included the Young Offenders Act 1997 (NSW), this kid is good, Band 6″, or the classic “LINK BACK TO THE QUESTION”. So it is more practical to do what we do, instead of what we should be doing, which is testing our conceptual understanding, and I am sure you would agree this falls under the definition of expediency. However it’s also worth pointing out that this is an indictment on the school system, not the poor old teachers marking the HSC (who are vastly underpaid and overworked).

 

The current educational system is not one which focuses on fostering relevant life skills or attributes, it instead attempts to rank and stratify the students of NSW to allow universities the chance to change their selection criteria to allow for the necessary intake. This is undoubtedly important in a secondary education agenda, however should this override the other important functions of schooling. Is it right that instead of teaching students deep and meaningful concepts crucial to understanding the topic, they instead focus on medial facts. To demonstrate this, I shall choose the most relevant example; English. The fact that English is compulsory is already exposing a flaw in the system (and that is coming from a student who willingly chose to do English Extension 1) but the entire teaching syllabus is ludicrous for such an important topic. It is my opinion that reading is central to success; a person who reads is informed, knowledgeable and downright more interesting than someone who doesn’t, and it is a crucial skill to bettering yourself professionally and personally. Thus, a subject about literature should be a slam dunk for all kids, but it’s not. And it is not because nowhere in the syllabus is there any attempt at cultivating a deep appreciation for literature or even reading itself. Instead it is about analysing themes and recording these generic ideas in possibly the most mediocre essay format imaginable. It is no wonder that there is more importance placed on quotes than actual argument. Because the poor markers have to shift through the essentially the same essay at least 20 times. Why? Because nowhere in lessons is there any time to discuss the themes developed personally by each of the students, it is instead a teacher-instructed theme that is the most basic form of analysis so as to cater for the most basic type of student. While this may seem to be better for the basic student, I believe the basic student would benefit more from being able to write about the themes which resonate personally with them which the text can be directly attributed to. I can almost personally guarantee that at the end of a current Year 12 students HSC, they will not use any of what they currently learn in English again. This is sad because that subject has unlimited potential to foster an appreciation of books and reading which is crucial to development, instead it is a part of a system that’s only focus is to rank the students in preparation for tertiary studies.

 

All this to any HSC students, is fairly obvious, but what could be less obvious is the detrimental overall effect this is having both on a macro and micro level. On a macro level, it is clear that the current process is not working, there are a multitude of examples of comparison studies which illustrate this, the most obvious one being the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) report which showed Australia is alarmingly falling behind in crucial maths and science fields. This report drew evidence from year 4 and year 8 evidence, so no the actual HSC is not involved but this is the result of a much more concerning issue, and one that is not easily solved.  It’s the issue of culture, our current system is not one which promotes an appreciation and desire for knowledge and learning, it’s one that is focused on results and later rank. What this translates to individually is a re-focusing of their perceptions of education in an expedient way. No longer is their schooling a place to learn, it’s a place where they believe they are forced to engage in the ATAR game, where they must tactically nominate and select their subjects based on their results, not on which they desire to know more about. This has a flow on effect which is noticeable when you ask a HSC student why they wish to go to Uni, the answer will most likely to be so I can get a degree and a subsequent job. Nowhere do they mention, because I want to learn more. Uni’s are no longer places to enrich but are facilities to progress careers. To me this is the wrong attitude and is largely due to our current expedient education system.

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