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Thursday, June 16, 2011

No Worries: Australian Culture Reflected in Schools

Spend one day in Australia and you'll hear the phrase "no worries" probably more than you've ever heard those two words uttered together in a lifetime.  This simple phrase sums up what the Australian lifestyle is all about.  Australians in general tend to be very relaxed, friendly, and welcoming and this culture is reflected in many areas of the South Coogee Public School education system.

Part of the reason why I believe Aussies have such a good attitude towards life is because of the beautiful weather and scenery that surrounds them most of the year.  Beaches are everywhere in Australia, and even during the peak of winter, temperatures only drop to the low 40's.  The Australian appreciation for the outdoors is reflected in the layout of South Coogee Public School.  Recess is always outside, rain or shine, and lunch and snack are also taken outside.  In addition, kids congregate outside before and after school as they are waiting to be picked up by parents who also wait outside (not inside or in cars like one often sees in the US).  There is a big emphasis on physical education and not being "cooped up" inside all day.  Thus, there are three food/recess breaks ("crunch and sip" where students are only allowed to eat fresh fruit and water, "little lunch" where they can have a healthy snack, and "big lunch") during the day and usually at least a half hour of fitness.  I think this really helps the kids focus during the time that they actually spend learning in the classroom, and I think it also contributes to the fact that Australia has a much smaller obese population than in the US where children seem to need commercials now to encourage them to go outside and play.

The relaxed, "no worries" Aussie attitude is also reflected in South Coogee's education system through the way in which teachers treat their students.  I've been teaching in a first grade classroom, so the kids are only 6 yet they lead themselves to lunch and back on time without any guidance from the teachers.  A loud bell announces lunch and recess start and end time, and the students are expected to go down there, eat their lunch and partake in recess, and come find their class when they're done.  This is a stark contrast to the summer camp atmosphere I'm used to in the US where we are required to count our kids everywhere we go and need to always make sure that there is a counselor in front of the line and in the back of the line.  Students at South Coogee also act as messengers between teachers, and I think this helps them develop responsibility and a lot of other essential skills like learning how to communicate properly with adults.  

The pick-up portion of the day is also very relaxed and structure-free.  Parents come get their kids and usually wave to the teacher that they are leaving, but there is no signing out required and I've never seen anyone have to show identification.  At camp, we were always required to check I.D. and make parents sign their kids in and out - they were essentially putting their children's hands in ours and we'd do the same once they came for pick-up.  It was a very strict system to ensure no children were lost, yet I have never heard of an issue at this school despite the structure being so relaxed.  These observations have made me realize that the rigid structure that we find in schools today might not be so necessary, and it has given me a lot to reflect upon for when I return back to teaching in the US.

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