Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
One of the first questions I ask when I have the opportunity to sit and speak with students is ‘What do you like most about school?’ Can you guess their response? Overwhelmingly the majority of them say that the best part of the school day is seeing their friends. Their answers reinforce how important school is to young people, particularly in developing their social skills.
We know from the research that good social skills enable young people to develop positive relationships with others, help them to express confidently their own feelings in different situations and manage conflict in a positive way. All of this improves their self-confidence and self-esteem.
Given that schools are the social centres for so many young people, it is no surprise that some parents see the value of schooling only in terms of the social interaction rather than for learning. This is because so much learning is happening outside of school hours. I am aware of parents spending hundreds of dollars a month on Maths and English tutoring, private coaching for music, sport or for their children to attend other extra-curricular activities. For some parents, it’s because their child is slipping behind in class while other parents want their child to get ahead. Add to this the fact that we live in an age where the classroom is virtually everywhere, enabling learners to access their learning online and at any time. And of course, social media is a game-changer because students can create their own online communities whereby school becomes of less importance in their world.
As more students head online to augment their own personalised curriculum and parents increasing look outside of school for learning opportunities, we need to ask how much of schooling today is about the social and how much is about the learning? With the continued rise of social media, homeschooling and tutoring clinics, the danger is that schools will become increasingly irrelevant in the lives of young people as a place of learning. The risk is that what is happening outside of the traditional school environment becomes more engaging or effective than what is happening within it.
Therefore, I believe, schools are challenged to ensure that they remain relevant, engaging and effective for all learners. This means being able to get the balance right between developing the necessary social and creative skills alongside the cognitive skills needed to thrive in today’s world. This is why I argue so strongly that schools need to transform, and the time for that to happen is now.
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta