Tag Archives: Education

Compulsory Sport in Schools? Not as easy as a hop a skip and a jump.

‘Compulsory sport’ that term still gives me nightmares. There was lots of talk about it in today’s media after our disappointing results at the Olympics.

The argument about funding elite athletes for medals, or concentrate our money for schools and grass-root sport has been around ever since the Fraser government created the Australian Institute of Sport.

Of course, in principle, sport is a good thing.  I love watching sport (as anyone who has read this blog would attest) and just three weeks ago I was able to complete a half marathon , it is the ‘compulsory’ thing that evokes in me very unhappy memories.

It is probably very different now.  I went to school in the 70s. A time where being bullied was seen by the school and teachers as ‘character building’. No sharing and caring anti-bullying policies or counseling, you had either become an arsehole yourself, or just suffer in silence.

Sport was seen in the same context.  It started in primary school where because of my height I was earmarked for basketball.  But height is all I had.  Being deprived of ball handling skills ( stop sniggering you at the back) since birth I saw the arrival of the ball towards me with panic, which meant that I would routinely drop the ball.  And there is nothing more pathetic on the court when under the basket recoiling at rebounds protecting your face with your hands because you are afraid of the ball hitting your nose.  I sort of figured out that staying as far away from the ball was my best bet.  I can’t remember what happened at the end. Probably the disgust of my team mates and the protests the teacher in charge would  have received by forcing me on their teams meant that, mercifully, I didn’t need to go anymore.

Going to sporty Australia wasn’t the best career move in this regards. I woke up every Wednesday with dread because of sport day.  I had problems integrating in the school anyway.  This was just amplified with sport.  The only games that I got involved were games of wits, how I could get out of it.  And surprisingly I could.  As the ‘fat kid’ teachers knew that I wasn’t much chop and while the rest were on the field I could be left alone.

The best thing that ever happened was when in year 11, when they included ten pin bowling.  Fuck me dead, I thought, why didn’t they do this before? A ‘sport’ with minimal effort, where you sit down most of the time, was indoors in climate controlled venues and you can muddle your way through. But best of all it had a cafeteria with lollies, chocolate and pies! What more did I want?

But alas this didn’t last long. We moved to Melbourne to a new school, which didn’t muck around with sport, it was Melbourne High. I started to play golf with my father so I chose that. And another stroke of luck (sort of speaking) the golf co-ordinator was my Australian History HSC teacher, and as such he told me many times to go home and study.  And the other good thing was that only another student and I were doing golf, and he didn’t mind my ineptitude. So those golf session actually became a welcome break from the rigors of studying for my HSC.

But overall ‘compulsory sport’ was a awful. And all that stuff about learning to work as a team, helping each other, learning to win and lose was crap for me. Because all I felt was useless, hopeless and unwanted.  My time would have been better used elsewhere.

Of course, as I said before, times change. And I am sure that now sport at school is not seen as always a competitive pursuit.  Children are much more sedentary now. They don’t walk to school as much and their activities are more based on games on portable consoles and computers.  So learning to move, and thinking that is a normal part of life is important.  But that is what should be, a health initiative.  A space where even the ‘fat kid’ is not shamed and derided for his or her lack of co-ordination and sporting ability.  And by all means let’s encourage the kids who are talented and competitive, but children are different. A sport ‘one size fits all’ won’t work.

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Social media – can fun and work mix?

How did social media started?  I haven’t really researched this subject, but it appears to me that primarily it was really as a fun way for people (usually young) to connect.  And initially that it was it was, however once an idea is launched it can go places which are unforseen.  Twitter was seen initially by its creators as ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’.  Now it can get people sacked.

The advantages of social media is that they are popular, and with little or no cost, messages and ideas can be spread fa and wide.  This of course is a great attraction for organisation like corporations, but any organisation which wants to communicate can’t avoid the allure of the social media.

However (as I have raised before in this blog) this tends to blur the boundaries of what social media is really about.  It is a fun place to exchange comments and ideas which are in the realm of the personal?  I tend to use Facebook and Twitter primarily for personal reasons (to keep in touch with family and friends in Italy) and to connect and discuss issues that interest me (Association Football and Politics).  When it comes to work I limit myself to emails.

However in Facebook I ‘Liked’ the University of Melbourne Library page.  This Library is where I work.  But as many of my colleagues also followed I thought why not.

However the issue of how Facebook worked in a work setting came to a head when the people running the Facebook Library Page asked for some feedback about the re-vamped Library Home Page.  I commented that one link was wrong and in one like the word librarian was misspelt as libarian.  I thought that in the spirit of Facebook they would have been happy that someone noticed.  But apparently I was wrong.

When I came back to Facebook a few hours later I noticed that my comments had been deleted.  Later I got an email from the section of the Library responsible for the Library Home Page (and therefore managing the Facebook page as well) that having a library staff member noticing errors on the page would not be a ‘good look’ and that I should refer my comments internally through email or the phone.

