"I'm not ready for this!" was my daughters exasperated cry as we sat studying the year 11 subject selection sheet that was laid out before us.
'Board Endorsed' Board Developed' '
1-2-3 Units' 'Category A' 'Category B'
'VET' 'TVET' 'EVET'
Bla Bla Bla
Bella was bewildered. Having been homeschooled for the majority of her life, these institutional terms left her feeling inferior and out of her depth. It is all a part of the game that schools play. It helps to convince parents and students that the school has something so very special to offer, even though it is the same as last year, just rebadged with a new abbreviation.
I had a distinct advantage in this conversation having being in and around secondary education for the past 15 years, but could still understand my daughter's frustration. The stress was beginning to kick in and she hadn't even signed up for a course yet!
I wonder what would happen if students and parents knew what I knew about the HSC?
(Pssst: It's a secret - but it's OK to tell people, no one would believe you anyway! ;)
The Higher School Certificate is to secondary education
what sub-prime mortgages were in the Global Financial Crisis.
Let me explain.
Leading up to the Global Financial Crash in 2008, was a housing boom in which banks were lending money to 'risky' borrowers who would normally not qualify for a loan. This was done because the inflation of these houses was always seen as enough security for the bank to recoup their money if ever there was a repayment problem. A few rare economists warned of the dangers but no one wanted to listen because everyone from Wall Street to Construction companies to families buying their first home were all making money. Eventually the bubble burst when housing interest rates shot up in 2005/2006 which was bad enough, but what made this crisis the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression was that banks had sold these bad loans to investors. In many cases it was the banks themselves left holding millions of dollars worth of bad debt and had to declare bankruptcy.
Or for an even better understanding - watch "The Big Short" film on Netflix.
In my analogy, students are the borrowers (many of them 'sub-prime' since the leaving age was raised in 2010). The Department of Education are the Wall Street lenders and schools are the unsuspecting banks and investors thinking they are selling a 'safe-as-houses' product - the HSC.
(Yeah, I know, big call.)
The HSC is a bubble that is about to burst.
For decades the school system has undergone major facelifts to try and prop up the relevance of the HSC - VET in schools, and more recently, the raising of the school leaving age to 17, but none of these can add value to a 2 year educational investment that really can promise nothing in return.
Q: "Isn't the HSC an important qualification to have?"
A: The HSC is NOT a qualification. A qualification, by definition qualifies you for entry into a position or future pathway. The HSC does not do this. Data has been touted to us saying that those who complete the HSC earn more, have better health, live longer, even 'are less likely to be involved in criminal activities. This data is basically comparing the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' of society and the foundational abilities to access our existing education opportunities is just another symptom of the societal structures we have established - but it is not the cause.
By making the HSC the standard for everyone, we have also made it valuable to no-one.
It is like saying that low-income is the cause of all these terrible things (I'm sure the same data used above would draw this conclusion!) and so we print money so everyone can have an extra $500/week in their banks. Would that fix the problem? No! Economics 101 (or common sense) will tell you that as soon as you print more money, you devalue what you've got.
Q: "But I'm planning to go to University - don't I NEED the HSC"
A: I graduated my University Degree in 1997. I remember the speaker who was being awarded an honorary doctorate for his contributions to the field of Medicine. His speech (and his legacy) was a reformed method of how the University of Newcastle went about identifying successful applicants for their courses in Medicine. In the past, many extremely academic and hard-working, first-generation immigrant students would be accepted into Medicine based on the ATAR score alone, only to fail in their first year due to poor English skills or bed-side manner. The new system was a more holistic approach to vetting candidates for the degree. Retention rates, student outcomes quality of care and employment soared based on this one common-sense initiative. Many universities have followed suit - and not just in the field of Medicine, now this approach is more broadly recognised than most people realise - particularly by the progressive universities. Alternate entry is big business.
Q: So what should I do? What is the right path for me?
A: That one is a little harder to answer. It depends on YOU. What do you want?
- If it's university, I can show you a way to qualify for university in 12 months and get guaranteed entry instead of fighting it out for an ATAR hoping that you make the grade.
- If it's to work and/or travel while you study - I can help you with that too.
- Perhaps you'd like to own your own business? I'd highly recommend it! Don't let people talk you out of it saying you don't have enough qualifications or experience - if you have an idea and passion and are willing to learn, that's all you need! I can show you how to do that too.
Q: Should I take a Gap Year?
A: The Gap Year has become a popular option for many students, but not for the reasons that I think it should be. The Gap Year is often taken by students exhausted and sucked dry by the 2 years of brain-numbing study for the HSC. The prospect of stepping straight into another 3, 4 or 5 years is beyond their comprehension. I'm a fan of taking a Gap Year as a part of your HSC years. You can work and study and travel and enjoy life for a couple of years and still end up with a suitable qualification that universities will look at to get into the course you want. This approach builds life-long habits in making positive lifestyle choices. It takes a little planning and some clever strategy - but I can help with that.
Q: Can't I get this info from my careers counsellor at school?
A: I'll answer this one carefully because I know quite a few school careers counsellors and am good friends with most of them. They are generally great people and have a really good grasp of the school system and the traditional pathways to further training and university (you can hearing it coming can't you!) BUT they work in the school system. They think in the school system. Their frame of reference is all about what can the school provide you to help you to reach your goals and sometimes the answers you need are outside the school setting. Education is about learning for life and sometimes life is the best education you can get!
Q: What if I don't know what I want to do yet?
A: It's very common. Especially at school. Many young people at school are so used to doing what they're told, when they're told they don't know how to find it within themselves when it's time to make a choice! Don't worry - I can help.
A life coach will help unlock a deeper wisdom and understanding of yourself that you may not even realise that you have.
I don't think there has ever been a more exciting time to be involved in education.
For the students who are willing to think outside the box, there are some HUGE gains to be made.
You can potentially transform your whole future.
I wish you wisdom in your choices and all the best on your journey.
Andrew Lord is a dad, designer, educator and lifestyle coach. He has been working in the education sector for over 15 years and is renowned among his peers for developing innovative, alternative solutions to improve and personalise education.