Showing posts with label education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education. Show all posts

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Science never was the exclusive property of Western civilisations


News Corps goes to battle in the seemingly neverending culture wars, 2  November 2018

The Guardian, 2 November 2018:

I have recently been involved in working on a project that aims to provide teachers with some insights and elaborations on how to teach the mandated science outcomes in the Australian National Curriculum by using historic and contemporary examples from Indigenous people and communities.

The work combined various Indigenous and non-Indigenous scientists, science educators, curriculum experts, teachers, academics and editors. It looked at examples of traditional land management practices, understandings of chemical reactions and processes, astronomy, medicines and any number of fascinating topics of how Indigenous peoples have worked scientifically for millennia in Australia, and still do. It was a great project to be a part of.

I was quietly hoping this important project would fly under the radar of the ongoing culture wars that exist within Australia, but it seems that was wishful thinking.
It began with a piece on the Daily Telegraph website titled “Fire starting and spear throwing make national science curriculum”. Not quite unfortunately, it would be great if they were though.

I can see how it makes for a better headline though. “Fire starting and spear thrower are two examples of 95 different optional elaborations that teachers can use to help them meet the mandatory outcomes of the National Science Curriculum if they want to” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

"I can’t fathom the hubris required to think that after 60,000 years or so of being in Australia, Indigenous people wouldn’t have picked up a thing or two that the rest of the world could learn from."

If you want to understand the science of how a lever works, about stored energy and kinetic energy, or about mass, acceleration, inertia, and lots of other cool stuff that is mandatory in the curriculum, then a spear thrower is a great way to teach it.

And did you know that before the match was invented in 1826, most people around the world had to light fires the old fashion way? And by “old fashioned way”, I either mean by a fire saw, fire drill, fire plough, or by using flint. All of these examples can be found traditionally in Australia and you can use these methods to teach about combustion, friction, heat energy, kinetic energy, density, and any other number of cool sciencey things.

The article goes on with the standard emotive phrases we see in the culture wars: “racial politics”, “dumbing down”, “slammed by critics” – literally all just in the first sentence.

The front page of the Daily Telegraph carried the story on its front page on Friday with the headline “School Kooriculum: outrage over Indigenous school scheme”. Sure, “Kooriculum” is awesome and I am definitely stealing that in future, but there is no “scheme” and very little outrage.

There is Kevin Donnelly decrying this work as “political correctness” and claiming it is “dumbing down the school curriculum” even though, again, these resources are entirely optional, and have been created in response to requests from teachers.

Donnelly argues that “western scientific thought, based as it is on rationality, reason and empiricism, is not culturally determined”. He quotes Professor Igor Bray as saying that “science knows nothing about the nationality or ethnicity of its participants, and this is its great unifying strength”.

He talks about how Western science is “preeminent” in its value to the world, and can be traced back “through the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment to the early Roman and Greek scientists, mathematicians and philosophers”. So it seems that while science knows nothing of nationality or ethnicity, Kevin Donnelly does know that it traces back to the Greeks and Romans, and clearly thinks that what he calls “western science” is superior to all others.

Thousands of years before western science was even dreamed of, Indigenous Australians were developing a detailed and intricate understanding of, and relationship with, the world around them.

It allowed people to intimately understand the relationships of the moon and the tides, measure the equinoxes and solstices, develop a deep wealth of knowledge of plants, animals, seasons, the stars and countless other amazing feats of intellect and ingenuity that have long been denied in the ongoing narrative western civilisation has created about Indigenous peoples.

The ways in which this knowledge was interwoven with a holistic view of the world and the place of humans within it, the ways in which it was encoded and handed down through the ages is fascinating as well. Instead, Indigenous people have long been framed as primitive, backwards, deviant, having nothing of value to offer apart from free land and free labour, in constant need of saving, and deserving of countless punitive measures.

Western science can indeed trace much of its origins back to Greek and Roman societies and in exploring its rich history over the centuries, it’s not a bad idea to look at all the unscientific beliefs that were once science fact.

