May 24, and over 90 students and their parents gather in the Iona Centre to hear what is in store for them as they prepare to launch into the Higher School Certificate years. (Yes, the students sit the exams, but the parents live through it with them).

There are talks, speeches, warnings and stories that come from the stage, as staff of considerable experience and imbued with admirable professional intelligence try to prepare students for what is to come.

There are pieces of paper to fill in, handbooks with rules governing how many units and what subjects, how many hours, how many assessment tasks, the importance of major works etc. that are to be read and considered.

Then there is the “show-and-tell” sessions where the prospective faculties and their teachers share their passions, their learning and the opportunities their subjects will offer the Class of HSC 2019.

But in the end it all comes down to choice. Students make the choice of their subjects and in this they make the choice to study, learn, experiment and upskill in a list of subjects for the next two years.

As there is only one compulsory subject for the HSC, English, what we are doing in this process is recognising two things:

  • If you love a subject and want to study it, you will probably do well.

“A 2006 University of Georgia study of US high school students found a markedly higher rate of ‘intrinsic’ (inherent) motivation in students enrolled in electives compared to ‘required’ subjects. Students were also more successful when elective subjects were not chosen from pre-determined subject lines.”

  • By the time you have reached Year 10, we believe that you are old enough to make some choices about your future direction in life – and should be ready to accept the consequences of these choices.

Students in Year 10 need to make important decisions, which can influence the rest of their lives. In order for them to be able to make intelligent and meaningful decisions about subject choices for their Higher School Certificate, students need to make a realistic appraisal of their abilities, interests and attitudes to work and their preferred work environment.  

We hope that we have provided students with the opportunities to make intelligent decisions, learn from mistakes and take responsibility in the years that they have been at SCAS so that they are ready for this moment.

We acknowledge the importance of the parents’ role and support in a successful HSC campaign, but warn that the syllabi and parameters of the HSC might have shifted significantly since parents sat their examinations.

We also are aware that our students needs to be aware of the forecasts of the prophets of industry and society who tell us that the world of work is in flux and that occupations and careers that were once rock solid are rapidly disappearing into the mists of history and new careers will spring up in their stead.

“The pace of technological change—whether through advances in information technology (IT), biotechnology, or such emerging fields as nanotechnology—will almost certainly accelerate in the next 10 to 15 years…. Further technological advances are expected to continue to increase demand for a highly skilled workforce, to support higher productivity growth, and to change the organization of business and the nature of employment relationships. Rapid technological change and increased international competition place the spotlight on the skills and preparation of the workforce, particularly the ability to adapt to changing technologies and shifting product demand. Shifts in the nature of business organizations and the growing importance of knowledge-based work also favor strong non-routine cognitive skills, such as abstract reasoning, problem-solving, communication, and collaboration. Within this context, education and training become a continuous process throughout the life course involving training and retraining that continues well past initial entry into the labor market.”  The Rand Corporation.  

In all this, a few things have not changed over the years:

  • When it comes to success in the HSC, talent alone is seldom enough to reach the top. Combine talent, interest and hard work and you have every chance of achieving what you need (if not what you want).
  • The school will do all it can to prepare our students for the rigors of assessment, the flexibility and agility of mind and purpose needed for post-school success, and the support along the way to graduation.
  • Those who choose badly, fail to apply themselves, and look for the easy way out, will probably end up disappointed and looking for someone to blame for their poor results – they usually choose from:
    1. The teacher
    2. The school
    3. The system
    4. Bad luck
    5. Their parents
    6. All of the above.

In the end, the choices our students make – good or bad – will be learning experiences, and that alone makes them valuable.

I know that we are supposed to make mistakes so that we can learn but, alternatively, taking good advice and choosing wisely has much to recommend it.

There is less pain all around in learning that way.