A recent Grattan Institute Publication highlighted that 40% of students in Australia today are disengaged. Therefore, almost half the class in every single school in the country is just sitting there wasting time.
As a teacher, you can usually pick the students that are disengaged and just don’t care. Sadly, some students will never care and no matter what you try, you won’t re-engage them because they just don’t have the drive. As a result, these students drag everyone else down with them, further fuelling the problem. Where do we lose the kids? How did they become disengaged?
Some people cite syllabus content issues, teacher issues, lack of resources, lack of time, lack of relevance. However, often, it's just a lack of motivation that comes from parental disengagement and the ‘comfort’ of modern life.
Unless a student is motivated, the capacity to learn is seriously diminished. If a student doesn't want to learn in one subject, chances are this will flow over into every other subject.
Consequently, the challenge isn’t really the content but the underlying motivation. How then do we motivate kids to actually engage with content? Now this is not about dumbing it down to make all lessons suitable for publication on social media because that defeats the purpose of education. If you dumb everything down, you create a dumb society and you can see the effect of that in many countries today. It’s not where I want to see Australia and therefore we need to find other ways of engaging kids in their education.
A lot of emphasis of late is being put on the STEM subjects which are Science, Engineering and Technology which is excellent, but the reality is the majority the kids who want to take on STEM subjects are the ones who are engaged already, so what about the others who just fall by the wayside, the other 40% and this really comes back to a failing education that needs to continue to evolve.
When education is still stuck in the 19th century and still trying to do the same process or the same learning process as was done at the time of the Industrial Revolution, there’s a big problem. One of the key issues is adaptability. If you tell a student in your lifetime, you’ll have 5 to 10 different careers that’s all well and good but if you can’t equip them to adapt to these 5 to 10 different careers, then they’re being setup for failure. With this in mind, how do we re-engage kids and provide them with the skills they need to take on a world that’s constantly changing?
Much of it comes down to what motivates and drives students. What are they interested in? What’s meaningful to them in their lives? How interested are they in what they’re doing? How interested are their parents?
Parental engagement can have more of an effect on classroom behaviour than a lot of what teachers do. If there’s nothing happening at home, then it’s extremely hard for that lack of drive to convert into student engagement in the classroom. It’s a sad reality, which means many of the 40% of disengaged students, need to be taken out of the classroom and provided with remedial education, outside a regular class structure.
What else then can you do with this 40%? The reality is, you only need to take out 15-25% of these students and the rest will have a greater chance of re-engaging with the class. However, regardless of whatever the percentage is, there are other ways in which the group in question can get great value out of their time at school.
Instead of classwork, they should be involved in a range of different, practical hands-on activities where they can see a tangible result. For example, building things, work experience in real businesses, community service and extended expeditions, to challenge them.
Whilst none of this is part of what our standard education system offers, it’s something which needs to happen. The definition of insanity is by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The reality is you get the same result every time. Yet if you were to take a different approach, chances are, you’ll get a different outcome.
For many disengaged students, the more experiential you can make your program, the better. Often the lack of support from home can lead students to believe they can’t do anything. Therefore, when sitting in the classroom doing nothing, this is a self-fulfilling prophesy. However, get them out doing something where they can see a tangible result, they will realise they’ve been able to achieve. It’s one of the fascinating dynamics of the new generation. They want their lives to mean something. They want to find meaningful employment and expression. They want to make a difference. However, if all they have is sitting in a classroom, listening to a teacher all day every day, talk about things you’re not interested in, why wouldn’t you become disengaged?
This is about actively engaging students in something such as a trade, in a shop, in the bush or in any number of service organisations. Somewhere functional, somewhere where they can gain experience and learn by doing. Somewhere where they can’t just check out and stare blankly into the distance for years on end. If there are strong ties between industries and schools, if there are a strong ties between community service groups and schools, this can be a great avenue to help re-engage students.
By changing tactics, removing students from the regular classroom and challenging them with a range of experiential education experiences, you’re extending and improving the chances for those disengaged students and at the same time, making classrooms far better learning environments for the other 60% of students. Consequently, we can improve our educational standards and improve the long-term results for all students.