by Zali Spinner
For many young Australians across the country, Year 12 is a challenging and highly stressful time. Undertaking 13 years of schooling and then, at the very expiration, undertaking a series of cut-to-the-bone three-hour examinations, which will determine one’s future.
During the late teen years, students are often already on a rocky path through adolescence. On top of this, family and social obligations, part-time jobs, self-development and pre-existing mental health issues can impact on students’ wellbeing. Students are told that their future depends on one final number and this adds exponentially to the fear and pressure we are already experiencing.
A study conducted by the University of New South Wales shows that out of 722 HSC students across Sydney, 42 per cent admitted to high levels of anxiety, 16 per cent severe anxiety and 37 per cent with above average levels of stress, while more than 50 per cent said they felt there was too much expected of them in Year 12. Some students described their experience as “the worst year of my life” and “the stepping stone for stress”.
On a national level, it is estimated that 30 per cent of students suffer anxiety, stress and depression during the HSC. Around 200,000 students will sit the HSC exams per year. Some will pass with flying colours, some will ‘fail’ and some will dropout, while others will exit the race before it has even begun.
According to NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes, "The stress and anxiety levels that students are going through is phenomenal and the irony is that 40 per cent of kids are getting entry to university through the early entry scheme and other methods. It's been 50-odd years; it might be time for a bit of a change.”
Currently there seems to be a lot of negative media surrounding the HSC specifically, and the education system in general, and people are beginning to speak up about it. In 2016, 14 Year 12 students self-documented their experience throughout the whole year by taking daily video diaries. The final result was aired as a series on the ABC entitled My Year 12 Life. This shows a very raw reality that students are facing.
For years, the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Ranking) has been perceived to be the ingress of tertiary education. Some students fear it is the only option or the only determination of whether they will get into their dream university or job. However, to help minimise the fear of failure and the heat of pressure around the HSC, universities are finally offering alternative entry points. In fact, the ATAR is becoming far less crucial and a variety of other options are becoming more prevalent such as school recommendations, early entry schemes and mature age entry schemes.
Sharna Clemmett, a barrister and high school 'drop out’ from Lismore, struggled in school, particularly throughout the HSC year, and made the decision to drop out of school halfway through Year 12. Her ‘failure’ made her depressed and she even contemplated suicide.
However, after reaching the age of 21, she was able to apply to university as a mature-aged student and begin her tertiary education in law. She has now been a barrister for more than 20 years. "It is important that kids get the message that the HSC is just a period in their lives, and there is a whole world after it”, she said.
Early this year, Stephanie McConnell opened the doors to Lindifield Learning Village, an alternative school from K to 12 in Sydney’s upper north shore. She describes it as a public school with no classrooms, school bells, year levels or exams “as we know them”. There are no formal year levels; however, students will progress according to their abilities and at their own pace. Instead of classrooms, learning spaces are described as “caves, waterholes, campfires etc". And instead of formal exams, students will be examined at individual times. "A student might choose a particular point in time when they feel they can demonstrate the learning required to meet a particular learning outcome," Ms. McConnell explained.
This may seem extreme; however, alternative learning institutions are on the rise. Since the school was announced, Ms McConnell said she “had witnessed a hunger in the community for a more individualised model of education” and has already received thousands of applications. The NSW Government is on board and has provided the school with funding of $40 million to start building. “We are on the verge of an education revolution,” says Ms McConnell. "I think what people are looking for is something that's not that lock-step sausage factory of the HSC.”
The reality is that one size does not fit all. Stephanie McConnell, among others, has realised this and has begun putting this understanding into action. The HSC and higher school system is tailored to a small percentage of learning capabilities. It does not address one’s abilities or skills as an individual, nor should it determine one’s future and I think people are beginning to acknowledge and realise that
Students should be encouraged by people like Sharna Clemmett, and reminded that ‘failing’ or struggling at school is not a reflection of one’s ability to succeed in the real world and school is not some sort of competitive race for their futures that they need to buy into. If students achieve the result or goal they had manifested, that’s great; but if they don’t, they need to know that there are multiple pathways for them to achieve their personal and educational goals that are not limited to their performance in a set of exams.
by Oberon Marriott
Life isn't a spreadsheet into which you enter your financial gains and losses.
Society would have you think financial success is the sum of who you are. If you have a dream, you should probably trade it for a reliable job, and the earlier you sell your dream the more money you’ll get for it. So don’t delay, collect your pay.
As a Year 12 student and aspiring actor, I all too often hear the term “richandsuccessful”, which might be okay if it was “rich and successful” but most often there is no separation between financial wealth and overall success; instead, they are viewed as one and the same. I don’t deny that humans have some basic needs which must be met and, for lack of a better system, money is the primary way most of us obtain these necessities. Success is different for each individual; however, most would agree that living in a manner that doesn't meet your basic physiological needs probably doesn’t aid one’s pursuit of success. Interestingly, a study of 450,000 individuals showed that earning more money doesn't increase happiness if it’s over $75,000 of annual income. This indicates that, although living in a very comfortable way could increase your happiness, any financial wealth that surpasses comfortable living has no benefit to your overall contentment. So instead of “rich and successful” the term should be “comfortable and successful”. If one's definition of success includes happiness, then a mountain of excess cash will be of no help in fulfilling this pursuit.
