Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Does one size fit all?

I've been spending a fair bit of time in the high school science room lately. It's not my natural habitat. My own high school years were spent hanging out in the music room and reading history text books for fun. However, here I am, sitting on a stool at the back of the room, laptop in front of me, taking notes on living organisms and learning how to balance chemical equations.

Every now and then, the science teacher will tell us to put on a lab coat ready for a 'prac' (prac: a science lesson where students get to put on safety gear and pour harmless substances into beakers and watch it change colour). Lab coats are an interesting phenomenon. They are labelled as 'one size fits all', and to be fair, most students slip on the lab coat, button it up and proceed with the prac without any further thought. But then there are the students who have not yet hit their teenage growth spurt. The lab coat hangs off them like a toddler putting on their mother's wedding dress. Some of the kids even need me to roll up the sleeves for them so they can make use of their hands during the prac. At the other extreme, there is me......I like to wear the lab coat as it helps me blend in a little more. I prefer to not draw attention to the fact that there is a middle-aged woman lingering around the science room taking notes. However, having borne two children and eaten a few too many pastries whilst reading the aforementioned history books, my frame is on the larger size. The lab coat sleeves don't quite reach my wrists and there is a slight pulling sensation across my hips. Between me and the year 7 kid, it's quite clear that the lab coats should be relabelled as 'one size fits most'.

I'm not about to write to the science department and complain that their lab coats are discriminatory to the smaller and larger than average wearer. Let's face it, the lab coats were bought in bulk to fit the average high school student at this particular school, not to cater to every possible body shape and size. The notion that a garment can be labelled 'one size fits all' is unrealistic. There will always be people for whom the garment will not fit, for a myriad of reasons. We all get that, and we don't expect the 'teenage-sized' lab coat to magically modify itself to fit the small year 7 or the robust 41 year old woman.

Schools and their educational philosophies are a little like the science lab coats. They are built to serve the needs of 'most' students in their community, but there will always be students for whom a particular school or educational philosophy will not work. You can tell there is a mismatch between the school and the student if the student is constantly stressed about having to attend school, the student is continually falling behind in their work despite the best efforts of the student, school staff and their parents or there is a mismatch between the future aspirations of the student and the aims of the school. A school that boasts academic excellence and high ATR's may not be appropriate for the student who can't wait to leave formal schooling and start a trade. A school that has an incredible array of extra-curricular activities may not suit the student that just wants to focus on their studies without other distractions.

As parents and educators, we need to look at our children and critically assess what is the best educational option for EACH INDIVIDUAL CHILD, not what is best for 'most children'. If you suspect that the educational institution your child attends is actually not working for them, it might be time to start looking around and exploring the other options. Just like the science lab coats don't fit each and every students, educational institutions can't be expected to suit each and every student either.


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