Opinion: School dropouts? Let them go

POSTED: 06/25/12 2:55 PM

Culture historian Mirjam Hommes strongly opposes the idea launched by Education Minister Marja van Bijsterveldt to oblige youngsters to stay in school until they are 23. If youngsters want to leave school, just let them go, is her advice in an opinion that appeared in the Volkskrant on Saturday. It’s a complex matter St. Maarten is also struggling with. Van Bijsterveldt wants to drive down the number of school dropouts, something that also ought to be on the mind of our own education Minister Silveria Jacobs.
Let’s take a closer look at Mirjam Hommes’s opinion and see if it makes any sense.
“During puberty the group becomes more important for youngsters than school results. That leads to boisterous behavior, challenging behavior and sometimes even to school dropout. Instead of extending the age until which children are obliged to stay in school, the government ought to give everybody from the age of 12 the right to learn, for instance with a strip card with a lifetime validity.
You can take the horse to the water but you cannot force it to drink, is an expression that gives a face to the problem of premature school dropout. But maybe it is better to look at the root of the problem, Hommes wrote. Where does the disinterest begin?
By nature every child is eager to learn. We have to use little harnesses and wickets to prevent them from discovering the world around them. The child wants to grow, it wants to be old enough to go to school; that is not the problem. The child learns to read, to write, to do math and to get good grades to please the teacher and the parents. At the same time the child discovers the social context of the group where excelling is not appreciated unless it is in challenging side activities.
During puberty performance within the group becomes more important than school results. That translates into boisterous behavior and challenging every form of authority. That is part of the natural learning process but you don’t get grades for it. At the end of the day every challenger will not have to live with her or his teacher or parents but with that group. Learning to survive within the group, knowing your place and finding the possibilities to shape this yourself, are lessons of life the education system does not offer.
It is a waste of time to learn all this through binge drinking and other confrontations in your own time: it is possible to do this in practice if the social study material is taken into account in the school curriculum. Not as socio-drama, but as personal engagement of every youngster in the group. Everybody is good at something.
It begins already in primary school: a child that has difficulty learning but is good at measuring, carpentry, singing or, for all I care, tying shoelaces, ought to be appreciated for this skill and get a grade. It will motivate a child more than when it is assessed based on its spelling prowess.
With secondary education other and, up to now, extra curricular activites could also be assessed like this. As examples, Hommes mentions the ability to design apps, the sale of second hand goods and the accompanying negotiating skills, opening locks, success in basketball, classroom discussions about health aspects of smoking and drinking – and so on.
Schools claim that they are doing this, but when students are asked about it they deny this is the case. If schools do it, the method is apparently insufficient to reach and to mesmerize the youth.
If youngsters want to leave school, just let them go. Previously, youngsters in their puberty also went to see or to be a boss to find their place in real life; later this was replaced by military service. That could still be instructive: to see what one could achieve in the labor market without qualifications. Those who later on regret that they dropped out of school and by now have a better idea of what they want, will be extra motivated to return to school to earn the qualification they need to succeed in the study or sector of their choice.
Instead of extending the age until which youngsters are obliged to stay in school the government ought to give everybody starting at the age of 12 the right to learn, for instance through a stripcard with a lifelong validity. People will sooner claim their rights than abide by obligations; those who prefer to do some practical work ought to be able to get an internship in a company without the burden of general courses that don’t connect with unwilling brains anyway.
Those who want to continue in a chosen or completely different direction will feel more at home in a mixed company of studying youngsters and other generations that want to learn something extra for whatever reason. Education permanente is good for everyone: to combat dementia, to prepare for the second or third phase of one’s life and – last but not least – for teachers who now prematurely leave school because of all those unwilling dogs.”
The reference to dogs is not demeaning: Hommes refers with it to the expression: with unwilling dogs it is tough to catch hares. Apart from that, Hommes’ idea is at least something to think about, not only in The Hague, but also in Philipsburg.

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Opinion: School dropouts? Let them go by

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