Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned – Mark Twain

Take a moment to think about this famous quote. Consider your own schooling – what did you learn that you don’t use anymore? Do you find yourself doing things differently to how you were taught in school?

For me, personally, the processes and skills I learned in school have become embedded in everyday practice – how to write well, how to spell correctly, how to read and comprehend. Yet when I think back to my university education, I remember NOTHING except the names of some of the books I’ve studied. But what I do remember and can do automatically is critically review books and teach others to do the same. Skills I learned in school and have carried with me through life. However – ask me to do algebra and I haven’t retained any of those skills! Do we only internalise what has meaning to us? Is it a brain survival strategy, designed to stop ourselves from ‘overheating’?

So then, what should children be taught at school? There’s no argument that the basics are important – reading, writing and maths. But what about the other subjects? Should we be encouraging young people to follow their passion at school rather than just university entry? My daughter is a great example of this – she has ADHD and is not an academic. But she is a gifted artist and a creative soul. Luckily we realised this early in her high school journey and encouraged her to do subjects she was good at and not to worry about going to university. She’s just graduated Year 12 and has a Certificate of Hospitality and a Diploma of Business under her belt – valuable qualifications that will get her a full time job, straight out of school, while she works out what she really wants to do.

Gen X and Gen Y parents of teens today most likely went to uni themselves – I did – and thus many try to push this path onto their child. But things were different 20, 30 years ago. Uni was cheaper, life was cheaper! Going to uni was a right of passage – these days everything is so much harder and many students are leaving uni with massive debt over their heads. According to Finder.com.au, there were 2.9 million people with outstanding HECS-HELP debt in Australia in 2020–21. The average amount of debt that each person had was $24,771 up from $23, 280 in 2019-20. By comparison, for example, my son, who is 22, left school with no debt and walked straight into a chef apprenticeship. Now he’s earning $65,000 a year.

My advice, as a teacher and a parent is to help your kids explore their own path. Focus on what they’re good at and don’t worry if they don’t go to uni! Every job in society is valuable – we need people to drive buses, serve in restaurants and shops and collect garbage. There is honour and pride in serving our community and without the silent majority working behind the scenes, our society would collapse.

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