One thing my father always said to me growing up was “if it has to do with your education, we’ll pay for it”. He repeated this on many occasions and the delivery was beyond sincere, it was defiant. He always reiterated the importance of investing in my education because he knew it directly correlated to a positive life trajectory.
That’s not how I perceived it, I saw it as an opportunity to think of creative ways to put an “educational spin” on the things a 14 year old me wanted. Needless to say, I ended up with a career in marketing and communications. If I had my time again now, I’m certain I could swindle it. Even though I was a cunning teenager, I didn’t quite have the mental acuity to be able to propose a convincing case as to why a Hip Top flip phone would assist me with better educational outcomes.
In fact, I’m sure it would have done the exact opposite. But my novice debating skills were no match.
Working on a basis of assumption, I think most children and teenagers see going to school and participating in extracurricular activities as things you just have to do. An itemised checklist that you progressively work through, with no alternative option. I never saw my schooling years as the foundational building blocks for my future, especially given that your final years of the high school curriculum do not reflect the life lessons you must learn after leaving. Taxes, how to enrol to vote as it’s mandatory in Australia, financial wellbeing, how to apply for a rental property and so on.
Granted this experience isn’t universal, there are some students who have their 10 year plan mapped out from the moment they step into the school gates for orientation day in year seven. These are usually the same people who years later politely refrain from rolling their eyes at me as I sit in a GP office explaining my self diagnosis from WEB MD. I am eternally grateful.
Overall, especially through the public school system, I still believe that we don’t set young people up for success in their day to day lives. But you better believe they can analyse and annotate a Robert Frost poem once they leave high school.
Upon approaching my 10 year milestone holding various roles in the property developing industry, I felt the need to make a call for what was next. I was worried I would pigeonhole myself into this sector, but more so I was nervous that I would end up doing something “just because”. You know, just because it was what I knew, just because it paid well, just because it was familiar, just because my career and identity were so closely intertwined.
I read a few chapters of Who Gets to be Smart by Bri Lee and from that moment I knew I wanted to work on education reform, predominantly addressing the public school system. I pondered ways of how to use my role at the time as a segue into this field, initially thinking of asking to shadow the government affairs manager and taking up a Bachelor of Social and Economic Policy at ANU commencing in 2022.
As life would have it, there was a company wide restructure that saw 500 roles made redundant, including mine at the time. I was lucky enough to be redeployed into the business as a marketing manager, as the responsibilities mounted up and talks of having a marketing executive come onboard to support me I decided the best thing for me to do was resign.
With no job lined up, no five year plan mapped out yet, I just made the definitive decision that working within the education sector was what I needed to commit to, and anything other than that would be a waste of everyone’s time.
It is without a doubt the first time I made a call based on what I intuitively knew was the right thing to do, instead of setting up a play by play. The depth of consideration for my future plan was still there, I just decided to pick the time and not wait for it.
I think we shoulder the burden of a fair few self imposed limitations, but then there are others that are delegated to us through systemic issues and policy flaws.
When I think about what can strengthen our society it always comes back to education. For the most part people aren’t looking for everything to be handed to them, they’re looking for the tools they need to help them get to where they need to be. The skills for an individual’s self improvement are learnt, not innate. Through education we understand how to influence and change the systems that dictate our lives, whether that is internal operating processes or government structures – through adequate and relevant education we are empowered to take control of our lives.
What happens when people feel in control of their life? Well, how do you feel? If you’re in good stead and are currently employed, housed and feel as financially secure as you can in a time when interest rates rise quicker than your wage – you probably have some level of control over your life.
Sure, you may not feel ultimately fulfilled and the idea of filling up your car makes you shudder, but being able to to manage core aspects of your life provides you with a level of freedom. I know, it’s wild to correlate paying rent and income tax with freedom, but bear with me. When we’re unable to manage base level needs or have concurrent issues flaring up it’s easy for them to compound and to develop a sense of apathy or loss of control.
Financial wellbeing, how to invest, where to hold your super, how to research energy providers for competitive prices and understand how and if they carbon offset are just some of the building blocks that help set up adults for success.
For our young people? Equitable access to early education. Research shows that children who participate in quality preschool programs are more likely to arrive at school equipped with the social, cognitive, and emotional skills they need to help them to continue learning.
What about everything in-between? Well, curriculum review to incorporate the evolution of technology and assessing the maths that is taught in secondary school are just two of MANY of my suggestions. Maybe data analytics and understanding statistics is more important than trigonometry.
Early education. Relevant curriculum. Lifelong learning.