School's back again in NSW. Have you been to an Australian school lately? I teach at one. Gradually I've seen our campus being covered slowly but surely by metre after metre of cement in landscaping, sports halls, libraries, and so on. Don't get me wrong, these all have an important role to play in the education of our children. What concerns me is that there are so many schools signing on to be slowly yet surely covered by GFC salvation spending for which we will be paying for a generation.
Enough of the economics. What about the other side effects:
1. Nature deficit is a term coined by American author Richard Louv and was used to describe our lifestyle being increasingly removed from nature and the resultant 'ecophobia' which could criple our ability to understand and work with natural systems in the future. Whilst clearly not empirically validated, we are doing nothing to stem the flow of the forced removal of our children from natural systems; when was the last time your kids were able to run outside on a rainy day, or play in the mud? Several other studies have shown that the amount of 'green space' on campuses directly correlates to academic performance, usually as a result of increased satisfaction with the learning environment.
2. While it is wonderful to have new facilities, if, like in the school I teach at, it results in more cemented play spaces and reduced grassed or natural surfaces such as wood chip or bark, injuries will increase and in all likelihood, academic performance, the very thing the policy has set out in part to improve, will suffer. Cement IS less forgiving than grass, sand or woodchip, and you don't learn much in the school nurses office.
3. Space itself is also an issue. Schools with scarcely enough room to provide outdoor play space have miraculously found space to build more facilities. Much has been said in the media about cases of waste and abuse, but the overcrowding of campuses could be further restricting physical activity in a context of increasing obesity. Don't fence me in!
4. Finally, many schools are focussing more on the construction projects rather than on the teams they manage or the student welfare they are responsible for. This lack of focus on the individual is likely to lead to a growing dissatisfaction among teachers, students and parents eager to have their concerns heard and responded to.
Yes, we have now got beautiful, well constructed schools (and I haven't even mentioned the computers!), but we also have a $16billion hangover, and with all this expense we still have trouble holding on to great teachers whilst student satisfaction, academic performance and childhood/teen resilience are worsening. If this doesn't ring alarm bells, nothing will.
When will we realise IT IS NOT WHAT WE HAVE, BUT WHO WE ARE AND HOW WE TREAT EACH OTHER THAT MAKES FOR REAL LIFE LONG LEARNING, RESILIANCE AND A BETTER FUTURE?
Keeping the future for our children.
What change do you wish to see in the world?
3 years ago