Read the full article by Luke Pearson here.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Let's talk about education funding under a hard-right Morrison Coalition Government


If one attempts to assess access and equity in education across Australian society there is a measurement tool available which gives some indication.

The Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) is a scale that represents levels of educational advantage based on the relationship between the educational advantage a student has, as measured by the parents’ occupation and level of education completed, and their educational achievement.

This measurement as applied to a school is broken down into five factors:
1. Parents’ Occupation
2. Parents’ Education
3. Geographical Location
4. Percentage of Aboriginal students
5. Percentage of disadvantaged LBOTE students.

Therefore if the majority of a school's population come from families where one or both parents had a tertiary-level education and the employed parent/s has a profession, or is self-employed or in a management position and these families live in suburbs where the median household income is above the average for the region and, there are fewer indigenous and/or disadvantaged students in the school population – then the community socio-educational advantage score will be higher for that school.

According to http://www.schoolcatchment.com.au  the Top 20 Australian Primary Schools for 2016 were:

PRIMARY SCHOOLS  (combined ICSEA score as a percentage of all Number One schools)

Sydney Grammar School – 100%
Presbyterian Ladies' College – 99.69%
St Aloysius' College – 97.57%
Abbotsleigh – 95.26%
Yarwun State School* – 95.20%
St Andrews Christian College – 94.39%
Northcross Christian School – 94.20%
Huntingtower School – 94.14%
Haileybury College – 93.98%
Meriden School – 93.86%
Matthew Pearce Public School* – 93.81%
John Colet School – 93.79%
Arkana College – 93.61%
Burwood East Primary School* – 93.33%
Artarmon Public School* – 93.28%
Camberwell Girls Grammar School – 93.09%
Woollahra Public School* – 92.96%
Fintona Girls' School – 92.92%
Hornsby North Public School* – 92.68%
Serpell Primary School* – 92.68%.

Only 7 government schools across the country are in the Top 20 Primary Schools.

While 47 of the Top 100 Primary Schools are government schools.

Conversely the Top 20 Australian Secondary Schools for 2016 are dominated by government selective schools.

However, 73 of the Top 100 Secondary Schools are non-government schools.

When it comes to the total Australian primary & secondary school student population, Independent schools enrol 5% of children from below the ICSEA benchmark average, Catholic schools enrol 11% of children below the benchmark average and Government schools which enrol est. 65% of all children also enrol 52% of children below the benchmark average.


Yet under a Morrison Coalition Government $4.5 billion in additional funding is to be given to private schools – most of which do not appear to require this additional funding to produce high education outcomes.

Apparently Prime Minister & Liberal MP for Cook Scott Morrison and his hard-right cronies consider only families from the likes of Vaucluse, Point Piper, Toorak, Bulimba, Cottesloe, Mosman Park, Forrest, Red Hill, Rose Park and Sandy Bay are the type of people who "have a go" and therefore deserve to get "a fair go".

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull supports an attempt by former prime ministers Howard and Abbott to impose an elitist world view


Here is public comment on and by the main characters in what looks remarkably like an ill-considered and rather crude attempt at a beer hall putsch against academic freedom.

With one of the eight Ramsey Centre directors, Tony Abbott, giving the game away when he revealed that half of the proposed four-person Partnership Management Committee had an expectation that this committee would directly set the Bachelor of Western Civilsation curriculum and hire academic staff.

An expectation which appears confirmed by a statemet attributed to the Ramsey Centre CEO that; “If we feel like it’s not going to go to appreciation of Western Civilization, then we can withdraw the funding.”  

Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation vision statement:

Paul Ramsay was a leading Australian businessman who was passionate about education and wished to educate future generations in the traditions and practices of western civilisation: its history, philosophy, literature, science, theology, music, art and architecture.

He also wanted to create over time a cadre of leaders – Australians whose awareness and appreciation of their country’s Western heritage and values, of the challenges that have confronted leaders and people, with that broad heritage in the past, would help guide their decision making in the future.

