I had made an agreement with myself to write a blog every week. Sometimes life catches up with us and we are lured away from our intentions. The call of a rocky coastline, a box of oil paints and brushes, a canvas and a convivial group of artists was too much to resist. My apologies! But now I am back and here are my thoughts for this week. Please share yours with me.
I have been following the growth of the Victorian State Schools Spectacular for a few years now. It is one of the largest recurring performances in Australia and is a professionally staged production performed at Melbourne Park to an audience of over 10,000 people.
The amazing thing is that it involves a cast of almost 3000 government school students, working towards a common goal in a collaborative, competition-free environment. They sing, they dance and they have a wild and wonderful time. The end product demonstrates the talents, the discipline and the imagination of our kids. And guess what? It isn’t a test! That’s right, it is deliberately NON-COMPETITIVE. Time is taken out of the regular school year to give our kids this experience, and it grows from a long history of enrichment activities that are part and parcel of the school experience in Victorian schools.
When I was a classroom teacher in Victoria we had a school camp every year from grade one up. In grade one everyone slept over at the school. We all bedded down on the floor and giggled and grumbled our way through the night. Next morning we fed all our little people and their parents picked them up around 9.30 am. Each year the number of nights increased until grade 6, when all the kids went camping under canvas for five full days.
We also put on a school production each year. This would be an all singing, all dancing extravaganza and would usually involve every child in grade five and six in some way, on stage or back stage. Once again, this all took time out of the regular school day. Often we would perform the show on two nights in a local theatre and the excitement and pride that was felt by students and the whole community was palpable. This tradition would be continued once they got to secondary school.
We taught all our kids how to swim. The goal was to have them ‘drown proofed’ by the age of 7. For two weeks all our younger children would go to the swimming pool in buses every morning. They would come back bedraggled and weary, so afternoons were usually pretty quiet and low key.
We knew how much our kids learned through participation in camps, swimming and productions. They learned about self-discipline, cooperation, persistence, imagination and about worlds that were often well outside their daily life experiences. We enabled city kids to sit around a camp fire at night looking at stars, we made it possible for the disengaged kid to become the lighting manager’s right hand man. and maybe we saved some kids’ lives in the future because they knew how to stay afloat. We did so much that was valuable. And none of it was tested. Interestingly, our kids have done very well indeed in international measures of literacy and numeracy.
Imagine my horror when I was advised by my supervisor at the last school I administered that my kids could not take advantage of an opportunity to use the local swimming pool once the end of year tests were completed. The pool was next door, we had been offered access and life guards and it was two weeks before the end of the school year. The reason? “It is an inappropriate use of instructional time”. We should be preparing the kids for next year’s tests.
Things are changing. We need to be on our guard. This is what happens when test scores become more important than education.