Are our kids failing school, or is school failing our kids?

The subject of Education has always been a fairly hot topic, after all we are talking about our kid’s futures, but why is the focus of attention usually oriented towards how well or how badly certain states are performing compared to the others, or how Australia is performing on the international stage. Complex questions, that often require complex answers.

As a counsellor and educational consultant, my questions are much more fundamental; For example, why do around 50,000 kids each year drop out of school, with even more misbehaving, receiving suspensions or simply unhappy, and what is being done about it? Why is it that schools are so willing to accept responsibility for the kids in their classes that perform well and go on to do ‘outstanding’ things, yet so often seek to appoint blame for the kids that continuously under-perform and go on to do ‘bad’ things?

Schools offer us the perfect opportunity to positively impact on the lives of our young people, as it is one of the very few institutions where attendance is not only compulsory, but where we have continuous supervision that comes in the form of a body of well educated professionals, otherwise known as teachers, to attend to their needs. So why is it that school is having such a negative impact on the lives of so many of our kids?

One of the main issues facing teachers is that more often than not their primary purpose is to attend to the needs of the bureaucratic beast that is otherwise known as the educational system, not the needs of the kids in their care. There is the NAPLAN, standardised testing, the curriculum, the tests, the grades, the performance criteria, the accountability forms, the reports, all cogs in a much greater wheel designed to be part of a system that can conform to the statistical framework deemed necessary to create a universal approach to education where one size will fit all.

The trouble is, kids don’t always want to conform to the data, and as dynamic and creative beings, are much more likely to rail against any system that wants to treat everyone the same when the obvious truth of the matter is they are not. If we used the same rational towards sports as we use in the classroom, we should be able to line up all of the kids at one end of the oval, get them to race to the other end, and watch them all cross the finishing post together. It is simply not going to happen. People are different and have vastly different abilities and interests.

We need to recreate our educational system, and turn it into an organisation that puts the needs of their clients, namely the kids themselves, at the very top of their list of priorities, and if bureaucracy gets in the way, as it has a habit of doing, have the necessary flexibility to respond to an ever changing environment. Nature itself demands that we do this, for it is in nature that we are able to witness not so much the survival of the fittest, but survival of the most flexible and adaptable. Education in the west has to a greater extent become unwilling or unable to meet the changes and uncertainties of these fast moving times, much like the dinosaurs of prehistoric times, and we know what happened to them!