The Ramsay Centre Scholarships will provide students from across Australia the opportunity to study western civilisation in this spirit at one of our partner universities. Places will also be available within the BA degrees to non-scholarship holders. [my yellow highlighting]

The ANU Observer, 8 March 2018:

ANU announced plans for a $25,000 a year scholarship associated with a proposed Bachelor of Western Civilization on Tuesday, subject to student consultation. The announcement occurred at a forum for staff and student feedback, where more details of the proposed program were given, though some students voiced concerns.

At $25,000, the scholarship is the largest ever offered at ANU. It will be larger by just above 15% than the Tuckwell Scholarship, which is set at $21,700 for 2018.....

In a question at the forum, one attendee quoted the CEO of the Ramsay Centre, Simon Haines, as saying, “If we feel like it’s not going to go to appreciation of Western Civilization, then we can withdraw the funding.”  [my yellow highlighting]


*The proposed program comprises 16 core courses, typically taken over three years, with an additional Honours year sequence open to outstanding students. Students may replace up to 4 of the 16 BWC courses with 4 courses of classical or modern European language study. Students will be able to take the program alongside other disciplines offered by the University and (in the case of double-degree students) other degrees.

*The different courses within the program consider books from a variety of genres or disciplines (predominately works of literature, history, philosophy, religion, politics) but also including architecture, art and music, 

*The program will be capped at 60 students consisting of up to 30 scholarship recipients in the first year and up to 30 non-scholarship recipients. Up to 10 further scholarships will be made available to students in the second year of the degree.

*A distinct aspect of the proposed program is the use of the ‘Socratic’ approach. The program aims to create active learners engaged with primary texts in classes of no more than six to eight students. These small-group discussions will be supplemented by a series of panel-style discussions where academics from different perspectives engage in discussion with each other and with students.

*Curriculum recommendations will be made by the Partnership Management Committee (consisting of two academic staff from the Ramsay Centre and two academics from the ANU, one of whom is the Dean of CASS) and considered through the normal ANU academic processes[my yellow highlighting]

Liberal MP for Warringah Tony Abbott in Quadrant Online, 24 May 2018:

“The key to understanding the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation is that it’s not merely about Western civilisation but in favour of it. The fact that it is “for” the cultural inheritance of countries such as ours, rather than just interested in it, makes it distinctive. The fact that respect for our heritage has largely been absent for at least a generation in our premier teaching and academic institutions makes the Ramsay Centre not just timely but necessary. This is an important national project. It’s not every day, after all, that such a big endowment is dedicated in perpetuity to raising the tone of our civic conversation…..

A management committee including the Ramsay CEO and also its academic director will make staffing and curriculum decisions.” [my yellow highlighting]

Brisbane Times, 7 June 2015:

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will personally intervene in the ANU's decision to pull out of a controversial new degree in Western Civilisation, saying he wants to talk to the university's vice-chancellor about it directly.

On Thursday, Mr Turnbull became the latest Liberal politician to wade into the furore over the course, which was to be funded by the John Howard-headed Ramsay Centre.
The Prime Minister said he was "very surprised" by the ANU's decision last week to end six months of negotiation with the centre and would be speaking to vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt personally "to get his account of it".

"I find it very hard to understand why that proposal from the Ramsay Foundation would not have been accepted with enthusiasm," Mr Turnbull said….
[my yellow highlighting]

Professor Brian Schmidt AC, Vice-Chancellor and President, Australian National University, writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 2018:

The news came yesterday that Australian National University remains ranked by QS as number one in Australia and in the top 25 universities in the world. It is a global reputation we take seriously. One that is built on the basis of academic autonomy and free academic inquiry.

ANU has declined donations in the past and will again where we are unable to meet the wishes of the donor within our normal practices. It is right that we explore opportunities openly and in good faith, but it is also right that we let prospective donors know when we cannot provide them with what they want.

Our decision to end negotiations with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilization has attracted a great deal of interest. In this case, the prospective donor sought a level of influence over our curriculum and staffing that went beyond what any other donor has been granted, and was inconsistent with academic autonomy.

This would set a precedent that would completely undermine the integrity of the University.

While there has been plenty of noise from all ends about the merits of the study of Western civilisation, the decision at our end has nothing to do with the subject matter.

