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ENTER the Dragon

December 21, 2009 – 3:32 pm3 Comments

how-i-got-into-collegeBy David Werdiger

It’s that time of year again. Not Chanukah; not Christmas; not New Year; but VCE results time. That time of the year when the Jewish schools are able to quantify their success and be judged among the top schools in the state.

Let me declare my specific interest this year. Our oldest child has just completed his VCE, and this has been a very new experience for my wife and me (yeah, and for him too). He didn’t get a stratospheric ENTER score that puts him in the top fraction of a percent of students in the state. While he did work very hard over a sustained two-year period, he didn’t put his life on hold either. We are pleased with both the approach he took to VCE, and with the result he obtained. Would the opinion I express here be different if my child was among the elite students? I don’t know. I hope not.

The whole school ranking thing leaves me wondering just a little. Mount Scopus were number one this year, with a spectacular performance from a large number of students. Interestingly, the principal of MacRobertson High, the previous number one, expressed relief at their drop to third, calling the rank an “albatross around our neck”.

Back in the olden days, when I completed what was then known as the HSC (Higher School Certificate), it was the very first year that internal assessment was introduced. Rather than have students’ entire assessment come down to a single three-hour exam, it was felt that having some assessment done by the school, and across the year, would reduce the pressure on students, and also assess subjects in a more appropriate and equitable manner.

Over nearly twenty years, what has this evolved into? A system that maintains sustained pressure on students for two years, to the point where psychologists make a good living teaching them how to cope, and the secondary industry of private tutors is thriving. A system that places pressure on top performing schools (and therefore their students) to maintain their ranking. A system that not only still judges students by a single number, but has taken the number from an aggregate exam score to a ranking, thus sending the message that education is a competition.

The top-ranked schools have embraced this, and have learnt to work the system so as to produce students that do well. But are these schools providing a good education for their students? Are they equipping them with the tools to live productive lives? Or have they simply become ENTER factories?

At a presentation at the start of the school year, well-known psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg spoke to parents and students about how to approach the study year. He was full of good advice – things like getting plenty of sleep (was he talking to the students or the parents as well?), what to eat, and how to study most effectively, much of which was backed by research. The most important thing he said was this: “your ENTER score does not define you”.

The system we have now is deeply flawed. Some people might say that it’s all we have, or that we need some way of measuring student performance, and particularly determining who is accepted into the limited number of university places. The students who did extremely well by this measure should be fully congratulated. They worked hard and earned it. They made their parents, their school, and their community proud.

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