From the Principal

Choosing joy or playing the ATAR game?

As we move closer to our students choosing the subjects they will study for the next year(s), an alarming trend is being reported:

Education experts are concerned about high school students abandoning arts subjects over the ATAR result.
Educators and creative industry leaders are concerned for the future of some arts and humanities subjects, as students abandon them in droves in the belief they will secure higher ATAR with science-based subjects…Student enrolments have dropped by about 44 per cent in arts subjects and about 20 per cent in humanities subjects since 2012.

For those unversed or inexperienced in the ATAR world, here is a “simple” explanation: The ATAR is a mechanism used across Australia for university admissions. It is a number between 0 and 99.95, measured on a student’s best academic achievements, which indicates their position relative to other students in their age group. The higher the ATAR, the higher the ranking. As part of the process of calculating an ATAR, subjects are scaled. For example, a student who achieves 80 per cent in an assessment, may find their result is actually worth less (or more) than 80 per cent, according to how that subject scales. This scaling can change from year to year, depending on a cohort’s grades and subject choices.

Why can this trend be dangerous?

Firstly, it can be damaging to a student’s mental health. We have multiple reports showing that our young people have been traumatised by recent events – drought, fire, COVID, lockdowns, remote learning, isolation etc.

“A record one in three psychologists in Australia are unable to see new clients since the pandemic, which shows that the mental health of Australians has suffered significantly. It’s important to protect the activities that lift our mood and give us pleasure.” The Guardian.

Studying a subject for the wrong reason will, almost inevitably, lead to an increase in stress on the student, the teacher and the family.

Secondly, it can take the joy out of education. Choosing subjects that attract them, engage them and give them joy is one way a student can make their years at school, not only less stressful, but actually a positive experience. Commodifying certain subjects as more “high ATAR friendly” and choosing them over ones that reflect a student’s enthusiasm, talents and interests takes education and learning from the realm of personal growth and simply commodifies the experience.

Then, instead of the subject being studied being an enjoyable experience, refilling their energy levels and holding their attention and concentration, learning can become just another task.

Rather than playing the “ATAR game”, students should select subjects that they enjoy, are good at, and align with their post-school pathway, because the reality of the HSC is that:

  • any subject that you pursue at secondary school, if you perform very well at the top of that subject, scaling will have minimal impact;
  • all subjects offer students different, yet valuable, knowledge and skills;
  • in 2021, 61 percent of graduating students did not use their ATAR as the means of entry to university.

So, when choosing the subject you are going to study, perhaps you might consider this quote: “Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress: working hard for something we love is called Passion.” (Simon Sineck).

And remember,

Want to share your thoughts on this story, or do you have something you’d like to add? Email me at principal@scas.nsw.edu.au

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