We've spent the weekend visiting three university open days with our youngest daughter. It's really a special time when you get to walk around the big wide world of future options with one of your kids. A part of me feels like I'm exploring uni for the first time too, and I hear about all of these things that it would be wonderful to study.
At the same, time there are a bewildering array of options and many young people feel pressured to make the right choice and make it count. I've been bothered for a long time by how much pressure our education system, and indeed society, places on young people in their last two years of high school. Andrew Fuller and others have suggesed that what our system does to them is developmentally inappropriate, since their brains are much better developed when they are in their mid-20's. Our schooling model is fundamentally WRONG (well it was designed to keep people out of the workforce for several years, wasnt it?)
The biggest problem of course is the suggestion that you only have one shot at this and you have to 'get it right'. The reality is that you can study almost anything you want later in life, that most people have at least 3 different kinds of jobs in their life, and that at 17 or 18 no-one knows their long term plans. Add to that the increasing evidence that today's young people learn through experience - they want to try things out - and its mainly about helping them choose something that they enjoy with the clear understanding that ultimately its not about failure.
Statistically we know that up to half of young people change their initial university course choices (it varies by course, of course). So I hope that we can help our daughter make it less of a big deal than everyone else wants it to be. I have to admit that as a good student she has plenty of choices, but that's not the main point here.
What interested me this weekend was
- the different ways in which the universities tried to create a vibe - ie. this is an enjoyable place to be - its not just about the study (that's not surprising, but I've never seen an Open Day with live music at our College. there's an idea...)...
- how much the passion of some of the presenters shone through (and not others) - infectious enthusiasm for their field combined with personal anecdotes
- the very varied responses and information provided by people at stalls (the introverted older Psych professor - I'm guessing - who didnt really want to talk - just give us a brochure and tell us it was 'all on the web')
- the appalling dot-point use of Powerpoint by almost every presenter!! For goodness, sake, YOU'RE EDUCATORS!!!
- the very occasional but nevertheless very effective involvement of students in speaking of their experiences
- the very busy and rushed nature of the whole thing - all three universities open the same weekend, which is good in someways, but in other ways leads to a whirlwind of activity that leaves you feeling overwhelmed by it all
- the lack of stalls run by 'interest groups' - Christians, political groups, environmental, LGBT, etc. Perhaps I missed them all but I sure didnt see them at any of the Unis. Very puzzled by that.
- the popularity of the option of doing some study overseas and how achievable that was made to seem (must check that out for our students. eg. no fees + travel help)
- the promotion of the option of cross-uni study and credit (only mentioned by the Languages prof at Adelaide Uni) - VERY appealing I would have thought
Of course I have a professional interest in this as well as a youth worker. Back in Horsham I worked on a country-city transition project for Victorian young people moving to the city for study and work. At that time I looked into the work being done here and overseas regarding FYE (the First Year Experience) of tertiary students, when it was starting to become a big issue. And now as a faculty member I'm on the receoving end of the universities' learning and our own policies that relate to improving practice.
[Aside: At Flinders a student came up to take our photo, and I told him that I was on the faculty. "What do you teach?" "Theology..." "I have no idea what that is. Is that like theory or something?"... Which did make me wonder whether its a dumb name for a degree/school in this day and age, and whether 'Religious Studies' or something would be much better. Of course, then we might have to do more about world religions, which from the university perspective would probably be excellent.]
I certainly came away thinking that the opportunity to study anything of spiritual or religious significance seemed rather absent from the whole experience (not that some areas of study don't nurture the spirit!). Of course there are people offering careers advice, but I wonder if any churches offer a discernment retreat for young people about 'vocation' in the time after such events. Might that not be an idea worth trying?
The sublime part of the weekend was lying on my back on the grass at Adelaide Uni listening to people performing at the indigenous studies/support tent area (an amazing guy with an angel voice singing Tracy Chapman's "Talkin' About a Revolution"), followed by hearing Jack Carty singing and playing next to Bonython Hall. Gosh he's brilliant.