In fact, the reason we entered into discussions and, no doubt, why we were of interest to the donor, is our global reputation for scholarship and teaching across the full breadth of the Western liberal tradition from classics, history and literature to philosophy, art and music. We offer more than 150 courses in western scholarship. It would take 18 years of study to complete all of those courses.

The opportunity to augment our teaching and research in these areas, along with a generous scholarship program for students, was an attractive proposition for ANU and we were grateful to the Ramsay Centre for considering ANU as a partner.

But at the end of the day, the University operates on the same principles with all donors, whatever their area of interest. Whether it is funding to support the study of Persian language or the study of classics, the same principles apply. The University retains full control of all curriculum and staffing decisions. This actually gets to the crux of the issue here for us. In this case, the donor sought a level of influence over our curriculum and staffing that went beyond any existing arrangements we have.
[my yellow highlighting]

UPDATE


On 1 June The Australian National University announced that it was withdrawing from negotiations to create a degree program with the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. We took our decision for no other reason than the Centre's continued demands for control over the program were inconsistent with the University's academic autonomy.
We anticipated attacks from some for even contemplating introducing the degree, and from others for being anti-Western civilisation. What we had less reason to expect was the protracted media firestorm which has continued daily for nearly a month, in certain sections of the press, with ANU constantly assaulted for capitulating to pressure from those hostile to the Ramsay Centre, but without evidence or new information being offered. Scrutiny from the press is crucial in western democracies in holding public institutions to account - and universities should not escape it. But does stating over and over again a false narrative make it true? 
We have intentionally refrained from going into the details of the University's negotiations with the Ramsay Centre, partly because of our respect for what we had understood to be the confidentiality of those negotiations, partly to allow the Centre clear air to rethink its position after exploring options with other institutions, and partly because of our unwillingness to personalise the arguments in the way that others have been all too ready to do. But it has become obvious that we need now to further explain our decision "in the public square".
If ANU had withdrawn from the program simply because some people within our ranks were uncomfortable, for essentially ideological reasons, with the very idea of it, we would deserve all the criticism hurled at us.  But that was absolutely not the case. There was, and remains, strong support across the University for a major enhancement of our teaching and research capacity in the area of Western civilisation studies. We are attracted by the wide-ranging liberal arts courses taught in some prominent American universities, and remain wholly willing to craft a similar degree course here. Designed to convey understanding and respect for the great Western intellectual and cultural traditions - albeit in our own way:  analytically rigorous, not triumphalist, and open to comparisons being drawn, as appropriate, with other major intellectual and cultural traditions.
ANU has long been ranked number one in Australia in humanities disciplines, and we already teach some 150 undergraduate subjects addressing Western civilisation themes. The attractiveness of having major new resources to advance them, is why an enormous amount of effort has been invested by our staff in developing a very detailed proposal, including a draft syllabus, in support of a Ramsay gift, and why negotiations for common ground continued as long as they did.
So what went wrong? We withdrew from negotiations because there were irreconcilable differences over the governance of the proposed program, not its substance.  We were willing to accept the Ramsay Centre having a voice in curriculum design and staff appointments. But only a voice, not a controlling influence. From the outset, however, the Centre has been locked in to an extraordinarily prescriptive micro-management approach to the proposed program, unprecedented in our experience, embodied in a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of some 30 pages with another 40 pages of detailed annexures.
It has insisted on a partnership management committee to oversee every aspect of the curriculum and its implementation - with equal numbers from both the Ramsay Centre and ANU, meaning an effective Ramsay veto.
It has been unwilling to accept our own draft curriculum, and has refused to accept our preferred name for the degree ('Western Civilisation Studies')While acknowledging that any curriculum would have to be endorsed by the ANU Academic Board, it has made clear that to be acceptable to the Ramsay Centre it would have to find favour with the joint management committee - with its representatives being able to sit in the classes that we teach and undertake "health checks" on the courses and the teachers.
It became clear that there are fundamental differences in our respective conceptions of the role of a university.  The Centre has gone so far as to insist on the removal of "academic freedom" as a shared objective for the program: this remains in the draft MOU as an ANU objective, not a Ramsay one. For us academic freedom doesn't mean freedom to underperform or to teach without regard to the disciplines or agreed objectives of a particular syllabus. But it does mean appointment or retention of staff on the basis of their demonstrated academic merit, not political or ideological preference.
A continuing concern has been that the proposed Ramsay funding is provided short-term, up for renewal in eight years. A time-limited gift is not in itself problematic, but building a major program involving the hiring of a dozen staff, and then being held hostage to its continuation by a donor whose most senior and influential board members appear to have manifestly different views to ours about university autonomy, is not a happy position for any university to be in.
Ramsay CEO Simon Haines, in an interview in last weekend's Fairfax Press (The Age, 23 June), has now at last engaged in a little circumspect distancing from the Tony Abbott article in Quadrant, which was very explicit about the controls envisaged. But that dissociation has been a long time coming, and it remains to be seen whether there will in fact be a change in the Ramsay board's position.  In successive conversations with the Centre, ANU sought public assurances that Ramsay's position had been misstated, and that the University's autonomy in actually implementing agreed objectives would be fully respected.  But no reply we have received has given us any cause to believe that the MOU, with all its over-reach, would be fundamentally revised.  In the result, it was simply impossible on our side to believe that there was sufficient trust and confidence for the project to proceed.
We withdrew from the negotiations for governance reasons of this kind. Boiled down, the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation simply did not trust the ANU to deliver a program acceptable to it, and consequently asked for controls on the University's delivery of the degree that ANU could not - and should not - agree to.  
ANU, accepts gifts from individuals, foundations, groups, entities, government agencies, and foreign governments. In no cases are these gifts allowed to compromise the University's academic integrity, nor are they allowed to impose on our academic freedom, or autonomy. Regarding historical gifts surrounding our Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (CAIS), Australia's leading academic capability in its area, let us be clear: if the Ramsay Centre were to take the same approach to a gift to ANU as the donors to CAIS, we could reach an agreement in less than 48 hours.
The University has never accepted gifts with such restrictions as demanded by Ramsay, and under our watch as Chancellor and Vice Chancellor we never will.
Let us offer this frank assessment as things stand at the moment, as the Ramsay Centre seeks other partners: to succeed, either they will have to change its approach and trust its partners to deliver a program in Western Civilisation studies, or be limited to a university willing to make concessions on academic autonomy. If the Ramsay Centre and its board are prepared to understand and respect the autonomy of Australia's national university, our door remains open.
Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC and Professor Brian Schmidt AC are Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor, respectively, of The Australian National University.
 [my yellow highlighting]

