Whether or not we agree with the concept of
Outcomes-based Education, considering the outcomes
we would like for our own children at the conclusion
of their home education experience, is useful.
It is probably useful to begin this discussion with a look at how Outcomes Based Education (OBE) has been defined and utilised in our own education system.
Outcomes Based Education (OBE) forms the basis for much of Australia’s current education system. Despite rigorous argument on the topic amongst the some of the best academic minds in the country, it does appear that it is still a key influence in the newly released National Curriculum and associated papers.
We must understand, though, that what may (or may not) be relevant to school education, which focuses on educating masses of children, has no place in home education, which focuses on only one child or the children of only one family.
From what I understand, OBE arose from a desire by educators for ‘all students to master skills in a measurable way’ (outcomes based education). This became the basis of the education system rather than the more traditional focus of ‘what a school provides for students’ (input based approach).
It is an admirable goal to want every child emerging from the school system to have a guaranteed mastery of certain skills. We all want our children to be literate and numerate, and to be confident as they step out into the big wide world. It isn’t the desire that is in question here, it’s whether or not outcomes based education (OBE) actually achieves its goal.
A Google search on ‘outcomes based education’ will provide enough reading material for a month of Sundays, so I won’t even attempt to provide topical links within this article. The more I read about OBE, however, the more I feel it has no relevant place within the practice of home education.
- Outcomes must be concretely measurable, and a system of outcomes will be complex, covering everything from recitation of facts to complex interpretation and analysis.
- Such outcomes much be predefined, which necessitates the development of a curriculum framework that consistently develops the student to achieve those stated outcomes.
- Standardised testing is an accepted part of OBE, an important by-product of the approach. Students are assessed against external, absolute objectives, instead of reporting the students’ relative achievements.
In traditional education, students are tested and graded relative to each other. On the bell-curve, the student who has performed best on the test is at the top, the one who has performed worst is at the bottom, and all the students in between form the majority. It doesn’t reflect that the ‘bottom’ student may know all the facts and have a reasonable command of the subject. Neither does such a system necessarily highlight should a ‘top’ student’s understanding be lacking.
In outcomes based education, students are assessed according to their performance against the pre-set outcomes, and ranked in percentile bands. “The student report shows how the student performed against the national average and, in some states and territories, the school average.” ~ NAPLAN FAQ
In home education, the parent is always assessing whether their child is:
- developing their understanding
- getting where they want to go
- maturing their concepts as the parent sees is necessary
Sometimes this assessment takes a more stereotypical format, but often it doesn’t – and nor should it rely solely on such. Home educated children may be streets ahead or noticeably behind their schooled peers in one area, and completely the opposite in something else.
The goal of home education is not to churn out a child whose education is a carbon copy of the child next door or across the country. We are not creating clones. The goal of home education is to provide opportunities, experiences, resources and routines that are relevant to and uniquely appropriate to our individual child, so that they are educated as is best for them. We are facilitating the development of individuals.
One of the objections to home education that I hear regularly from people who are only familiar with the school system is, “But how will your child ever get a job? If she hasn’t got a Year 10 or Year 12 certificate, she can’t do anything.” What those people mean is that without that piece of paper, my child will not be granted entrance into university or any institute of higher education, and nor can she be accepted into any workplace.
Why not? If my child shows ability, aptitude and an excellent attitude, there will be ways forward for her. Professors always want eager, skilled students. Employers always want polite, efficient employees who can show initiative.
The goal of Year 10 and 12 certificates is to provide employers and institutes of higher education with readily recognisable assurance that a student has skills and abilities that qualify them for acceptance into employment or further education. It’s supposed to simplify the procedure. Yet no such assurance can ever be guaranteed.
If at any point, my child needs to jump through a hoop to prove to an employer or educator that she is indeed qualified to progress down the path that they hold the key to, she is now mature enough to assess the hoop and learn how to jump through it. In fact, this year (2010) she has done just that, pursuing units of a Certificate IV through a TAFE level college – entry to which she gained on her own merits.
Teaching to Outcomes
With outcomes based education, the methods used to equip the child with the skills that are deemed essential are not considered important. It is the child’s mastery of the skill (the outcome) which is the focus.
As a long-term home educator, I have some problems with that.
- people mature at different rates, and come at things in different phases. What one child masters at 12, another may not be ready to master until 22. My husband, for example, did not love reading until after we got married (his mid-twenties) – whereas I was an avid reader from before I started kindergarten.
