Tuesday 26 October 2010

Respect - the devalued currency thereof

This is in response to an interesting comment by Aus_Autarch.

It's to do with education, and why it seems to be in such a funk.

I certainly don't believe kids are any worse today than in earlier times. Hell, I was a complete devil compared to my offspring. Junior is about to turn 15. I celebrated my 15th birthday by being taken on a pub crawl by the Big T. We did most of the pubs in the Perth CBD. Junior has never been drunk, or tried to get drunk - something we used to do with alacrity. We used to sit around in the communal showers at school on a Saturday after sport, drinking beer and sharing a cigarette or two. By sit around, I mean we'd take school chairs into the showers (the old plywood models) and sit on them - our shower room was roughly square, with shower heads poking out of three walls. The shower heads were close enough that you'd bump elbows with the bloke next to you. We'd drink beer and smoke until the boiler ran out of hot water.

In case you are wondering, our boarding house had a beer fridge. We'd grab a year 8 kid and send him on regular trips from the showers down to the beer fridge to fetch us some cold ones. Can't see that happening in modern sanitised schools. The fagging system was alive and well in our boarding house - it was abolished the year after we left.

We used to celebrate being the best. We worshipped high achievers and lavished praise on them. They were granted special privileges not allowed to the plebs. The result was that most strived like hell in their chosen field of endeavour, whether it was academia, sport, chess, debating, the arts or whatever. Those that clearly tried like hell, but didn't quite make it to the top, were also glorified.

These days, achievement has been devalued. It's medals for everyone and no one can be treated as special (unless you are an ADHD pain in the arse). People value greatly the respect of others - their teachers, their peers, their family, older kids and younger kids. Kids are not given a chance to earn real respect these days because the currency of respect and achievement has been so debased.

I attended a school presentation day last year. Somehow, it was contrived that every kid got a certificate for something. Junior received one - none of us can remember what it was for. It was quite an unmemorable "achievement". He certainly wasn't proud of it - he called it something like a "spaccer award"; something handed out to the class spastics. He disowned it as rapidly as possible - he knew better than anyone how it wasn't valuable. If anything, it was poisonous. Kids like him hate getting rewards that they don't deserve.

In the good old days, rewards were limited. Because they were like rare jewels, they had great value. The academic rewards for each year would be something like this:

  • Prize for dux of the year
  • Prize for top student in each subject (of which there were only about a dozen)
We had about 150 kids in our year. That meant that at most, only 1 in 12 would get a prize. Except as it happened, the Dux would also top a few subjects, and the other top kids might cart off 2 or 3 subject prizes each. Four kids might scoop the lot, with 146 missing out.

I doubt the 146 ever resented the 4 that won prizes - they recognised the effort that they'd put in to get those results. They didn't want a blue ribbon for coming 18th in woodwork.


Aus_Autarch said...

"All must have prizes", a book by Melanie Phillips, discusses exactly the issue you present as central to the decline in Australian educational standards.
(link: http://preview.tinyurl.com/boyonabike )

It certainly is a problem; but in my opinion it pervades far deeper than unwarranted recognition through awards, such as the charming "spaccer award" presented to your offspring.

"Social Promotion" is a term used to describe the way that students automatically progress from one year level to the next without regard to attainment, attitude or accomplishment. Students who have not demonstrated competence in the required academic subjects will be advanced into the next year level, with the stated concern that "holding them back" would negatively effect their social development, and that they can regain lost academic ground by trying harder.

This has resulted in classes which have a range of academic abilities that can range 6 or more years (students in a year 9 class may range from year 3 to year 10). This results in a highly disrupted learning environment, as a teacher cannot dedicate sufficient time to the "official" class level due to the need to cater for students who need remediation and are not capable of interacting with the material at the expected level. Evidence of this is easy to find. Before you follow the next link, make a guess at what the percentage required to pass the final Year 12 mathematics exam is
(link: http://preview.tinyurl.com/boyonabike2)

Surprised? Why? It is the penultimate outcome of the "All must have prizes" outlook.

The question now remains - not who is responsible, but how do you ensure that you are not affected by people who have officially recognised competence (a secondary certificate), yet who have demonstrated mastery of less than 10% of that which they have studied for two years? Professional qualifications may have a required competence on assessment in excess of 90%, but due to the situation in schools, graduates arrive to the "real" world with distinctly unreasonable expectations about the level of competence necessary.

Boy on a bike said...


A "C" used to be something like 60-65. A "D" was 50-59, or thereabouts. Anything less than that was a straight F, for You Fucking Failed.

Are you telling me that a "C" is considered a pass? That you can pass with 39%?

Or is it even worse than that?

Aus_Autarch said...

It is even wore than that. The archetypical grading curve places an "E" (pass) at 40%, E+ at 45%, D at 50%, All the way through to A at 80% and A+ at 90%.

Current (Victorian) assessment systems divides the pass into two components: Completion of work requirements (usually meaning completing assigned class and homework, which is frequently not corrected, just sighted) and Graded assessments. You do not need to "pass" the graded assessments in order to receive a statement of "Satisfactory" competence. Observe: Link . Do you really think that 94.5% of enrolees demonstrated real, practical competence at the second uppermost stream of Mathematics? Compare this data with the data in the prior comment ( Link ). Making the not unreasonable assumption that the bottom of both distributions are the same individuals, A midrange "E" correlates with the "S", and it took an exam performance (on exam 2) of approximately 12 out of 160 to attain an "E". The exam itself can be seen at Link ). Notice that 22 of the marks are from 5 option multiple choice. It is possible (although not probable (p ~0.003)) to attain this grade with random answers. Half (or more) of the necessary marks (6) can be attained by chance with a probability approaching 50%. This means that a student would only need to attain 6 of the remaining 58 marks to gain a certificate stating that they have demonstrated competence in senior Mathematics.
Imagine if a teacher tried to swim against this flow, and require a true demonstration of competence, after years of "education" competence being required. It would be truly unfair to students who had not been adequately prepared by prior educational experiences. Changing this situation is demonstrably problematic.
Yet, are the "public" aware of this? The information is freely available, but not advertised, nor from my experience are the public aware of the situation.

Aus_Autarch said...
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Aus_Autarch said...
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Aus_Autarch said...


It is far worse than that. According to the statistics at the official site of the Victorian Department of Education (VCAA), 94.5 percent of individuals undertaking the senior mathematics stream (Mathematical Methods (CAS)) pass ( link. ).
Correlating this pass rate with the previous data shown of the percentages to attain specific grades ( link. ), and assuming that the students who did not attain a pass were also those attaining the lowest grades, it appears that a student needs to get approximately 16 marks out of the available 160 to be passing.
Checking further, you can see the actual exam (( link. ), and see that 22 of the questions, are multiple choice. It is not impossible to attain the necessary marks by sheer random selection and be in the passing range without demonstrating any knowledge under examination conditions.

This is the most pessimistic outlook, however. It is necessary, for the purposes of realism, to accept that it is unlikely that a student achieving such low scores is unlikely to continue their education into a study that would have a mathematical pre-requisite. This then does bring up the question of why it was necessary to award a statement of satisfactory completion, if both the demonstrated competence and potential need for the qualification are both absent...