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Quotes of the Week



‘A progressive tax system “discriminates against Australians by income….Other forms of discrimination, such as by skin colour, race, or ethnicity, are rightly abhorred, yet the income tax system openly discriminates against people by income”’  [Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) 
quoted  by Sam Longford in Junkee, 5 June 2018]

just because he quacks like his misogynist homophobic predecessor while unequivocally cosying up to a deranged and ableist racist doesn't make him the milkshake duck of prime ministers cheesh fair go”  [Academic Ingrid Matthews on the subject of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull and the Ramsey Centre for Western Civilisation’s attempt  to fund  a BA  university course,  Twitter, 7 June 2018]

Monday, 4 December 2017

Sexual harassment & sexual assault make Sydney University residential colleges unsafe for students


“The cultural conditioning of girls as gatekeepers and surrogate mothers is supposed to keep boys in a perpetual state of liberation. They can do as they please and trust that the consequences of their actions will be held against any woman they choose to hurt in the process. This form of gendered entitlement is particularly evident in men who enjoy wealth and privilege, both of which can be found in overbearing quantities on the campuses of residential university colleges.”  [Clementine Ford in The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 December 2017]

Honi Soit, 29 November 2017:

In 2009, amidst allegations of sexual violence at the colleges and the formation of a “Define Statutory” facebook group by St Paul’s students, several students, activists and academics wrote to St Paul’s, urging the college to undertake a wide-scale review of their culture with special attention being paid to sexual assault. This did not happen. Instead, St Paul’s hosted a White Ribbon fundraising dinner.

