There's Something Going on With the Education System

There is something going on with the education system. 

Recently the Department of Education announced that there would be a reform to the VCE. In short, and on paper, there will be a merging of the VCE and VCAL. This is supposedly to give students better secondary pathway options. It is also, in an off the record way, trying to alter the perception that VCAL is a lesser option than VCE. The current timeline for this integrated option is 2025. 

On the record, the department is trying to offer students ‘knowledge and practical skills that will allow them to transition successfully into apprenticeships, traineeships, further education and training or directly into employment.’ Schools have long been criticised for the not teaching students practical or life skills. A study conducted by Monash University highlighted changing perceptions of academic success and what parents would like high schools to teach students. 

I have personal skin in this game. As a senior-secondary teacher I continually feel the conflict between teaching students what the VCAA has appointed in the Study Design and the soft skills all people need to survive in a work force that has no clear projection. 

Teaching Media, I am aware of and feel somewhat responsible for the tumultuous industry which I am preparing students for. Traditional media forms are suffering but the current resources and focus dictated by the study design is to explore the ever-changing relationship audiences experience with the media. This is whilst ensuring they know how to use Adobe Premiere Pro. There is no room, or request from the students that they learn about redundancy, freelance work, taking on shitty jobs that have nothing to do with the role you want to earn their stripes, pushing through when you realise you could earn more working full-time in retail, or living out of home if they decide to move regionally. Which many of them may need to do as it is incredibly difficult to break into mainstream or metro media. Perhaps some of these experiences seem laughable given the glorification of hustle culture or that many content creators as they are currently called have not ever worked for anyone but themselves, capitalising on their personalities and lifestyles to earn a living from the free platforms available to them. 

In addition to this, how do you suggest that students don’t take advantage of these opportunities and don’t hitch their career to a platform which will change on you, literally in an update, and primary purpose is earning money. However, we are in between a rock and a hard place, because it is very rare that earning money, to make a living or otherwise, is not the primary objective of any institution which they will come across. Whilst I encourage my students to network and start building their personal brand I also really value and am grateful for the high education I received which allowed me to study media as I have because I know I couldn’t teach what I do without it. Not just on a logistical and legal level, not just in a knowledge level, but also in the fact it developed my work ethic. And here we are, back to those soft skills. The skills that if they were taught explicitly to me, I would have dismissed because I had no reference point or context, but that I had to learn by myself. This isn’t saying that schools couldn’t do more in this space, but the Department Education’s reform clearly highlights the value of vocational learning. And perhaps soft skills, such as not leaving your work till the last minute or realising yes, one person in a group project does often do all the work are things you only learn by doing. I can’t say I would remember how to do my tax if I was taught it by my maths teachers, but I do remember knowing what study looked like when I started seeing improved results. Unfortunately, these were not in maths. 

However, I would like to return to the role of higher education. This is the rock and the hard place. Covid and the reduction of international students has created a desperation for students. Fees are exorbitant. That is a fact. What many universities have done to guarantee students and make up numbers (and naturally dollars) is an alteration and reduced expectations regarding entry requirements. This has happened in multiple ways. ATARs have been reduced, in some examples, by 20 or so marks. Quite a few courses now simply require a 25 in English. I do not say simply in that achieving this score is simple but that the criteria are less. Another common option offered by universities is a conditional early acceptance, so students know they will get in, with that 25 in English. 

Many courses still have no ATAR, many Certificates, Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas in the Media industry still require a folio or work, interview and a Literacy or Numeracy test. 

From these altered requirements we see many contradictions and many flow on-effects in place. ATAR is not always a measure of intelligence (it is based on a bell curve against the state) but by simply reducing it you are lowering the bar in a way which is not accounted for when student’s get to university. They are not built on a model which provides this support. Having worked as a tutor at university, I am aware of the Fly In Fly Out nature of this job, even if you wish it weren’t the case. 

Likewise, when they enter the workforce. Are managers prepared to work with young people who completed high school during a pandemic? Who had university requirements reduced to give them a sense of hope but an increased debt? People are currently in survival mode and whilst they will be able to say that they were educated throughout a pandemic, very few of them have been able to sustain workflow, motivation, organisation, or the ability to meet deadlines. This is not to give them a hard time. Things are tough now and many people, twice their age are struggling with the same things. I also don’t want to start generalising about entire generations; however, I am aware that whilst the priorities and skills of young people are going in one direction. Society on a broader scale and the foundations which our society is built on (capitalism) is going in a different direction. What will the flow on effect then be for industry?

At a secondary level, the pressure is still on teachers to produce high results. But as pointed out, the students focus has shifted, and naturally the pandemic has completely altered the attitude and approach of students. Now, I work at a government school with an incredibly healthy VCAL program and a strong understanding of multiple pathways for students, yet I still feel the pressure. There is now an increased pressure and focus on English teachers as this subject, due to the changing entry requirements, is a large focus. Also, English is not always a student’s strong suite and many of them will focus on the subjects they like, in the area they want to pursue. This makes me think that students should be expected to get 25 or dare I say, even 30, in the subject most closely related to the course they would like to pursue. But perhaps this would create even more frustrations for English teachers. 

Like many teachers, I often feel at a loss about the world I am preparing my students for, and this was pre-pandemic. The environments we work so hard to build in the classroom are not always in line with what the ‘real world’ has to offer. I don’t know what the answers are and maybe we aren’t even asking the right questions.  I will be incredibly interested to see what the reform looks like at a practical level and how primary schools, high schools and universities shift their foci, or whether the onus is on the rest of society.