Newsletter (September 2009)
I recently had the privilege of visiting some top New Zealand boys’ schools on my sabbatical last term, and as a result I have written a paper on current educational issues, especially as they reflect on the education of boys. This is the same paper that was published in the Herald recently, so if you have read that just skip to the other items of interest in this epistle. For those of you who don’t get, or don’t read all sections of the Herald, you may find time to read ‘Boys’ Education’ in this newsletter. Boys’ schools that I did visit were St Bede’s in Christchurch, Christchurch Boys’ High and Wellington College, to mention a few.
I have been asked to write this short paper on current topics in Boys’ Education and was recently privileged to observe the practice of some of the best boys’ schools in the country and to discuss with them the policies which they implement to ensure that boys achieve their maximum potential.
Two points clearly emerge and I feel that they should be stated at the outset:
First, there is a strong perception that the educational system has been so ‘feminised’ that boys no longer feel comfortable within it and consequently find it more difficult to achieve success. And, as an expensive by-product, a whole industry has grown up around the topic, with gurus springing up everywhere who claim to have all the answers. This problem did not occur in the past and I would suggest that the solution is obvious to anyone who cares to study the achievements of schools like those I visited. Their success – as detailed later in this article – rests on a solid foundation of traditional core beliefs and values which enables their students to realise their full potential whatever the vagaries of current educational ideology.
Second, some boys should not be kept on at school for quasi-social or political reasons: they would succeed much better in an environment or institution that would be more useful and meaningful to them.
I should like to begin by exploring this second point more fully.
There is now a number of students who would happily stay at school until they draw the pension. They will study forever because study sure beats work any day! Fortunately these ‘professional scholars’ seeking to avoid the real world are in the minority – albeit a growing one – whereas young people compelled to stay at school until they reach the ‘political leaving age’ are definitely not a minority, and pose an entirely different problem.
As a secondary principal of long service, I know that this policy of keeping students at school at all costs is almost totally unresponsive to the real needs of many of today’s young people. Some of my more cynical colleagues would argue that it has rather less to do with education than it has with keeping kids off the streets and masking unemployment. Leaving that aside, I believe nevertheless that this policy is deeply flawed and the deleterious effects of having students at school who just don’t want to be there are clearly apparent. They are often moody, unresponsive and, let’s be honest, confrontational and difficult to handle. These reluctant scholars produce very little work of substance and disrupt the learning of good students who want to be at school and who have a definite plan for their future.
How should we cater for those students who – to use the jargon – seek an alternative pathway?
I would suggest that the answer lies outside the school rather than within it. The fact is that many of these students – once basic literacy and numeracy have been achieved – would benefit from apprenticeships, practical on-the-job experience and vocational training that would not only capture their interest but would lead on seamlessly to employment. They really don’t see the value of whether Richard II’s divine right of kingship was in dispute – and frankly don’t care. However, give them a practical skill to learn and a sensible programme to follow and they are away. Students, especially boys, need to feel strongly that the study they do is relevant and will provide them with a skill or qualification that will make them employable.
It would become tedious if I were to detail the exact aims of each of the schools I visited, but it was quickly obvious that they all have broadly similar philosophies which have not changed markedly over the years. All were aware of the importance of treating boys as boys in order to achieve the best ‘outcomes’ for each individual (Sorry about the jargon!) A brief summary of the salient points will serve to illustrate this. Embodied in each school’s practice were the following key concepts:
- a sense of being part of a caring community with rules and freedoms that mirror the expectations of an ordered society
- a sense of order and discipline which goes hand in hand with a respect for authority
- the development of sound work habits and organisational skills
- an extra curricular programme which promotes keen interest in sport and the arts
- the instilling of a sensible approach to competition, learning to win with humility and lose with grace
- a staff united in its commitment to excellence in the classroom and its involvement in the broader life of the school community
- an awareness of the history and traditions of the school, and society at large
- frequent reminders of the intrinsic importance and value of each individual
- Gospel values
Every Headmaster I spoke to placed strong emphasis on preparing students for a changing world, while maintaining respect for tradition, and was confident that if the school instilled in their students a love of learning, respect for themselves and others, tolerance and humanity, then society would be all the richer.
