By Sandy Galland
Our world appears to spin faster on its axis each year, thus today’s children are struggling to orientate their compasses to true north. Society is changing continually and gone are the simplistic days of our childhoods.
Statistics often continue to highlight a multitude of failures in our community and educational systems, and it appears schools are asked to act as a ‘parent/mentor/counsellor’ more and more. The battle to educate and recognise each child as a ‘whole person’ rather than just a student seems to become harder, the role of a teacher more complex and society more brutal and isolated.
As Family Planning launches its new resource to educate late primary aged children about sexuality and as the effect of our growing divorce rate seems to be effecting children’s education (especially boys), are teachers being increasingly expected to step up and coach our children in the lessons of life?
Leading international educator, Joseph Driessen says teaching is a very complex profession. “To be a teacher is to teach a person. You have to deal with what you get from society, from homes. This is the raw material teachers have to work with. To say you shouldn’t be dealing with students complexities is unrealistic.
“You have to deal with damaged children, those who are traumatised by their families or by an early childhood experience. Society is so complex—there are so many students with social baggage.”
In his mind teachers do have to be social and emotional coaches. Without addressing the fears and issues children face, they will be unable to reach their full potential as learners and many are not even making it off the starting blocks, he says.
Driessen believes at the grass root level – in the classroom and across pockets of our schools, teachers and schools are dealing incredibly well with the issues our children face. Their determined efforts in utilising strategies and training to the full advantage of the child are producing significant results. The problems, as he sees it, are at a ministry and high end leadership level.
Why is this? Driessen believes these decision makers attended university more than 20 years ago and are still locked into the mindset of these times. The years have marched on but their thought processes remain locked in the past; times when the battle was hard fought for girls to be treated equally in education.
He asks if the pendulum has now swung too far in favour of girls? There is much evidence to show boys are lagging in our current system.
Academically boys are lagging behind girls. In New Zealand the degree to which they are behind is greater than any other country included in the recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report.
The study compared achievements of 15 years olds in 40 countries and for us, as a nation, the news was not good. Not only do boys tail girls significantly…
the report says single sex schools in New Zealand were more effective for girls than boys, while a recent Ministry report shows boys out number girls by more than two to one in needing specialist literacy assistance. Our own NCEA results show girls outperforming boys by increasingly wider margins as they get older.
Again Driessen attributes some of the cause to what is entering the system. Typically boys who come from broken homes are 25 percent behind other children. For many, broken families are the norm and this combined with boys lagging statistics is a very concerning to society as a whole, he says.
“Boys are affected by divorce or breakups very deeply as 85 percent of custody goes to the mother and often the father has little to do with the children.”
“Many people seem to be quite indifferent and don’t realise the link between this and boys failing in school, thus often not going on to be a valuable part of society.”
He explains they often struggle to get meaningful employment, are not part of a close family unit, get little input from a male father figure, then go on to become disconnected fathers themselves. “It is a damaging cycle. The relationship between how they feel and how they act leaves them as sitting ducks for depression, drug and alcohol abuse, personal and social failure.”
Comparative research across the world shows that realistic sex education programmes do make a difference. “Sexuality is a part of our lives and when it is dealt with intelligently and strategically, it makes a difference.” Driessen says it is preferable that younger children receive meaningful and appropriate sex education at home, but says it’s not happening.
He firmly supports the material introduced by Family Planning and the teaching of it in our schools.
“There are a number of parents who are struggling. They are not dealing with the complexity of parenting. They produce kids that need state support.”
And at the frontline of this support network are our teachers. Schools are the centre of our social wellbeing. But are the curriculum and social equations adding up? Can our schools provide children with what they need? Should it be their role to act as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff?
Principals Today welcomes your thoughts.
The following strategies have proven effective in reaching and teaching the child as a whole, according to international educator, Joseph Driessen:
Cohesive leadership and unified staff collaboration is key
Having a school day which is not too hectic, allowing teachers’ time to relate to their students
Having the specialist support structures in place, counsellors, RTLP programmes and the ability to apply this help to children who need more assistance
Provision of appropriate learning and teaching environment
- A strong link with the community. If parents are on board supporting their school, the outcomes will always be superior.