I well remember the front-page headline of The Daily Telegraph on 8 January 1997, “The Class we Failed” with a photograph of the 36 members of Mount Druitt High’s HSC class—none of whom had attained a tertiary entrance rank (TER) of 50.
While the article may have intended to attack successive state governments and educational bureaucrats, it publicly shamed the students themselves.
Many had post-school futures that did not involve tertiary studies, but despite this, they were perceived as “failures.”
Young people are deeply aware of the expectations that accompany the HSC. Sometimes these are the expectations of parents and teachers.
Other times, it is of the students themselves. Most will have targets, both for individual subjects and their overall performance, and generally these relate to their areas of ability and career aspirations.
Sadly, some young people “crack” under the weight of expectations.
Perhaps, it is the recognition of this pressure that has led to educational systems being more flexible than they once were.
Today, the HSC is just one of the pathways that can afford young people the opportunity of undertaking tertiary studies.
And of course, young people need not pursue further studies in order to live fulfilling lives and contribute to the wider society.
In recent weeks I have chatted with a number of friends, colleagues and ex-students who currently have children sitting for HSC exams.
Without exception, they have been concerned for their child’s emotional well-being, seeing this as more important than their performance in the exams themselves.
Many reminisced about their own final exams and were grateful that those days had long since passed.
The HSC exams can be a stressful time, both for students and their parents, and much expectation surrounds them. For many, they are viewed as a defining moment of career choice.
For some, this is not just the perception but the reality, especially for those seeking entry into highly competitive, high-ranking tertiary courses.
These pressures and concerns are not restricted to this generation, nor just to students in this country. They are relatively commonplace to young people everywhere.
The process of transitioning from school to adulthood is a key moment in life and central to this is the realisation of one’s career opportunities and choices. Today, just as in my own schooldays, the HSC exams can play a very big part in this.
They are, however, not the be all and end all, and we should remind people of this.
Many of the pressures that young people feel regarding the HSC are due to the public scrutiny of school and student results, with newspapers detailing a range of “league tables” as well as university entrance information.
Fortunately, there is a degree of sensitivity about the information that is shared, but as with that Telegraph front page, it hasn’t always been the case.
The presence and support of parents in the key moments of their child’s education certainly doesn’t begin or end with the HSC examinations. Parents have been there the whole journey and they play a critical role.
They should never underestimate the importance of what they do as mentor and motivator.
This of course is not just about wise counsel and words of advice but also the comforting reassurance of personal presence. This will help allay many of the pressures that young people feel.
Given the personal and community value attributed to the HSC exams, nervousness is a perfectly natural thing.
Parents can help enormously in addressing this by ensuring that their children are well prepared, calm and focused. Importantly, they can also help them avoid the “what if” pitfalls.
While important, the HSC exams are not life-defining and they should be viewed as “stepping stones” rather than “stumbling blocks.” Perspective can make all the difference.