The media are quick to trumpet yet another fall in Australia’s international educational rankings.
“Australian students have plummeted in the latest international maths and science rankings, with countries such as Kazakhstan, Cyprus and Slovenia leapfrogging us over the past four years.” Sydney Morning Herald, 30/11/16
Universities and employers complain that our graduates are ill-prepared for further study or work.
Working at the chalk-face for 45 years I was frustrated that many of my students could not excel in their studies because they were barely illiterate.
It was rare for a student to present an essay that was not riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.
These were not students from deprived socio-economic environments but privileged private school students!
In terms of the capacity to critically evaluate or mount a convincing argument, forget it!
In terms of basic general knowledge or an understanding of our heritage, good luck!
Although the legal system is based on the premise that ‘ignorance is no excuse’, most students graduate politically and legally illiterate.
Aiming for 100 per cent retention rates until the end of Year 12 seems an admirable goal, but not if it means the curriculum is so dumbed-down that our graduates cannot write coherently and correctly.
Is it too much to expect the Year 12s working at my corner store to calculate my change without using a calculator?
Even if our academic standings internationally are failing, are our students superior in other respects?
Are they well-equipped to live in the real world?
Can they cook and clean for themselves?
Can they budget and understand banking, insurance and sound investment practice?
Are they reliable, punctual and capable of accepting responsibility?
Are they ethical in their dealings with others?
Are they trustworthy and able to think independently?
Are they intolerant of sexism and racism?
Do they understand their own sexuality and relate well sexually with others?
Do they have a sense of compassion and community?
Do they have a social and moral conscience?
My fear is that schools don’t even do these things well.
On so many fronts, our schools are simply not delivering the goods.
This could be because there seems little consensus as to what should be the goals of schooling.
If schools are meant to graduate students who can contribute to a more competent work force; if schools are meant to graduate independent-thinking problem-solvers, then we should be assessing how successful they are meeting these goals.
For my part, my bucket list for schools would be to graduate decent human beings who care about their community and the planet.
Graduates who are rich in compassion with finely-tuned social consciences.
Schools must stop being squeamish about taking on-board moral education.
With the decline of religion in our society, someone must step up and fill the void.
I have been appalled teaching so many students who are amoral, without any moral compass to guide their attitudes and behaviour.
Why shouldn’t ethical or moral intelligence be included in the pantheon of multiple intelligences to which most schools subscribe?
It would be great if they also graduated with finely-tuned crap detectors and were not easily conned by the hidden persuaders, the spin doctors and fundamentalists of all descriptions.
Many would regard my bucket list as too ambitious.
The curriculum is over-crowded as is and teachers are already struggling with the demands of the IT age.
This begs the question of what is happening in those 10,000+ hours when our students are our captive audience.
Some of our graduates may become movers and shakers and captains of industry; others famous for whatever, but for my part, if schools graduated ethically attuned students who are sincerely committed to creating a better and more just world, then I will concede that it was money well spent.