And what of the future? The new curriculum will shortly be with us and already teachers are being trained in the key competencies and thinking skills embodied in it, learning how to ‘unpack’ its riches for the attentive student to absorb. There is much talk that it is broader and more accessible; that it offers something for everyone and that it blurs the distinction between success and failure. It emphasizes creativity and thinking. It shifts pedagogy from being teacher-centred to focusing more on the student. Individual differences will be catered for more effectively. Lively group work will be encouraged and the teacher will become a facilitator, and move away from the front of the class. There will be more e-learning. After all the knowledge wave is here and we must surf it!
There is a definite freedom and flexibility about the new approach. It promises much and one would be unwise to attempt to evaluate its merits and demerits at this early stage in its development. It would be totally presumptuous to make any judgements until it has been tested over a safe period of time.
However I will say this: Western Australia is introducing a new curriculum that is in marked contrast. There is more insistence on CONTENT and a back-to-basics approach. English sees the return of spelling and grammar and a healthy insistence on studying traditional and modern literature. No longer will spelling and punctuation be ignored in creative writing; in formal writing, clarity and aptness of expression will be given the importance it deserves.
I suppose my point is that we need to look very carefully at current Educational philosophy and practice and, above all, not rush into the latest educational theories doing the rounds. It may be unfair to argue the point but the current economic down-turn is an interesting study. We have been assured that Information Technology will have us up to speed with change almost before it happens. Maybe, but it didn’t warn us of the recession that has affected so many lives.
So there you have it – child-centred learning discovery versus formal content and traditional teaching. Research shows us that developing countries are out-stripping us in gaining essential skills and qualifications for their students. They may work harder and value education more than seems to be the case here in Western society, but it is just possible that the real reason is that they still have a traditional curriculum which is, to a large extent, still taught in traditional ways.
I will leave the readers to draw their own conclusions on that debate.
WINTER SPORTS RESULTS
6 teams made semi final of the A division (7 grades)
4 teams made the final, 1st XV, 2nd XV, 4th Grade, 6th Grade
2 teams won the final – 1st XV and 6th Grade
Participation numbers were same as last year
Gareth Anscombe made NZ Secondary Schools’ Team
Gareth Anscombe and James Doyle made the “Blues” U18 team
Gareth Anscombe, James Doyle, John Poe, Rodrigo Costa, Jack Whetton and Josh Sabin were selected for North Harbour U18.
5 teams – 1st XI, 2nd XI, U15A, U15B & Senior C
1st XI – 5th in A3 Division and 5th in National 3rd Division tournament held in Hamilton.
7 teams – 3 senior and 4 junior (Intermediate).
1st XI won North Harbour 1A Division
2nd XI came 2nd in 2A Division.
Luke Hawley U18B North Harbour
George Muir U16A North Harbour (Captain).
6 teams in North Harbour Competition
Years 9 and 10 were 4th in Northern Region tournament held in Hamilton.
5 senior teams and 3 junior teams
Senior A and Senior C won North Harbour Secondary Schools’ Championships.
Andrew Priestley was 2nd in the NZ U19 Stroke Play Championships.
OTHER SPORTING ACHIEVEMENTS
Gareth Anscombe, our Sports Captain, has been named in the New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Team’s touring squad of 24. He was originally one of the 53 players selected from 1st XV teams all around New Zealand and is the only player in the North Harbour region selected for the team’s tour of Australia in October. Congratulations Gareth.
Andrew Priestley of Year 13 came 2nd equal with Nelson’s Ryan Chisnall in the New Zealand Under 19 Golf Championship at North Shore Golf Club recently. Well done Andrew.
Christopher and Richard Rahardja competed at the 3rd Sugihara Cup Karate Open Championships held recently at the North Shore Events Centre with over 300 competitors, including over 70 internationals from New Caledonia, France, Japan, Nepal and Turkey. Chris won Gold medals in both his Junior Kata (forms) and Junior Kumite (free sparring) and also got a Silver medal in the Senior Open Kata (forms), losing in the final to Minh Dack from France who is 11 years older and is ranked No. 3 in the world.
Richard won a Silver medal in the 10/11 Year Male Kata and a Gold in the 10/11 Year Male Kumite. At 12 years old this December, Richard will be the youngest to compete in the Oceania Championships in Tahiti in 2010 and is looking forward to being selected for the National Team representing New Zealand.
Thank you once again to New World Devonport for their continued support of Rosmini College in the Shopping for Schools’ Programme. We recently picked up a cheque for $540.87 at a morning tea put on at New World. By shopping at New World Devonport you are supporting your boys here at Rosmini College.
T J GERRARD
N O T I C E S
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