I was somewhat miffed, and also believed that the people managing the Facebook page didn’t really understand the dynamics of  social networking.  I see Facebook as a  bit of a free for all.  It is not an ‘official’ tool and I believe it was not designed as one.  Once you post something on Facebook it is open for everyone to comment.  And the risks are that many may be pretty inane (just look at the comments generated any time Julia Gillard posts something on Facebook).  Especially if that post actually invites Facebook members to comment on something.  It doesn’t say “everyone can comment, except staff members because it would look bad”.

So I ‘defriended’ the University of Melbourne page.

However this event has made me think about the mix of social media and work.  While I see Facebook as a fun thing and free, my colleagues in the web development department didn’t see it the same way.  I thought about this issue again when I attended a Provost Seminar this week with the theme of e-learning,  The issue of social media came up and one of the most interesting speakers wasn’t a Dean or an Associate Professor, but a second year maths student, who joked at the start of her talk that probably she was the only person in the lecture theatre without a degree.

She reiterated that her peers use social networking fairly extensively.  So while doing a subject teaching Complex Analysis, she started to discuss difficulties etc. with classmates.  So she decided to set up a facebook page where everyone doing the course could share their experience and exchange ideas and suggestions.  All she did was to write about it on the blackboard before a class started to publicise it.  As you can see from this page students communicate freely.  Because the page was set up by students themselves, and it is not official the communication is not constrained by any ‘official policy’.  And that is exactly what the student said.  That for her and her classmates, the success of the page was because it was from them, not from an authority from above.  I can see that in this context, a suggestion to go to the pub will sit very well with a discussion about variables and functions.

The fact is that Facebook was designed and remains a social vehicle.  To have some official authority running it is like when a parent comes to a teenage party and act ‘cool’ because it wants to communicate with the young people, but all it does is to be embarassing and make everyone feel awkward.  Better stick to those emails.


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Sorry John, but school camp idea is really daft.

One of the joys of being a parent is that I see that my son is (so far..let’s hope it continues) a much happier childhood that I had at his age. He is a good looking fit lad, unlike me who was teased due to being fat, and he is much more sociable having a group of close friends, unlike me who was quite lonely and I couldn’t really nominate anyone to be a reliable ‘friend’. So my schooling was difficult socially, something that was amplified when I migrated to Australia.

So I have to be careful that I don’t project my experiences on him, and that is why I heard that John Brumby proposed a ‘camp’ for years 9 I immediately felt as sense of rebellion.

My experiences of going to a ‘camp’ were miserable and alienating affairs. They were ordeals where I was counting the hours where I could be back home safely, so the thought that if I was 14 or 15 I had to go away from home, somewhere uncomfortable and cold in the country (because that seemed to be the criteria when I was at school…part of the ‘toughening up’ process) as part of compulsory school because the government told me so awakens in me a sense of revolt. Yes, some kids will love going to a camp. I can see my son absolutely loving it. It is an highlight of the year for him, which is something that gladdens my heart. But while there are kids like my son, I am sure there are plenty of kids which were like me, alienated, maybe liking the academic bit but hating anything ‘social’ like sport, dances or camps.

The policy states that “Through the program, students will be removed from their ‘comfort zone’ and challenged to develop life skills such as self-reliance, leadership, independence, respect, teamwork and caring for others.” That’s all well and good. But it assumes that every student has a ‘comfort zone’ to be removed from. Firstly this may not be true. Some children of that age unfortunately may not have a ‘comfort zone’, and second maybe the comfort zone that they created for themselves is the only thing that is keeping them sane. I know that this was my own experience and being removed from it is certainly very stressful. Because unlike school, where you could seek refuge during non teaching periods like lunchtimes and recesses in the library or a quiet corner, in a camp there is no escape. For 24 hours you eat, sleep with other students, and if you add this with things that may be problematic like an ‘outdoor activity’ which may provide more ammunition to potential tormentors the camp will turn in a very negative experience – totally the opposite of what is intended.

Of course looking after the mental well being of students has become a much more important feature since I went to school. My impression was that in the 70’s when I was in High School, bullying was virtually ignored unless it became physical violence, teachers saw it as part and parcel of growing up and believed that students should just ‘deal with it’.

So I hope that if the plan is implemented care is taken to understand that not everyone is cut out for, as the policy defined it ‘Outdoor challenges’. There will be plenty of students who are not fit, are uncoordinated and really don’t care about finishing a training course or whatever.

Or perhaps give the choice for those who really want to get out of town to do so. I am sure that you don’t need to be at a school camp to teach career counselling, financial planning or drug, alcohol and mental health awareness. Some kids may need to stay in their comfort zones a bit longer to do so. There is plenty of time for them to have opportunities to get out of them later in life.

UPDATE: Robert Merkel appropriately describes as ‘Timbertop for all’ in Larvarus Prodeo.

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