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One of a few interesting posts over the last week from Dr Tim Ball:

Support and even reward of failure by the current US administration is the culmination of a pattern begun several years ago under the guise of progress. It generally began in the school system when students were not allowed to fail, and worse, were pushed unprepared to a higher level. By the time the student realized they were totally unprepared they were no longer in the education system. It is an ultimately destructive approach …

I watched more and more students come into university simply unprepared. A measure of the problems was the proliferation of remedial skills courses and probationary courses required before assigning regular student status in colleges and universities. Employers increasingly complained about poor skills among graduating students. Approximately 10 emails a month from students doing classroom projects provide me with a crude measure of poor language skills.

Not allowing failure became a prevailing philosophy in our schools several years ago. It’s assumed this will promote individual personality and freedom when the actual result is enslavement of the individual. It ignores the fact you learn self-discipline by initially being disciplined. As you demonstrate a personal responsibility you are given more self-discipline. It is naïve and dangerous to assume children will develop self-discipline on their own. It is dangerous for the child and for society. …

(Recently I had a) .. debate with a liberal education professor about the need for school leaving exams. It occurred in front of High School students and teachers. He opposed them with the usual arguments; teachers simply taught to the exams; they created stress for the students; they create a two-tiered society of successes and failures. In response I said; at least the teachers were teaching to some standard; yes, the tests were stressful but life is stressful and preparing students for life is fundamental; the results created a two-tiered society because the testing was usually geared to college entrance rather than a broad determination of abilities; the system usually ignored how the measures were helpful to students as a measure of their abilities with other students beyond their school.

I was jeered and booed most of the time until, to a mighty cheer, a student said he opposed testing of any kind. I suggested the student better hope the pilot of the next commercial flight he took had achieved some level of performance in his flying tests.

At many public schools in Australia, there is a ‘no child will fail’ philosophy. This does not mean that students are given whatever help they need to reach required objective standards. It means results are manipulated until it looks like students have succeeded. It also means that teachers who do want to teach and mark to standards are marginalised and even abused.

One school staff member related an incident where he had said he could not pass certain students because they had simply not done the required work, or not done it to the required standard. The response from another staff member was shouting and waving a finger in his face. It wasn’t fair, she shouted. His harsh attitude would adversly affect the students’ self-esteem.

This kind of ‘no one is allowed to fail’ mentality is one of the reasons industry IT qualifications are valued much more highly than school or college diplomas.

To get an industry qualification you have to prove you have the knowledge and skills. There are objective standards. You have to meet them. If you don’t, you don’t get the qualification. Consequently, if you have a COMPTIA or Citrix or Microsoft certification, people will have confidence you can do the work, and you will get a job.

The same is true, or I hope it is, for airline pilots and brain surgeons. But in almost every endeavour, some real knowledge and skills are necessary. That is reality. We are setting students up for real and lasting failure if we do not prepare them for it.

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