by Dr Ali Black
My column last month generated a lot of discussion and feedback. It seems many of us are asking: “Why are schools not places of joy?”
Grandparents contacted me, parents contacted me, school teachers and principals contacted me. Too many of us are seeing first-hand the suffocation of children’s love of learning and self-belief as they encounter constant testing and boring prefabricated curriculum.
Let’s keep talking about this. The more we discuss education the better. Hardly anything matters more than education. Are we happy with a school system that places more importance on test results and league tables than on children’s well-being and love of learning? Are we satisfied with a joyless, narrow, repetitive exam-factory, industrial-model education system of non-stop testing and assessment? Are we happy with a system that is producing despondent, gloomy, mechanical, conforming students who don’t want to go to school?
If we are not happy, what are we going to do about it? Australia is not the only country feeling the ill effects of government benchmarking, testing regimes and treadmills. The other week, Sir Ken Robinson tweeted links to an article in The Guardian about a ‘parent protest’. Parents in England have had enough, with more than 40,000 parents signing a petition calling for a boycott of primary school tests, and substantial numbers of parents keeping their children out of school in a day-long boycott of testing. Parents supporting the Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign are complaining of the damage this culture of over-testing is having on children – outdoor learning has decreased, childhood anxiety has markedly increased, games have been replaced with grammar, and play has been replaced with punctuation.
Parents are sharing their stories on Facebook: “My six-year-old has been crying at school as he can’t do the test papers. I feel so helpless”, “My seven-year-old used to enjoy school and homework, now he just gets frustrated and upset and doesn’t look forward to school anymore”, “When will people realise that making children hate school at a young age has a far more detrimental effect on their further education than whether or not they pass a test that in four months’ time will be utterly worthless. I’m a secondary English teacher so know this for a fact. These tests are a data collection strategy with no meaning and staggering negativity. Enough is enough.”
Sir Ken Robinson believes “the emphasis on testing comes at the expense of teaching children how to employ their natural creativity and entrepreneurial talents – the precise talents that might insulate them against the unpredictability of the future in all parts of the world.” If we are concerned about this issue then we need to be the change. Robinson says “The best place to start thinking about how to change education is exactly where you are in it. If you change the experiences of education for those you work with, you become part of a wider, more complex process of change in education as a whole.”
This article was originally published by The Sunshine Coast Daily on Tuesday 24 May.