Students should get a gold star for hanging in there

Last Sunday (June 9) The Age published a piece entitled Teachers should get a gold star for hanging in there.

While it was a popular article with teachers on Twitter and was generally very supportive of teachers, there is one section of the article I disagree with.

One clear reason why we lost 70 per cent of children from reaching a year 12 final achievement was that we actually encouraged the girls in the typing/shorthand class to get a job in an office after year 10 and the boys who were ”good with their hands” to leave for an apprenticeship. To this day, I feel very guilty about that wasted cohort being lost to a fulfilled education.

Does that mean we are devaluing trade qualifications? That anything less than year 12 is not worthy?  That we don’t need tradespeople? That we deny people ‘who are good with their hands’ the opportunity to work in areas they have a passion and talent for?

My brother was one of these boys who left school at the end of year 11 for an apprenticeship. He was and still, good with his brain and his hands. That’s why he won several awards from his workplace and his trade school during his apprenticeship. That’s why he now engineers refrigeration and air conditioning systems on vital buildings like hospitals and blood banks. He would have been terribly unhappy in the confines of university. Today he thrives on his own creative solutions to difficult problems.

My plumber is another one of these boys. Still in his 20s, he has started his own business, employed an apprentice and supplies a significant service to his customers. He is respectful, efficient, clean, trustworthy and reliable. And happy.

What would we do without these boys? Who would provide the public service of collecting rubbish and keeping us healthy? Who would grow our food? Deliver our eBay purchases? Surely it is up to the student to decide their own course in life?

I will never agree that every student needs to complete year 12. I do believe that education is a key to life, but university is not the answer for everyone. There are plenty of other educational options for those wanting to learn. Tafe, Moocs, CodeAcademy, Khan Academy, iTunesU. You don’t have to be in year 12 or at university to be a student.

So I think we should also give students a gold star for hanging in there; we should support our students in whichever endeavours they choose. And that’s not even taking into consideration the fact that the two aforementioned tradespeople earn much more than I do and I have two Masters degrees on top of my BEd.