Are our schools losing their sense of community?

Are our schools losing their sense of community?

Before I delve in, I’d like to acknowledge that my time as a school student, and as a pre-service teacher in no way qualifies me as an expert, this article is merely based on my extremely limited experience.

In recent times Australia’s School system has become increasingly competitive and scrutinised. The Federal Government’s introduction of the MySchool website in 2010 provided a database designed to provide the community with a set of information on each school that enables proper interpretation of school achievements (OECD – Australia). The website allows the community to compare groups of schools whose students come from similar socioeconomic and family backgrounds (OECD – Australia).   In my opinion, the data itself is not problematic. It is however, a great concern if the website becomes the primary source of information for parents deciding on where to send their children.  This problem is exacerbated if schools begin to overemphasise the importance of NAPLAN – the data which largely defines school achievement on the MySchool’s website. The danger lies in the risk of many schools neglecting the broad and holistic nature of the Australian curriculum, and instead teaching to a standardised test – that has already been linked with lowered student engagement, and increased student anxiety – as they get caught up in the numbers game of enrolments. Not only does this mean that students’ and schools’ results may not be reflective of student potential, it denies teachers’ the opportunity to teach their students using a range of creative and engaging pedagogies.

I say all this, to illustrate that schools are so much bigger than the data. It is sensible and natural for parents to wish that their child receives the highest quality of academic education available to them, but the average score in a standardised test, or an average ATAR does not address the type of values, experiences, relationships and opportunities a student will be exposed to throughout their schooling. Undeniably, schools exist to prepare students for further education and employment, but student wellbeing needs to be central if we wish for our students to succeed in these realms. 

As a pre-service teacher on placement at a secondary public school, I witnessed a range of inspiring, dedicated and expert teachers, whose lessons were highly engaging for students. Moreover, the student-teacher relationships were mostly built in mutual respect, whilst still offering opportunities for in class jokes and laughter. I was impressed, and inspired to try to create these types of relationships as I progress through my degree and career later on. I was however, surprised and slightly deterred by the seeming lack of community amongst the whole school. This was very different from my own schooling, in which at least twice a term, whole school assemblies celebrated student achievement, within and outside of school, and informed students of any opportunities for extra-curricular/inter year level activities. Daily notices read by the homeroom teacher every morning ensured that students already knew most of the information prior to the assembly anyway. Admittedly, as moody and disinterested adolescents, many of my peers and I got sick and tired of the repetitiveness of it all. It did however, guarantee one thing; there was really never an excuse to miss out on any of these opportunities.  From an internal battle of the bands competition, to an interstate trip, you knew about it, and were encouraged to participate! These types of opportunities and resources are obviously not available to every school, however it is about informing students of the opportunities that are available, and connecting students to one another through these opportunities.

Academia should always be central to students’ education in schools, however, I believe that if we wish for our students to have the best chance of succeeding, we must create schools in which a strong sense of community, with a shared school vision a foundational pillar to support student education. Adolescence is a tumultuous time for many, and schools need to provide as much opportunity as possible for students to gain a sense of their own identity.  How do schools help their students become active and informed citizens that contribute to, and care about their communities, wherever they may find themselves upon finishing school? I believe this to be crucial to all school’s educational goals, and if instilled into students, learning can only be more advanced.

I am aware of the many funding and behavioural problems faced by schools, teachers and students every day, and I do not mean to downplay the difficulty faced by many schools to merely get through the curriculum. However, instead of judging purely on data perhaps we need to be more concerned with the types of values and ideas our schools promote, and more importantly, how they embed these values and ideas within the education of their students.

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