Is life about the number of material items you can accumulate over 80 years or so? Or is it about fulfillment, relationships, joy and an endless number of other intangible concepts? We have this desire for material items, part of which is no doubt pounded into us by the industries that sell them; however, there is also an instinctual hardwired side to it. All animals, including humans, are designed to survive and of course a big part of survival is the gathering of certain resources. For this reason, humankind has a powerful urge to obtain things, which is an immensely useful urge if you’re trying to survive in a desert or jungle where resources are needed to sustain life. The only issue is that this desire for stuff has no off switch. In a world where many of us no longer need to simply survive, this primal trait has instructed us to throw as much expensive stuff as we can into the bottomless pit of desire, to the deprivation of the natural world, other humans and ultimately ourselves.
But if we can’t fill the pit with things, then what? Well, perhaps this infinite desire can be fulfilled with one’s own passion. Whether it be playing the Theremin or becoming a lawyer, do what makes you feel complete because trying to complete yourself with things will not work. Money is a number and numbers never end, meaning money in itself is an unachievable goal because you could always have more.
How far will people go for money? Apparently, we are more than happy to devastate the natural world, starve the poor and sell other humans. It is extremely disturbing to think about the extent some people will go to for a piece of paper that’s only value was created by the human race. Money has devastated the world. We have wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, economic gain is listed as the most common cause of modern war, and we continue to mine and heat the planet for money. Scientists are warning that we will wipe ourselves out in the next 100 years... but at least we will be rich, right? The lack of forward thinking in our quest for cash is absurd.
if you wanted a bunch of paper to cling to for dear life, there are a number of easier ways to get it. It doesn’t make sense to hold onto money until death, never spending a cent more than required because then money truly is no more than paper. The average Australian dies with an estate of AU$662,532 and for what? It is no longer of use. Sure, it may be passed on to family and loved ones but why not give them that money during life as to see and experience the difference you make. We are obsessed with holding onto it all until the end. These people who guard their wealth so fiercely do not have money; rather, money has them.
We abandon our dreams for it, we pursue it for most of our lives, we destroy what’s around us to get more of it and we try our hardest never to use it. Seems a bit silly to me. Don’t take my word for it, though, take the word of Socrates: “I have not sought during my life to amass wealth and to adorn my body, but I have sought to adorn my soul with the jewels of wisdom, patience and, above all, with a love of liberty.”
by Tim Darbyshire
Imagine a world without imagination. What you would have imagined is a world without new ideas, new inventions, and new stories. Boring, right?
You’d be stuck in the Stone Age. Never experiencing new things. Never taking the next leap through the evolution of the human brain. Following a day to day routine and never doing anything else. Ironically, in order to avoid this boring future, we actually need to allocate time to be bored.
Nowadays, people aren’t thinking for ourselves as much as our minds want us to. The brain was made to think outside the box, but the accessibility of information from the internet has greatly decreased the need to think for ourselves and we have become reliant on it. Today, there are limited opportunities for children and adults to be bored. There is too much stimulation; no time to use our imaginations; we never have to be bored.
Like an unused muscle, our imaginations will atrophy if we don’t exercise them. Spending just a few minutes a day to just be in your mind can be extremely beneficial for dealing with stress, as well as use exercising our imaginations. Imagination and boredom go hand in hand: when we are bored, we use our imaginations to think up things to do. That is the purpose of boredom; it enables our minds to go into a mode of thinking called daydreaming.
One of the most important aspects of being human is the capacity to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, imagine the position that they may be in and use that to try help them or ourselves in certain situations. Imagination is the very foundation for how people choose to live their lives, seeing what they could become and working towards that, putting all their effort towards becoming a better person internally and externally.
Imagination is also the starting point for all stories, songs, movies, theatre, etc. Every man-made object has come into existence because of imagination and nothing else. We can also use other people’s creations to escape our own reality for a period of time. With movies, books and video games, we get to imagine the creators’ individual concepts and become a part of their work. It is an escape for the mind behind the work and for the consumer of the work.
Who cares if we never use our imaginations?
Well, there goes our capacity for empathy, for being sensitive to the needs of others, and our capacity for invention, for a new song or poem. Some people might say that one of the benefits of never being bored or having no imagination is that there would be contentment; but would you rather be content in the Stone Age or take risks and experience new things in the modern world?
Imagination is almost always perceived as beneficial but boredom is generally seen as a negative. Yet being bored can force the brain into imagination mode. And then the thinking begins...
Boredom can lead to brilliance. It enables the brain to take control and just think. Most ideas are thought up doing something where you don’t really have to think. Like when you’re in the shower or doing the dishes. It is the brain trying to entertain itself and that can lead to great ideas. Your body is put on autopilot while you’re just thinking. Most times it leads to pointless thinking but occasionally you will think up something amazing, and that can help you in the long term. You might not remember where you got the idea, but you got it from being bored.
So next time you’re in the doctor’s waiting room or waiting for your bus, instead of whipping out your phone and surfing Instagram, just sit still and be present in the experience. We need to allocate time for boredom so we can exercise our imagination muscle.
To prevent a boring future, we just need some time to be bored