In 2011, calls for a review into college culture were raised again. Broderick’s review of how women were treated in the Australian Defence Force Academy, which followed an incident where a male cadet livestreamed himself having sex with a female cadet via Skype, recommended that similar reviews be undertaken at university college campuses where the same issues existed.

However, following years of discussion, in 2014 the prospect of a college review was killed off by Group of Eight Universities, including the University of Sydney, amidst concerns for reputational damage.

“I think some of those objections were based on perception of reputational risk,” Dr Damian Powell from the University of Melbourne told the Sydney Morning Herald

“The honest answer is it was put in the ‘too hard’ basket.”

According to Funnell, “It was incredibly disappointing when in 2014, the Go8 killed off an earlier attempt to review the colleges. It demonstrated how defensive and reputation-conscious they were.”

Incidents of sexual harassment and bullying continued. In 2016, University of Sydney Union media outlet Pulp revealed instances of slut-shaming at Wesley College, where a widely distributed college publication included a ‘Rack Web’ detailing “inter-college hook-ups”. A week later, Honi detailed ongoing incidents of bullying and sexual harassment across all residential colleges.

Months later, in October 2016, Broderick was engaged by the University of Sydney and all colleges, except for St Paul’s, to undertake a review of college culture, and “evaluate the strengths and challenges of residential life”…..

The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 November 2017:

As many as 32 per cent of women at University of Sydney colleges have experienced sexual harassment and 6 per cent of female college students have experienced actual or attempted sexual assault, with other college students making up the vast majority of perpetrators, a review of college culture has found.

The review, led by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, found that sexual misconduct, "hazing" and a problematic drinking culture persist at five of the university's six residential colleges, a number of which have come under fire for repeated incidents of sexual misbehaviour by students.

More than 1000 students from Sydney University's Sancta Sophia, St Andrew's, St John's, Wesley and Women's colleges were surveyed by Ms Broderick's team and more than 630 students were interviewed since October last year, with a 69 per cent participation rate across the five colleges…..

St Paul's College, which initially refused to participate in the review but recently joined the process, is not included in the findings and will receive a separate report in June next year.

Female students from St Andrew's College and Women's College reported some of the highest rates of sexual harassment and actual or attempted sexual assault, with 32 per cent of students at Women's College and 30 per cent of women at St Andrew's College saying they have experienced sexual harassment since starting at college.
At both colleges, 8 per cent of women said they have experienced actual or attempted sexual assault…..

Across all five colleges, 25 per cent of women and 6 per cent of men said they have experienced sexual harassment and 6 per cent of women and 1 per cent of men said they have experienced actual or attempted sexual assault.

Of these, 96 per cent of students who experienced sexual harassment and 73 per cent of students who experienced sexual assault said a fellow student from their college or a different college was the perpetrator.

About 90 per cent of all incidents occurred on college grounds.

The review also found that only 9 per cent of college students who experienced sexual assault and 3 per cent of those who experienced sexual harassment made a formal report.

About 31 per cent of those who experienced sexual assault and 49 per cent of those who experienced sexual harassment did not seek any assistance, the review found, with common reasons including that students "didn't think it was serious enough", "did not think I needed help" or "thought I could sort it out myself".

The review also found that 15 per cent of all college students reported that there was too much focus on drinking alcohol at their college and 13 per cent of students said they have been pressured to drink when they did not want to.

Read the full article here.

The review report Cultural Renewal at the University of Sydney Residential Colleges can be read here.

Monday, 23 October 2017

There is more than one path to academic success and a job you love


Sharna Clemmett on Facebook:

On Friday I gave a speech at my old high school, for the year 12 final assembly. I was asked to publish it, so here it is.

********************
1. I am a former Kadina student. I was in year 12 in 1996.

2. It is 21 years since I last attended this fine school. That makes it 21 years since I dropped my bundle, dropped out of school, and spent about a year on Centrelink benefits, wondering what life was all about, what to do with it, and why.

