CHARLES LEADBEATER in his paper What’s Next: 21 Ideas for 21st Century Learning proposed as his #8 idea that all school children should be mentored.
Every child should have access to one-on-one mentoring – a personal relationship with an adult or older peer – to build up their learning skills. Mentoring can provide a vital bridge between social and emotional skills and learning.
This is a very ambitious idea. He had primarily in mind disadvantaged children, particularly aimed at re-motivating boys in danger of dropping out of the school system.
But this idea could be applied to any children with great benefit. For example, year 10 students.
Year 10 is very much an in-between year. It’s at the start of the senior years, but the year does not have the same seriousness or pressure that will be experienced in years 11 and 12. For the student, it’s a year to make some decisions about what they may want to do – locking down the subjects for VCE and eyeing off prospects for tertiary education and employment – but they are mostly in a mindset not to care. For many, school has become boring, with no challenges. The outside world of work looks immediately appealing.
It’s also a year level that’s difficult for teachers to teach, as they face somewhat disinterested and distracted classes.
On average, close to 30% of students still drop out before completing year 12 (Northern Territory has the worst record with just under 50%), and children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are most likely to do so. There are many reasons for this; not just boredom with school or wanting to work. Economic necessity, homelessness, parent illness and mental illness also have an impact.
In a report written in 2004 Staying on at school: Improving student retention in Australia, the authors considered mentoring to be an effective strategy in dealing with student dis-engagement with school.
A key feature of several effective prevention programs reported overseas and in Australia is mentoring. This has led to the development of programs based solely on the use of mentoring. In most programs this involves key personnel working directly with students, usually in a one-to-one situation. While this role may be undertaken by a teacher, programs now often involve other community members including business and community volunteers.
But mentoring is not only effective as a means of improving student retention. It can also be used to help students make informed decisions about the pathways they wish to take, when they are forming their ideas of what to do, and what careers they may adopt.
Work experience is customarily organised in year 10 to assist in this.
The problem with work experience is that it is often very difficult to convince employers to take on students, particularly in ‘cottage’ industries based in small, home offices (eg multimedia, etc) or in high performance enterprises. Work experience is mostly arranged through the student’s family contacts. Not only is there an unfairness about this, but the work experience itself can be very dissatisfactory, with the student accomplishing only mundane tasks at best.
There are many different models how mentoring could be applied in this context. Here’s one:
Imagine in a reasonably well-connected school, parents of year 10 students becoming mentors to the year 10 class. The students select from the pool of parent mentors the type of occupation or career they are interested in. As Leadbeater suggested, the choice should be entirely up to the child to choose the mentor.
The mentoring can be conducted over a 3 month period, perhaps meeting every two weeks – either in person, or online (Skype). Then, if the student is not happy with their choice, they change to another mentor for the next 3 months. If they are happy, the relationship continues for the whole year.
This is a much more positive experience for the child compared to a two-week transient work experience program, and it requires far less administrative hassles, and broadens the scope of the relationship beyond just a work or employment focus. It’s the ongoing independent and caring adult relationship that is most beneficial.
For more disadvantaged school communities, mentors may need to be sought through parent networks into the local community and industry, and beyond. With digital communications, there is no reason why the mentoring is restricted by geography.