What it is like to sit the selective schools test?
Four students from Sydney's Hurstville Public School tell us what they thought about sitting the NSW's selective high school placement test.
Recently, I conducted a research project in a number of south-western Sydney schools and during an interview with students, a 10-year-old girl told me, "I'm scared of NAPLAN".
I was not surprised but I felt for her because her experience of schooling at this young age was not being shaped by the wonderful classroom experiences provided by her teacher, but by fear of a government-sponsored test.
In Monday's Herald, David de Carvalho, the chief executive of the NSW Education Standards Authority argued the importance of school students developing basic literacy and numeracy skills. No one would dispute this. But his argument was more interesting for what he didn't say and how his argument is emblematic of a reductive view of education, the type of which is currently being peddled by governments around the globe.
First, the argument fails to recognise that basic literacy and numeracy skills are the foundation for high order skills that strengthen and extend a student's learning. Well, that should be the aim, in any case. The more literate and numerate students are, the more likely it will be that they will have the skills and knowledge to engage in rich learning experiences across the curriculum areas, and for example, use their high order literacy skills to write with flair, originality and insight.
Instead, we are presented with an argument that aims to have students read instructions in equipment manuals and write invoices. This is a reductive view of education.
Second, the NSW education chief's argument fails to make the connection between the design of a first-class curriculum and its role in developing high order literacy and numeracy skills. In a quality curriculum, students are given the chance to develop their analytical, evaluative skills through, for example, the study of a range of texts, particularly literary works, including the study of quality poetry.
However, the reductive view of education was clearly on display last week when, following a controversy regarding HSC English texts, the minister announced that novels would be restored as compulsory in HSC English. But the number of prescribed texts set for study has been reduced and poetry – compulsory for the final year of schooling in NSW for more than 100 years – will be optional.
This potentially robs HSC students of the chance to develop further their high order literacy skills and makes a stark statement that we no longer value the study of poetry as we once did.
In a way, none of this is surprising. One only has to read the NSW Premier's priorities for education. But don't expect too many inspirational and visionary statements here either. There's the one priority – "to improve education results" by increasing "the proportion of NSW students in the top two NAPLAN bands by 8 per cent". Important, but again, this view reduces the goals of education to improving test results and little else.
And while you're at it, read the government's "Stronger HSC Standards Blueprint" released last July. Again, don't expect too much big picture thinking here. This is largely a workplace competencies document that refers to students as "the future workforce" and lauds the HSC as a "key plank in NSW's social and economic infrastructure".
While workplace skills and employment are very important, it is again, a reductionist view of education where the student's life beyond work – and the skills and knowledge required – are not addressed to any substantial degree. This document provides little information on the type of people we want our children to be and the personal qualities we want them to exhibit by the time they leave school.
Our lives seem to be increasingly dictated by statistics and the decisions of politicians and senior bureaucrats. Education is not immune. But I still feel sorry for that 10-year-old girl – and her classmates.
Dr Don Carter is a senior lecturer in English education at the University of Technology, Sydney.