3.2 Education: The Soft Option

Major changes to the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) were introduced in 1989 by the then Minister of Education Mrs Joan Kirner. However, the whole plan has often been described as 'appalling', 'disastrous', 'a syllabus for ignorance', etc. etc.

The fundamental objections to the new ideas envisaged may be summarised thus:

  • emphasis on non 'academic' subjects will erode the intellectual content of the curriculum;
  • scrapping of external examinations will render comparison of results and achievement between different schools impossible;
  • employers and Universities will therefore have to rely on other mechanisms such as the school's reputation to select employees, new students;
  • bright children from poorer and NESB will suffer as a result.

Professor David Pennington, then Vice Chancellor of Melbourne University and outspoken critic of the news VCE system stated: 'The losers will be students from government schools, particularly in western suburbs and in the country who might not have access to rigorous preparation.'

These changes will no doubt affect a large number of students from those ethnic communities who cannot send their children to private schools of their own choice. A large number of NESB persons living in the Western and other less privileged suburbs will have great difficulties competing for jobs and university places.

Many students are not cut out to follow an academic career. The education system to date has catered largely for the select group of academically gifted student and neglected the majority who merely ask from the education system that they be given a standard general education with no pretences.

There seems to be a great deal of muddled thinking over this issue. No one involved in a sporting competition would dream of selecting a team on any basis other than comparative merit. Nobody would deny that the outside world beyond VCE is a competitive world where the best prize goes not to those who cannot be bothered to compete.

One is indeed mostly worried not so much with the structure of the examination system itself as with the mentality engendered in students in the years before Year 12. The mentality that a soft option will be just as good, that any subject studied is of equal importance as any other, and that there is not a great deal of urgency in pursuing excellence is in strong contrast to the recent drives to encourage girls to take up subjects such as mathematics if they desire to compete in the world we live in.

It is a fundamental fact that only some students will be capable of higher education, only some will work hard towards a goal irrespective of the opportunities presented. In education, as in sport, one cannot achieve homogeneity of achievement - some will shine while others will fall by the wayside. It is misplaced social justice to expect that there will be a society of students that are indistinguishable in their achievements. It is doing society a disservice to expect that everybody will have the same educational talents while accepting diversity in other fields.

For many students of migrant origin, their only hope of equity in the new, and to many of them hostile society, is their ability to compete on intellectual grounds, given leadership from the education departments and discipline in the pursuit of their studies. Many have shown that they are capable of taking on the establishment and achieving excellent results. Take away this approach, and many will flounder in a homogeneous potpourri of half-digested subjects and a plethora of soft options which are poor training for anybody, and an inadequate preparation for the outside world.

[From: The Ethnic Voice, Vol 1(8) Nov/Dec 1989]

Source: Maurice N.Cauchi - The Maltese Migrant Experience, Malta 1999

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