Di scuole femminili e tempi che non cambiano

Quando ero bambina nella mia ridente cittadina ligure c’erano due possibilità educative: una, era la scuola statale e l’altra, la scuola “dalle suore”. Nel mio caso fu scelta la seconda opzione e cominciai l’asilo all’Istituto Sant’Anna, dove rimasi fino alla fine delle medie. Ma oltre alla mia scuola cattolica mista c’era, dall’altra parte della strada, la scuola cattolica femminile. Pur vivendo in un paese piccolo non ricordo di aver mai conosciuto nessuna bambina che andava alla scuola “di solo femmine”. Tra noi studenti di Sant’Anna si parlava con un misto di commiserazione e disdegno di quelle bambine obbligate a vivere in un mondo innaturale, come una scuola senza maschi.

Queste chiacchiere e pettegolezzi avvenivano nei primi anni ’70, in un paesino di provincia, per cui potete immaginare la mia sorpresa quando, nel 1996, mi ritrovai a sentire donne della mia eta’ proclamare i benefici di una scuola tutta femminile, in una grande città cosmopolita.

Julia aveva pochi mesi e come ogni settimana mi ritrovavo con un gruppo di mamme, e qualche sporadico papa’, per condividere i progressi dei nostri piccoli e trovare consolazione e sostegno dopo un’altra notte insonne. Fu durante una di queste chiacchierate mattutine che l’argomento “scuola single-sex” venne tirato in ballo per la prima volta. Io sedevo nel mio angolo e mi tornavano alla mente immagini di bambine tristi e pallide (si, nella mia immaginazione le bambine “dall’altra parte” erano sempre tristi e pallide. Come se oltre ad essere private della compagnia maschile, venisse loro negato anche il piacere del sole ligure!) e non riuscivo a capacitarmi di come, in questa città così all’avanguardia, qualcuno potesse considerare una tale possibilità.

Donne con le quali avevo diviso quei primi mesi della mia avventura di mamma, mi mostravano un aspetto della vita nel mio paese d’adozione che, fino a quel momento, avevo completamente ignorato. Per la prima volta mi sentivo davvero “straniera” perché i loro ragionamenti pro scuola “single sex” erano concetti che mi risultavano completamente   sconosciuti e che rimbalzavano nel mio cervello senza trovare un appiglio. Non presi parte a quella prima discussione ma da allora ho avuto innumerevoli conversazioni e combattuto a spada tratta a favore delle scuole miste!

Ciclicamente appaino articoli sul giornale che ci rifilano i risultati di una nuova ricerca sui pro e contro in entrambi i campi e, ciclicamente, mi rendo conto che queste ricerche non propongono nulla di nuovo. Per me rimane sempre e solo il fatto che viviamo in un mondo “misto” e voglio offrire l’opportunità alle mie figlie di imparare a cavarsela, in questo mondo, il prima possibile!

Se devono combattere in un mondo “al maschile” e’ importante che conoscano il loro avversario, e prima cominciano, meglio e’. Impossibile negare che il mondo in cui viviamo e’ ancora dominato dall’uomo e immagino che nelle classi i ragazzi facciano in modo di avere il sopravvento. Ed e’ qui che, spero, le mie figlie abbiano l’occasione di imparare ad affrontare e sormontare questi soprusi. Che senso ha farle crescere in un mondo irrealistico per poi gettarle in pasto ai lupi a 18 anni? 

Julia ha finito la scuola l’anno scorso e ho avuto modo di paragonare la sua esperienza accademica e sociale con quella di due amiche d’infanzia, entrambi frequentatrici di una scuola femminile. Questi sono i risultati della mia ricerca!

Dal punto di vista accademico Julia, che e’ sempre stata molto timida e introversa, ha avuto risultati migliori di quelli delle sue amiche. Le ragazze sono cresciute insieme, sono tutte molto coscienziose e studiose, con genitori attenti e presenti e opportunità molto simili. Il fatto di andare ad una scuola invece di un’altra non ha avuto nessuna conseguenza sui risultati.

Dal punto di vista sociale, i sostenitori del movimento “single sex” affermano che arrivati all’adolescenza essere in presenza dell’altro sesso distrae dallo studio.

Mi piace pensare che le mie figlie possano scegliere come mettersi in relazione con l’altro sesso e, nonostante abbiano approcci molto diversi, nessuna delle due ha mai manifestato segni di “distrazione”.  E siamo in piena adolescenza e subbuglio ormonale! Sofia non ha mai fatto differenza tra amicizie maschili o femminili, mentre Julia, fino ad un paio di anni fa, ha sempre optato per amicizie femminili. Dopo anni di contatto giornaliero,  oggi e’ perfettamente a suo agio anche con i ragazzi. Nel suo caso frequentare una scuola mista le ha fornito le risorse per superare la sua timidezza con l’altro sesso e questo l’aiuterà sicuramente all’università e nel mondo del lavoro.

Anche dal punto sociale, quindi, la scelta di una scuola mista non ha portato alle mie figlie nessuno svantaggio.

Che dire, risultati positivi in entrambi i campi. Nel grande dibattito “single-sex vs co-ed le scuole miste a casa nostra vincono a pieni voti!

Leggendo su internet ho scoperto che l’Australia e’ uno dei pochi paesi dove questo sistema riscontra ancora parecchio successo. Nonostante molte scuole maschili siano state convertite in scuole miste, le scuole femminili sono ancora molto numerose e ben frequentate.

