Saturday, March 3, 2007

Education Makes A Difference

Adele Horin in today’s Herald discusses student success and failure concentrating on the ‘haves and have nots’. She misses the point. Despite poverty or wealth, students who are not given support at an early age, and inspired and mentored on the way through their education are unlikely to succeed. The nuturing of the next education is NOT a simple matter of postcodes or money in schools. Rather it is recognizing the needs of the child at the appropriate time.

Certainly families from low socio-economic backgrounds have more distractions and sometimes less ability in meeting the needs of their children. Adequate access to good facilities whether at home or at school also assists the development of our children. But it is the organizational care that ultimately delivers good results. Two parts – well structured organization, and compassionate care.

Currently I am in an unusual position of observing the rapid change of the school I pioneered 13 years ago. During most of those 13 years the school had very little money and struggled to provide even basic facilities for its students – but it had a lot of compassionate care and a strong vision. Students responded to this environment in a variety of ways. Many students felt that it was a second home. Troubled students who did not respond well to the discipline of public or private schools found solace in the individualized care that was generally on offer to the students in my school. Our students succeeded and despite their low socio-economic status, nearly every students gained entrance into tertiary studies.

One important ingredient was lacking however. A strong structural organization. This was due to many factors – particularly a lack of money and a consequent shortage of staff as well as the long fight by the administration for the school’s survival which took valuable time away from establishing a strong structure - vitally important areas.

Our school was rescued by a stronger, wealthier and more established structure from Melbourne. Daily I watch as their very tight structure is imposed on our more generous, less tightly controlled one. Layers of responsibility are instituted with strict accountability measures, and each section of the organization is monitored and given feedback. Students who miss even one class, are in the wrong place at the right time, and are struggling with any of their assessments are notified, monitored and given support. Well structured organization. Add to that the compassionate care that our staff have always given to the students - and academic success, high self esteem and long term benefit to the community are well on their way.

Also printed today in the SMH was an article about an achieving Aboriginal student Craig Ashby “A Getting of Wisdom” who chronicles how he struggled despite his academic talents, to read and write until he was fortunate enough to attend a wealthy private school. It was not the wealthy facilities that assisted him though - it was the constant monitoring, encouragement and support. A perfect demonstration of my point. Craig learnt to read because he was attended to, give the support, time and management by a caring community which helped him to overcome almost a decade of neglect.

Julie Bishop, John Howard and Kevin Rudd can talk about nationalizing the curriculum, but it will not really address the problem that the Craig Ashby’s face in the classroom. Their problems will not be addressed until schools are given the support they need to have well structured and accountable organizations along with compassionate care. And yes, of course this will cost money to provide the resources that allow teachers to stress less, care more and provide a better range of support.

Time to cough up – whoever makes it into government!

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