Over the past few days I have been out and about in my local community attending one appointment after another and as I drove through town I passed a skate park where there were at least thirty kids aged from about eight years to maybe fifteen / seventeen years old . They were skateboarding, riding their bikes and just hanging out unsupervised with what appeared to be no cares in the world. It absolutely astounds me how many children who should be in school are not, and this is not the first time I have seen this, it is not new. I see this often in our communities throughout the world. Okay some of these kids might be home schooled or they might be sick, but it still doesn’t explain the lack of adult supervision. This sight really resonated with me this week as I have been reflecting about student engagement, what it is, how it can be achieved and more importantly how it must be an essential part of our pedagogy.
As I drove past, my first thought was the police should come by and make a clean sweep rounding up all these kids for truancy and report parents for not making their kids attend school. Then I thought to myself, Jodie seriously maybe you are being a little too harsh and truancy really isn’t that big a problem here in Queensland. However, after reading an interesting journal article about Truancy and the Law in Australia: The Queensland example, I realise that it is a serious problem and that “Queenslanders are right to be concerned that too many children and young people are disengaged from the education system” (Dickson, E. & Hutchinson, T. 2010). The authors of this article remarked that even thought there were truancy laws in place, attracting up to a $1200 fine to the parents who did not meet their obligations to see that their children attended school, that the Queensland government was reluctant to prosecute parents. As a result parents’ attitudes towards ensuring students are at school, I believe has shifted from being a parental responsibility to it is a school problem. My second thought was that parents should be made responsible for their children’s behaviour and the full length of the law should be enacted, resulting in their social security payments being cut or at the very least being made to pay for the police call out to collect the students. But will this solve the problem of truancy or just place the kids and their families in more of a disadvantaged position than they are already facing?
In 2009 the Australian federal government announced that it would be implementing a trial program called Improving School Enrollment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measure (SEAM) in the Northern Territory and Queensland in areas where truancy was high. The federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations stated that a key component of this program was that Centrelink (Social Security System) would suspend “parent’s income support payment until the parent can demonstrate that they are taking reasonable steps to ensure that their child is attending school or their child returns to school”. Through this program there have been parents that have been fined for their children’s non attendance and according to the evaluation document released January 2012 this program has certainly assisted in improving attendance rates however it clearly states that even though the trial is having a positive effect on children’s school enrolment and attendance, it is only one part of the solution, stating that the schools themselves play an important role in improving school attendance. Here is where my reflective thoughts started to kick in and my mind started questioning the appeal (or lack of) schools to our kids. Why aren’t these kids knocking down the doors to be in school? Why aren’t they yearning for more knowledge about the world within which they live? Why weren’t they engaged in learning?
If you believe everything the media is telling us about these kids we see around the town when they should be in school, then these kids are out of control social misfits that are a danger to our society. And yes, sometimes these kids are the ones we see often roaming the streets during the day and night displaying bad language, manners and behaviour. A very recent local reference to this the YouTube video that a local community radio station representative filmed a youth physically assaulting a security guard and then placed this video online with a running commentary of his judgement on this incident, entitling it Kids Out of Control in Caboolture. Although this is an extreme example of the kids behaviour in the area, it does highlight the extent of kids just floating around the town with no purpose and how the community judges these behaviours. This makes realise that that we often as a society take time to criticise and judge but do we take the time to consider and investigate why? Ok we do not like the outcome and lets be honest who does? I doubt even those kids could honestly say they are happy within doing this behaviour. Yes it satisfys their need to feel empowered, their need to feel a part of a group, a sense of belonging and probably a few other key emotional and social needs as they grow but does it make them feel good about themselves? Does it build their self esteem, self image and self efficiacy? The answer I believe would be no.
