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Chris Mannix's presentation notes

Chris Mannix’s presentation notes – CAWS conference October 24 San Jose

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I come from a national educational system (Australia) that has, for the last 20 or more years, pushed teenagers to stay at school longer and longer. Why? My somewhat cynical view would be to ensure teenage unemployment is kept at acceptable levels. A more generous ‘spin’ would be that successive governments view the ultimate goal of secondary education to be preparation for university and that we are doing students a favour by keeping them at school longer and providing them with an education that will help them succeed in tertiary education. Whatever the rationale, it is, in my view, a misguided philosophy and one that does a disservice to the very ones it purports to be helping.

So what has been the consequence of this ‘misguided’ policy in Australia?

  • Falling educational standards to ensure that as many students as possible reach the final year of secondary education
  • A disenfranchised group of school students whose needs are not being met
  • A societal view that anyone who does not graduate from secondary education has somehow failed
  • Excess demand for university places, and so universities raise fees, thereby limiting higher education to the wealthier members of society
  • A cohort of students that are ill-equipped to enter the workforce because their education has narrowed their focus into specialized fields
  • A huge pool of underemployed graduates (not doing work for which they are trained).
These problems are mirrored throughout the world.

In the UK, for example, the recent riots in North London and further afield in England, were attributed by many commentators to a society that is ignoring its youth. The riots reflected the alienation, isolation and resentment of young people who have been forced to drop out of the education system because it is not meeting their needs. Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in London believes (from an article printed in the New York Times, August 10, 2011) that schools and teachers, under pressure to meet educational goals, focus on children from more stable homes and those with greater perceived academic ability and social skills. Disillusioned, those that cannot keep up, just drop out.

When I was working in Cardiff in the UK, every Administrative Officer (a position that involved primarily filing and other mundane office work) had at least one degree, many had two degrees and some had masters degrees- and I assume these degrees were not in filing.

And what about here in America? Well the story is no different.

I’d like to bring to your attention an article written by Cathy Davidson, a well respected education author and until recently a dean at Duke. She believes that the US is, as she calls it, ‘retrofitting’ the skills and learning needed to succeed in higher education, all the way back to pre-school.

I quote from her article

I’ve taught career-focussed kids. I know their talents. I know their needs. I know their frustrations. So when the IB came to me 4 years ago and asked me to head a project that was going nowhere, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. My job was to convince the people, who could make a difference , of the merits of developing a programme directed at career-focussed students. Together we’ve faced many hurdles and been involved in our fair share of battles, particularly from the conservative forces within the organization, but eventually we won the day. And so I speak to you today knowing the IBCC has become a mainstream offering. An offering that could change the public face of the IB.

Maybe the IB in its own small way can be a catalyst for changing attitudes and values in the education community, so that all students are valued – not just academically driven students.

Chris Mannix

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