This week I was talking to one of my younger students about the game ‘Clash of Clans’ that they were sneakily trying to play during our class. It could see that he had become quite frustrated and wanted to work out what was affecting him.
After class we spoke about how distracted he has been recently and how important learning was. He shared with me that he found it frustrating to see all his mates at much higher levels in this game. He appeared to feel inadequate.
I was initially surprised that this engaged and confident Year 7 student was ‘so far behind’ and asked him why he thought it was the case. “I hardly get to play at home like the others do. I am so far behind them because it takes so long to train and level up. I hate it!”
I could absolutely understand his frustrations; however, I also see how much his parents care about his education and supporting him to have access to more opportunities. This seemed to be understood, but the frustration was still there.
During my next class I had a group of Year 10 students. For this, their last term of ‘high school’ in the ACT, I have decided to heavily focus on making sure they are ready for college (Years 11 and 12).
The nature of continuous assessment in the ACT means they must be prepared to perform well from day one in Year 11, 2016. From building their essay writing, note taking, research and referencing skills, to the development of discussion techniques and confidence, I’m trying to help them prepare both at school and at home.
I couldn’t help but notice the similarity of the conversation I had just had with the Year 7 student, and the ones I was having with some of my Year 10’s. Many of them feel unprepared and have been frustrated at how far behind some of their friends they were.
After numerous conversations with students and parents around Canberra, it is apparent to me that many kids in the ACT don’t place a focus on preparing for college. While many will find the transition manageable, numerous students are likely to have a very difficult time.
It is also clear from talking with college teachers that many students are not ready to engage with Year 10 work. Many take on the challenge and do incredibly well. Others can find the experience incredibly frustrating, sometimes feeling like they won’t be able to achieve their dreams.
We know that that there are many pathways to student success and that ‘college isn’t everything’. However, equity in our current education system relies on the ability of our community to adequately prepare all students to do well at college.
Being surrounded by students who are better prepared, better supported and with less barriers to engagement is the experience of disadvantage in our education system nationally. It’s like playing a Nintendo game where your difficulty level is perpetually set higher than everyone else. That Australian ‘fair go’ is illusive.
Yes, supportive parenting, excellent teaching and a positive school community create a platform for success. Unfortunately, we must acknowledge that there is an ever-present complacency and disengagement amongst many students throughout high school. Without addressing this and providing more opportunities for students to catch up to where they should be, we are ensuring students will continue to feel that frustration and hopelessness of my Year 7 student.
We, as a community, must do more to help these students. While not all will accept support, the provision of additional opportunities to prepare for college is crucial to helping more students succeed.
This term I have started working on a new initiative called ‘College Ready’. It aims to provide support opportunities for students in Canberra to prepare for their college experience in Year 10 and during the summer break in the lead up to Year 11. While it is no ‘silver bullet’ the myriad of issues preventing equity, I hope it helps more students to have the skills needed to succeed.
While not all students will desire an academic pathway or enjoy essay writing and high level maths, I firmly believe that we must ensure students have a more equal opportunity to succeed in our current system. I hope that by working with other teachers, parents, community members and students in the ACT, we will be able to support more students to both achieve their best, and prepare them for success into the future.