These are all issues facing our society and our youth today. These issues aren’t just limited to my community either, they are worldwide issues amongst almost every community. Our youth want to feel connected with one another. They want to feel they belong. They want their interests and voice to heard, valued, shared and extended upon. So how do we change this for our kids, for our future? The truth is no one individual sector can hold the magic wand to solve this issue and it is a community problem which needs a whole community involvement solution. We need to work together to make this work, as the African Proverb tells us It takes a village to raise a child. It is every individuals responsibility to consider and then act upon how they can help the youth of today become the best they can be tomorrow. For us to have true success with engaging and valuing our youth, a communal response is required. We all need to actively advocate and participate in ways that we can connect with our youth, families, communities and beyond. As an educator I have now reflected about what we, as educators can do to be part of the solution.
Educators need to be advocates for education, child rights, learning and not just at election times either. We need to be advocates and diplomats everyday, everywhere, all the time within our communities and beyond. We need to ensure the importance of education and developmentally appropriate learning is at the forefront of all our citizens, politicians included, minds and priority lists. Ensuring that our community is engaged and engaging in education and learning is the first step to restoring student engagement in schools. Once the community truly sees and embraces the value of education, interest and engagement have a strong foundation to walk upon. We then need to focus on our educational institutions, how we can be advocates and diplomats in our everyday practices within all learning environments. Really engage families and the community within our educational institutions offering educational solutions and assistance not just for our children but for the wider community. Get our elderly in to support reading and adopt a grandparent! Encourage them to share their historical past with the students so they can make real emotional and social connections between the content of history lessons and the world within which they experience today, but more importantly how they can use this knowledge to inform and build upon their future direction and actions. Find your local cultural associations and ask them if they would be willing to implement workshops or hands on programs to connect the social studies from books to our day to day interactions with the people in our communities. Active advocates that walk the walk as well as talk the talk can evoke passion and develop connections with the community that can spark the light to re-engage our families and students in our schools.
Educators need to review regularly the practices which occur at a ground level in the classrooms. And not just their own individual practices. This issue does not have an individual solution because it is not one individual person or practice which is causing this interrupted learning discourse. Educators need to embrace their colleagues as part of their school family, and like family we need to help each other be the best we can be. We need to reflect together and consider why children are disengaging and enraging in our schools. We need to constantly look for new ways we can keep our students engaged because we can not persist with a traditional model when our students are not traditional. We need to dispense of the generic approach to education and start becoming innovative, openly celebrating both our students and our own uniqueness. We all have our individual strengths and education professionals need to band together as this school family and share our strengths and actively seek to help colleagues in their growth area needs, just like we do for our students. We know that high quality teachers demonstrate high quality teaching strategies and this directly correlates to high quality engagement and therefore high quality learning outcomes for students. Now is the time for us to band and work together as an education family to make sure we are all high quality teachers by sharing our expertise and strengths with each other and supporting each other through our own professional learning growth.
Schools need to look at their facilities and consider how they can engage kids in using them for more than just a place they have to attend, rather a space that they want to hang out in. I wonder what would happen if my local schools had a skate park as part of its outdoor areas (yes I know legal issues… another post maybe), maybe the local kids would engage and would want to be onsite. Hold events that are beyond the academia, make our schools a communal meeting place for all, a place where knowledge, experience, and ideas are all meeting together to improve the world. Schools should be asking students and the community what impact on the world did they make today and be actively encouraging and supporting them to make positive impact and change to our world. Let’s bring our schools to the youth and meet them where they are in their learning journey. Let’s make sure that every experience our kids have are relevant, meaningful and purposeful WITHINEducation.
Dickson, Elizabeth A. & Hutchinson, Terry C. (2010) Truancy and the Law in Australia: The Queensland example. The International Journal of Law and Education, 15 (2), p.87.
DEEWR. (2011) Building The Education Revolution. Improving School Enrolment and Attendance. http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/Programs/Pages/SEAM.aspx Accessed 28 February 2012.
DEEWR. (2012) Improving School Enrolment and Attendance through Welfare Reform Measure (SEAM): Evaluation Report for 2010. http://www.deewr.gov.au/Schooling/Programs/Documents/SEAM2010EvalReport.pdf Accessed 28 February 2012.
McCarthyWood (2012). YouTube Clip: Kids Out of Control in Caboolture. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc1ThJ3C_e0 Accessed 28 February 2012