Getting back to school: But also to a different place

There are mixed emotions for students around generating the enthusiasm that they need to return to school. On the one hand lessons at home have lost some of the gloss. It is hard for teachers to generate yet another and another wave of exciting distance activities and for parents and caregivers to exude the energy that teachers daily show. On the other hand, students I come across express a wide range of willingness and eagerness to get back to school – to see friends and familiar teachers.

There is also an overlay of concern coming from parents and caregivers, worries about their younger ones “missing their learning”.  I can understand that at a general level, but it is a little harder to know what they mean when you drill down. Is it specific to learning maths and numeracy? Or is it a feeling that school is where the young ones should be, and they aren’t there!

It is ironic that if it is this latter sentiment when you see the slide that attendance data has taken steadily downwards for quite a few years now. I saw some data recently that painted a clear picture of a decline in attendance across the board – all deciles shifting around with some lift in the higher decile schools (although still a long way from levels that would satisfy a highly performing schooling system) to a continuation of the slow but steady decline in attendance in the lower decile schools.

This is very troubling because it is this very lower-level slice of the population that arguably needs the most help in providing students with the tools that will see them performing well in their lives. It is in lifting performance in the lower decile schools that the entire education system will gradually pull itself up to the level of the education systems we are envious of.

But education seems to shy away from realising the need to lift performance – I am indeed pleased that doctors, dentists, and motor- mechanics can adopt attitudes that are based on sentiments such as “Hey, this isn’t good! Let’s do what we need to do and can do to sort it out!” There are several things that that can be done easily.

  • School lunches for everyone in lower decile schools is a no brainer as they say. Good nutrition leads to so many other good outcomes. 
  • The curriculum needs to be trimmed back to the essential skills that lead to high skills – this does not have to be a morbid procession of dullness. And the critical skills will make learning (and teaching) more enjoyable. Education should be a time of discovery and the thrills that come with achievement rather than glimpses of the mystery envelope.
  • Parents and caregivers must be included in the mix – there are things that can be done to help those who look after the young ones – we need learning communities that utilise the skills in those communities and harness the elements in the community to be involved – the churches, the marae, the community centres, older students helping younger ones, and everyone utilising the skills and knowledge that they carry with them.

It is going to take some effort for schools when they are asked to get the students back and into gear. This will require unenviable effort. But it will be worth it – the last thing we want to see is to have even more students opt out of what is not only the only road to a future but is in fact, a requirement under law.

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