- children do not always learn the lessons we intend them to learn. In a difficult relational situation, I was keen for my child to learn to accept others as they were, rather than as she deemed they should be. After over a year, however, it dawned on me that she was in fact learning to become a victim, which was never a desired outcome. We reassessed the situation entirely, changed how interactions took place, and that particular relationship prevails. The lesson to accept others as they are has needed more time and different strategies.
- children do not always engage with what we see as essential for their development. In my family background, there was a deep love of the classics and an appreciation for Shakespeare, etc. While I haven’t always shared that passion, I did not want to withhold the opportunity for it from my daughter. We encountered immediate and abject opposition! The best success we had came from discussing Shakespearean quotes, their backgrounds and contexts, but my daughter, until only very recently, retained her aversion to all things past.
- children will not always comply with our pre-conceived ideas. Most of us, having come through the education system, approach the home education of our own children with those system-standards in mind. Our children have not come through the system. They don’t understand why calculus is so vital if they have no aptitude for it or immediate need to use it. To be honest, if they have no aptitude for something or need to use it, why is it essential? There are so many things that seem important that in fact do little more than waste a child’s time. Why is their time not best focused on something that interests them?
Outcomes & A Different Perspective
In our article on Essentials, I discussed a “different perspective”: allowing a job or career to flow from the person and how they relate to others and community.
This process is not mindless of outcomes. On the contrary, it has certain outcomes very clearly in focus. The difference between this and OBE, however, is that OBE continually measures the child against others and the system, while the parent at home is continually adjusting what is being done and how it is being done in order to maximise the child’s long-term fulfilment.
Just today (as I am writing), my husband reminded me of the contrast between seeing an image and having a vision, and in many ways I think this might just be the illustration that will serve best to explain what I mean.
An image is simply a picture. It’s a mental image of something we’ve seen or perceived. For example, young children see doctors on television. They get the coat. They get a plastic stethoscope. They might even have a real one. They take people’s pulses and pretend to operate on the dog. But it doesn’t make them a doctor. An image provides someone with only the picture of that desirable outcome. There are no associated tools by which to claim that fantasy as a lived-out reality.
A vision, however, is an ability to see. It’s a mental perception particularly relevant to future developments. For example, the same child who played with the image of becoming a doctor, may well develop a vision to become a proper medical professional in years to come. They will put in countless hours of voluntary study. They may even refine the area of their interest. In due time, they are able to endure the exhausting hours of hands-on training and continue to pursue an incredible depth of knowledge. They are able to make the huge sacrifices because the attainment of the long-term satisfaction will be the reward. The outcome is ever in mind, but the path to it will be full of adjustment, reassessment, hard lessons and reality. When you truly have a vision, your focus rarely wavers.
Outcomes in Home Education
Whether we are aware of it or not, we all start out on the home education journey with some kind of outcome in mind. It’s worth thinking about.
When we first began, the outcome we desired was that Hayley would be able to progress to university if she so desired. She is now 17, and we have no doubt that if she chose to, she could, with a bit of effort, gain a place at a university studying in the area of her choice. By now, though, we realise that university possibly won’t be the format of ongoing education that will serve her best when her home education days have officially concluded. We have learned more about who she is in the intervening years, as well as about what our true goals should be.
On our journey so far, we have learned that the best outcomes have their roots in:
- our willingness to truly engage with our child
- our flexibility and willingness to adjust what we do and how we do it
- our ability to work with our child and who they really are
- our capacity to remain focused on our child’s long-term good
- the child’s developed confidence in their own abilities
- the child’s learned ability to develop and mature by their own choice
- the child’s supported ability to figure things out for themselves
- the child’s awareness of parental belief and support (added by our daughter)
This is by no means a comprehensive list, nor are they things that could be said at the beginning of our journey. As we near the end of it (at least in this form), however, they are indeed true statements of what we have learned for success.
As you progress on your home education journey, it’s important to keep the goal in mind. Expect your path to be rambling and interesting, however – it really is far more like hiking a wilderness track to a mountain-top with a breath-taking view than it is like climbing a staircase to the building’s roof.
My best advice about outcomes is this: Learn to love the journey, but never forget where you’re going. 🙂
“I can give you a six-word formula for success:
Think things through, then follow through.”
~ Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker