(Almost) The First Day of the Rest of Their Lives

Today is the day that our Year 12 students start their end of school exams for their Higher School Certificate (HSC). 2 years of learning, study, stressing and (hopefully) revising culminate in these exams, which are an understandable source of considerable stress for many students.

As tends to happen at this time of year every year, we as a society ask ourselves whether or not we are putting too much pressure on students in their HSC. Are we pushing them too hard and creating a perception that learning is all about passing high-stakes exams and getting into university? Or is it an appropriate amount of challenge and setting goals for future success?

Personally, I have a significant problem with our HSC system. Lately there have been stories in the local paper about cheating and students abusing ADHD medication to help them study. What kind of a messed-up system is this that students feel they have to resort to this in order to succeed? This seems to me to be a sickening symptom of a fairly rotten disease. I know that this sort of problem is far from unique, but if anything that confirms to me that things need to change.

There has been a slow but strong push towards more student-centred learning in our classrooms. To me it is jarring to go from (ideally) student-directed inquiry learning in junior science to drill-and-kill, syllabus dot point-led learning. If it’s not in the syllabus, too bad – we don’t have time and we need to prepare them for the exams/assessment task/whatever. I know we don’t actually have unlimited time to go every which way and to learn everything we might be interested in. But to have to fundamentally change our way of thinking and our approach to learning from the very end of Year 10 to the beginning of Year 11 seems like lunacy to me, never mind having to rank students as well! To quote the Bard, surely something is rotten in the state of Denmark?

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