Comparing today with the past

The group numbered 51 on the bus to the airport, heading to the NSW Rowing Championships being held in Penrith. Carey sent their First Eight crews, Year 12 students and First Year 10 crews. I had arrived a little late and not wanting to disturb anyone’s seating arrangements, found a seat at the rear end of the bus. I was surrounded by students revelling in their excitement for the next few days ahead. But I was intrigued by some sitting in front of me who were carrying on conversations and using their phones sporadically as their chat continued. Trying to get to know the students I inquired as to what they were doing. ‘Oh, just Snapchatting, Mr Gregory,’ was the response, and in absolute swiftness dozens of photos and messages were being sent to each other and to people on and off the bus. It was totally alien to me and quite remarkable to watch the students’ ability to communicate with such ferocity. What was also remarkable on the bus and during the Championships was how the students’ spirit, interests and emotions were exactly the same as 15 years ago or even a good 20-plus years ago; the excitement of going away, the excitement and nervousness of racing, the craving of visiting McDonalds, the discussion of uniform and haircuts. So, after the initial shock at the students’ mastery of their phones and as long as clear boundaries were given (e.g. no mobile phones during meals), I allowed myself to be in awe of their ability to navigate through a world of technological information bombardment.

As an interesting contrast, last week, both the Middle and Senior Schools held our annual Founder’s Day Assembly to celebrate the vision, insight and tremendous values the Carey community created and instilled to make Carey a special for both staff and students to experience. Carey has always aimed to develop wise, independent, motivated learners with integrity, a sense of service, spirituality, camaraderie and a thirst for learning. We endeavour to make sure each student is happy, confident and ready to take on the world. With that in mind, I thought I should have a glimpse of what Carey was like almost 100 years ago to see how much has changed.

Almost 100 years ago, school may well have consisted of one room with students ranging from Years 1 to 8 all in the same classroom. The youngest students, sometimes known as the Abecedarians, might have sat at the front while the older students were at the back. Although at Carey we value still our cross-age communities in the Houses, our classes are taught in year levels quite separate from other classes. And yet, today some schools, especially in the senior school areas, are developing curriculum that is best suited to the individuals’ needs and not their age. For example, a student who is more competent at English might be studying a senior English class but might be studying a Mathematics class in what was traditionally held at a lower year level.

With transportation comparatively limited at the time, Carey had a Boarding House to help the students who lived further away. Today our school year is 180 days but almost 100 years ago the School year was 160 with the national average attendance being 122. School too started around 9.00am and had finished by 2.00 to 4.00pm. Nowadays some of our students begin training in the wee hours of the morning and do not come home until quite late on multiple nights a week. The incredible range of co-curricular activities, from Yoga to Homework Club (tuition from our students to recently arrived refugees), differs greatly to 100 years ago.

When Carey first began, the teacher was the bearer of knowledge; the authority who imparted information, most probably with a blackboard and chalk. The classroom was the teacher’s domain! Today and moving forward probably represents one of the biggest game-changers and exciting developments in education. No longer is the teacher the fountain of all knowledge, but the students have an abundance of resources literally at the tip of their fingers. It is often stated the students gain 80 per cent of all their information from their smartphones.

What remains consistent however, is the brilliant teachers who have inspired so many with a passion for a particular subject and thirst for learning. I have spoken to many past students who tell me about the Helen Tachases and Allan Kerrs of the world who made Chemistry a subject they loved or whose stories inspired them to do bigger and better things. The old adage of not teaching the students what to learn, but how to learn remains. Who knows what education will look like in 10 or 15 years’ time, but as long as we continue to teach students to solve problems, we are equipping them to navigate anything that is thrust upon them in the future.

Christian Gregory
Deputy Head of Senior School – Student Welfare