Most schools hopefully have always seen themselves as not just developers of academic students but holistic well-rounded individuals. In every school I've been in either as a teacher or student, I've found that balanced engagement in co-curricular activities only adds to the ability and engagement of teachers and students in the classroom and most importantly, the learning. This is also why I've never been a fan of the STEM push. We ignore the Arts & Languages and Physical Education/Health learning areas at our peril. Yes, it may be well be that the future and economic prosperity is angled towards STEM but this should not be exclusively so. In the Arts and English, students learn communication, expression and how to manage their creativity. Likewise in the Physical Education and Health areas, students learn to think fit, be fit and learn the how & why of physical function among other learnings.
Another point of school is to also prepare our students to exist in an increasingly multi-cultural society where we don't just accept but indeed embrace one another's cultural uniqueness. If schools didn't exist, there would exist little facility for students to be exposed to cultures other than their own and furthermore, there would be little opportunity to see just how similar and different various cultures can simultaneously be. Having attended schools in predominantly very bi-cultural schools as a student and initially as a teacher, little prepared me for the wonderful multi-cultural melting-pot of Aorere College.
If schools adhere to the traditional testing of content regurgitation and focus on the destination or achievement, well then there is little point in reality to such institutions. However when schools focus on developing skills and focus on journeys or learning, then these institutions have never been more relevant or important to student presents or futures. In our school in 2016, each student in Year 9 or 10 is assessed against only four learning area skills, considerably down on the assessed elements of past reports and an explicit task focus. In my role of Principal's Nominee and Deputy Principal- Assessment & Reporting, I am constantly reminding staff and students that we don't have to report on everything we assess, and arguably even more importantly, we don't have to assess everything that is taught or more significantly, everything that is learnt. I remember when I first became an HOD, the school I was at had 13-14 assessments for Year 9 English students. I couldn't believe it, where was there any time for learning? In light of the school year being around 38 weeks long, the above excessive assessment workload averaged out to an assessment just under every three weeks. Yikes!
I also think schools still have a strong raison d'etre in terms of developing the leaders of today and tomorrow whether in the classrooms, on the stage or in the sports arena. In fact, many schools in New Zealand have arguably gone a little too far in this respect to the extent that sadly, one principal was quoted in our most-read national newspaper "you can judge the quality of your school by the quality of your 1st XV rugby team." Yeah right! Never-the-less, schools do provide a wonderful opportunity for students to be exposed to and to experience a diverse range of co-curricular undertakings and pursuits. Furthermore, whereas years ago there were very limited opportunities in career pathways in sport or the performing arts, 2016 tells a very different story with many former students proving the point if you're good enough in any field, you can derive a living from what used to be often considered nothing more than a pass-time or hobby. Schools also enables students to lead in a range of different contexts across multiple years and in many schools, the achievement of "prefect" is seen as important, if not more important than one's sole academic success.
The more I think about my colleague questioning the point of schools or otherwise, the more I realise the need for such questioning and the regularity of such questioning. When schools cease to continue to evolve to their students', community's contexts, expectations or requirements now and going forward, they do become irrelevant and little more than dinosaurs of the past. However the schools that seek and endeavour to develop life-long globally-capable learners and leaders who are embracing of their culture among others will not only continue to be relevant but will arguably become even more so in the future.
What's the point of schools? As it turns out, quite a bit actually!