3. There you have it: the thing that for years I felt was something of which to be ashamed: I never obtained a Higher School Certificate. I am a high school dropout.

4. At your stage, I didn’t have a plan. My plan fell apart in year 12. I moved out of home when I was almost 17. I was sharing a house with a fellow Kadina student and her 6 month old baby. We had very little money. It was tough. Centrelink, in its wisdom, gave me a choice, which was the choice required by the rules: either study full time, or look for work full time. You are not eligible for out-of-home benefits if you study part time.

5. It all got too hard, and I dropped out.

6. At this point, it doesn’t sound like a success story in the making. But really, that was just the start of my journey on a windy road. If I’d known that at the time, I would have been much less despondent about my life.

7. After I dropped out of school, Centrelink gave me another choice: undertake a 6 month, government-funded training, work-for-the-dole program, or you lose your benefits.

8. Off I trotted to work at St Vincents Hospital in Lismore as a Patient Service Assistant. I worked in the surgical ward. I rode my rusty bicycle across the Lismore basin to work every day, starting at 6:45. I learnt some medical terminology. I wiped down and made beds; pushed beds and trolleys; helped wash patients; ordered stock for the ward; organised patient notes. Even though I had no desire to ever be a nurse or a doctor, and there was nothing in particular about a hospital that appealed to me as a place to spend my working life, I always made sure I talked to the people around me, and I worked hard. I had sore feet at the end of most days.

9. At one point I worked out, on average, that if my fortnightly Centrelink payment had been calculated based on the hours I was working, my hourly rate was $3.20 an hour. I was always at work early, I often worked half way through my lunch break, and I often did not finish until after my rostered time.

10. Because I had demonstrated that I worked hard and effectively, the hospital employed me as a casual in administration at the end of the training program. After about 6 months I realised that this – working in hospital administration – was likely to be the pinnacle of my working success if I stayed where I was. I decided to move to Sydney to see what other opportunities there might be.

11. I was in Sydney selling insurance from a call centre (“welcome to NZI, this is Sharna, how can I help you?”), and I got a call suggesting I contact a someone about a job at a new hospital.

12. A senior executive from St Vincents, who had noticed me working hard, had moved to Sydney and was involved in starting up North Shore Private Hospital in St Leonards.

13. So that was how I landed a role in admissions and reception for the Day Surgery and endoscopy unit at North Shore Private. I still hadn’t decided that I wanted to work in a hospital, or be a doctor or a nurse – but I had decided I didn’t like selling insurance in a call centre. So sure, why not?

14. After I had been at North Shore Private for about a year – always at work a bit early, usually leaving late, and making sure the day surgery admission process worked like it should, an anaesthetist asked me whether I would be interested in a change in employment. He said his rooms were looking for someone, and he thought I’d be good. I said I wasn’t looking to move, but I’d call and have a chat anyway. Why not?

15. That’s how I ended up managing the diaries of 42 anaesthetists who worked all over Sydney. I was paid very well in that position, because the responsibility was huge. If I didn’t do my job, there would be a surgeon standing around at a hospital waiting to start an operation with no anaesthetist. That happened once. Only once. A vascular surgeon was standing in theatres with patients waiting and no anaesthetist. There was fury. It still makes me feel slightly ill to think about it. At first, a number of the anaesthetists didn’t think I was up to that job. I was only 20. It required a lot of tact and discretion. They thought I was too young. Damn I worked hard to prove them wrong.

16. Then I got a bit bored. I thought I’d start a tertiary preparation course by distance education, to try to get into university, but didn’t finish it. I sat the STAT test. 6 years after I had dropped out of school I was offered a spot in a communications course at UTS, as a mature age student.

17. That was a course requiring a 98 TER, or tertiary entrance ranking. Absurd. I still can’t help but think the university made a mistake with my application.

18. Because I had forged such good relationships in my work, and worked so hard, my employers sat me down and asked me how many hours I could work whilst I went to uni, and how much they needed to pay me so that I could live. They increased my hourly rate so I could survive. Had I worked on the basis that I would be paid just to turn up to work, as opposed to being paid to get the job done in the best possible way, that would not have happened.

