Are school leavers prepared for university?

Blaise Joseph

07 September 2018 | Ideas@TheCentre

About one in four Australian university students drop out and don’t complete their degree. One of the questions this raises is: are schools adequately preparing students for higher education?

This question was tackled by a panel I was on at the Australian Financial Review Higher Education Summit (Kevin Rudd’s notorious ‘2020 Summit’ may have given summits a bad name, but this one was actually serious and worthwhile).

I was joined on the panel by Emeritus Professor John Halsey and school principal Joanne Wastle. We agreed that in many cases schools do a great job of preparing students for university, but it’s inconsistent across the country. Professor Halsey emphasised the struggle for students from rural areas, while Ms Wastle highlighted the importance of having qualified secondary teachers in maths and science. And we all agreed that more technology by itself isn’t the answer.

Ultimately, if students leave school without proficiency in literacy and numeracy, university will always be very difficult.

University certainly isn’t the best option for everyone, and one common concern at the Summit was the growing pressure on high-school students to go to university even if they don’t have the necessary academic ability or motivation. However, ensuring students leave school with a sound and well-rounded knowledge of all the core disciplines, at least gives them a viable option of going to university.

For example, school students without adequate maths and reading ability will find science in Years 7-10 much more difficult, which significantly affects motivation and ability to continue with science subjects in Years 11 and 12. This may then obstruct them from enrolling in science or engineering degrees, even if they would like to.

Developing core literacy and numeracy skills in the early years of school, is necessary for students to have good university prospects. And what happens in the classroom 10 or even 12 years before students leave school can affect their higher education prospects.

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