Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Striving for excellence vs achievement

I can think of four models for a school. These ideas underpin curriculum and pastoral decisions. Where a school understands its direction, it can drive staff and students accordingly. It is the major theme that governs the mission of the school.

Education based on excellence and opportunity (education driven)
School as a place where students strive for excellence - sights are set high and achievements on the way are celebrated. High expectation drives this system where teachers have to remind students of their successes whilst they pursue ever higher goals. Schooling is an esoteric activity - one without goals other than higher learning. This is a system driven by opportunity for education.

Education based on success (success driven)
School as a place where students find success and gain self worth. Students are only given situations where they are successful. A raft of factors is taken into account (the whole student picture) rather than just their intellectual capability to ensure students will succeed. This is a system driven by the need for further success.

Education based on vocational needs (workforce driven)
School as a place that provides key skills for the workplace. Students are streamed into interest areas and delivered to the workforce and tertiary providers already along a workforce pathway. This is a system driven by workforce needs.

Education based on student readiness (student driven)
School is a place that attends to individual student needs and presents information at a pace best suited to the student. As the student becomes ready for the new content, it is provided in a timely manner. This is a system driven by developmental readiness.

I think the success based schooling is based on an ill advised premise as motivation cannot be maintained on perpetual success. Success is only valued if the risk of failure is real. This is the same issue with the developmental approach. This is one reason why the entertainer rather than teacher is so necessary to maintain discipline in classes in WA where these two systems are the most common!! (without risk of failure and vague BMIS alternate measures are required to keep students on task).

Similarly, the vocational needs approach is subject to the vagaries of the workforce and naivety on the part of students and their career goals. To stream students into a career too early is to pigeonhole them and limit their future success without complete retraining. Motivation falters as students find their chosen field to be real work.

The whole Australian way was based on the fair go and the battler. Without the battle or the ability to get a fair go(opportunity), we are changing national ideals. Excellence and opportunity (with all it's inherent failings especially for unmotivated and/or low ability students) is still the better of three evils for the majority of students - with limited pockets of students where the other methods can have sensational results.

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