19. Anyway, a year into uni, I picked up a few law subjects as electives. I didn’t think I’d be any good at law. I’d never had any desire to be a lawyer. I just wanted to see whether it might be an option. Turns out it was. They let me into law.

20. In my second year, I applied for summer clerkships. A clerkship is supposed to be an ideal way to start your career in the law: law firms get in keen law students over summer, then offer them jobs after they graduate. I didn’t get one. I was gutted. So I looked for an alternative, and went and worked for a barrister in chambers. Turns out that barrister was then appointed to the AWB Inquiry, or the “Wheat for Weapons scandal”, as Kevin Rudd called it. The barrister took me along with him. At one point, when I was instructing senior counsel at the Bar Table in the inquiry, I wondered what would happen if all those barristers, and Commissioner Cole, knew what a fraud I was - that I was a high school drop out, from Lismore, sitting in the middle of their Royal Commission.

21. The contacts I made in the Royal Commission (and my university results) have helped me at every stage of my career since. After the Royal Commission I got a job working as a tipstaff to a Judge in the Supreme Court. The Judge asked me why I had not finished school, and told me I should not be ashamed of not having finished school. He was much more concerned about why I did not get a distinction in the Law of Evidence.

22. I went on to practice as a lawyer for 3 years. Then I sat the Bar Exams. Once again, I did not believe I was up to it. I did not think I would pass. But I worked hard and I passed.

23. So here I am. High school drop out; barrister in the Supreme Court of New South Wales. [**put on robes]

24. It’s funny, I used to hate my school uniform. Now, in the course of my work, I often get dressed up in this, to run trials in the Supreme Court of New South Wales. A horse hair wig. It’s funny how our preferences change over time.

25. This year, it is 21 years since I left Kadina without a Higher School Certificate.

26. It is 10 years since I was admitted to practice as a lawyer of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

27. It is 5 years since I qualified as a barrister at the NSW Bar.

28. Soon you will be sitting your final HSC exams, then you’ll get your results. You’ll be given a university admission ranking, if that’s what you’re going to do. This might also be looked at by future employers.

29. This is a pretty scary time. There’s a bit of pressure on you. Even if your parents and teachers are not putting pressure on you, it’s likely you feel the weight of their expectations, or at least their hopes for you. Even if you don’t feel that from other people, it’s quite likely you’re putting that pressure on yourself anyway. Then there’s the question of “what am I going to do afterwards?”; “what does the world have in store for me?”

30. Had I tried to pick up all the pieces at once - done my HSC, and gone straight to uni - after I dropped my bundle in 1996, there is no prospect I would be where I am today. I wouldn’t have thought to study law. I just worked with what I felt I could at the time. And I worked my arse off, consistently. I worked my way through from shit kicker jobs, to well paying jobs, to excelling at university. I found a career I love.

31. If you drop your bundle, just pick up the pieces you can carry and work with them. Do something, and do it to the best of your ability. Make meaningful connections and use them. People will respect you if they see you work hard.

32. I have been told that my life has been like a series of lily pads, in which I just jump from one to the next. But I made those lily pads, dammit. And you can make yours. The secret to your success is: you.

33. So here are a few loose rules to live by:
1. First: No matter what result you get in the HSC, the secret to your success in life is you. It’s not numbers on a page. They may help. But it comes down to you: what you put in dictates what you get out. You are the secret to your success.
2. Second: Take opportunities when they arise, even if you don’t think you want them. (It’s amazing what doors a seemingly shitty job can open.) If you miss an opportunity you think you want, take the next one.
3. Third: If you drop your bundle, just pick up the bits you can carry and work with them.
4. Fourth: Talk to people and make meaningful connections. The connections you make will help you through, give you a leg up, and lead to opportunities that may surprise you. And I’m not just talking about work or career opportunities. I mean life opportunities.
5. Fifth: You might have a plan, but you can get to where you want to be, one way or another, and you can succeed, by a different, perhaps more windy, path than the path you have mapped out in your mind.

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