Come avveniva con le bambine della scuola di fronte, le ragazze delle scuole femminili in genere non socializzano con quelle delle scuole miste e, a volte, mi  pare di cogliere un leggero tono di commiserazione e disdegno nei discorsi delle mie figlie e dei loro amici. Ed ecco dove Melbourne 2015 e Vallecrosia ca. 1970 hanno qualcosa in comune!

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My journey through school – high school

We made it to High School!

We made it to High School!

Last monday Julia had her last school concert. “Come and say farewell to our year 12 students” said the school’s newsletter. I have read this so many times during the years. The last senior concert, a big milestone, I am always moved to see how mature and grown up the kids look, standing on stage, confident and proud. And all of a sudden Julia was one of them. Since then it has been a succession of “last times” and here we are, tomorrow will be her last day of school!

Although it feels all a bit sudden, it has been a six years journey. We started by looking at the most suitable school for her. In Victoria students, generally, have to attend the school closer to their residence address. It is however possible to apply to go to a different school on the basis of curriculum grounds.  Because of her interest in music and playing the cello she was able to find a place in a local school with an excellent music program and a good all round reputation and so, in 2010, she started at Northcote High.

Just like with primary school, I had to get used to a whole new system. The first three years all students learn the same basic subjects. Depending on what the school offers, they can choose different languages and from year 8 also a number of electives subjects. Julia had the opportunity to try woodwork and textiles, cooking and Chinese. In year 10  they are able to choose which direction they want to take and decide what subjects to study. It is in year 11 and 12 that they start working exclusively on the subjects they will take to their VCE exams, at the end of year 12.

Northcote High is a very big school for italian standards but this time, unlike in primary school, the classrooms had desks and chairs, a white board and we had to buy books. Not many…but at least some! Students have to wear a uniform. I dreaded the idea at first but I soon got used to it and so did Julia. In the self conscious years of adolescence it was a relief for her not to have to think of what to wear to fit in. They do have “free dress” days every term and occasionally even “themed” days, when kids can display their uniqueness and wear what they like best.

China orchestra tour

China orchestra tour

The music program has certainly been one of the highlight of the past 6 years and it’s one of the aspect of school in Australia that I like the most. The fact that it offers students the opportunity to play an instrument and perform without the need to attend a specific music school. Julia played in the orchestra and the strings ensemble from the beginning of high school. She went on interstate and overseas tours, established long lasting friendships and developed self discipline and confidence that will no doubt accompany her into adulthood. Plus she has tons of memories and a great musical repertoire!

Of course I have had my reservations. Unlike in Italy there is very little homework and studying done at home, the bulk of the work is completed during school hours. There are no random testing, no scary interrogazioni when the teacher picks a student and asks questions about a particular topic, giving marks according to the replys. Exams only start in year 10 and, in my opinion, are not taken too seriously until they get to year 12.

And there are hardly any consequences if a student is not performing well. No failing or have to repeat the year, just encouragement to try and do better next time. Although in principle this approach sounds very nurturing, I am still to be convinced of its potential success.

Home from the second last day, with a signed uniform!

Home from the second last day, with a signed uniform!

Julia has never worked very hard and has always done well but there has been a change in the past two years. She is still doing well but, finally, she is working hard! Her attitude has made me reconsider my doubts as I see her studying with great dedication and interest. Exams will start on the 29th october. She is going through this last stretch in a calm and relaxed way, taking one step at the time, spending time with her friends and playing her cello in between writing essays and reading Wuthering Hights and the Odyssey.

It has being a fabulous journey and, as after all the best journeys, I will be sad and relieved when it’s over.

 

My journey through school – first step, primary school

Here we start!

Here we start!

Julia is about to close a big chapter of her life, her last year of school is almost over. As we are getting closer to the end, I find myself thinking about these years and my journey through the Australian school system. A journey not always easy and at times foreign and unfamiliar but, ultimately, a journey that left me feeling very positive about my daughter’s education.

My journey started at playgroup, when Julia was barely one year old and the conversation between mothers went to what school to choose and…waiting lists! It was one of those “fish out of water” moments that often happens in the life of us migrants and I sat there feeling confused and slightly inadequate.

This is the first big difference between the Italian and the Australian school system. Particularly at a secondary level, parents often choose to send their children to a private school.  Paying to get an education sounded weird enough to me, but paying to be on a waiting list from the age of one was just beyond belief! I decided that day that I was never sending my daughter to a private school and started my “public school” campaign with Nigel who soon turned the corner and became the first in his family to send his children to a public high school!

Area 2

Area 2

Julia’s primary school was local and a bit alternative, it looked like fun and at the age of five, fun seemed pretty important.

I was used to a very different environment and approach. Classrooms, desks with set places, teachers behind a desk, books and daily homework. Spensley Street Primary school had no classrooms but “areas”, desks were used only for special projects, kids usually sat on the floor, no text books and absolutely no homework. Of course I had my moments of discouragement, asking myself if in this environment my daughter was ever going to learn to read, let alone doing anything else vaguely academic. She certainly loved going to school, where she dressed up, talked about her favourite teddy bear in front of a group of attentive pupils and painted fabulous pictures with her fingers. When I asked the teacher when she was going to start reading, she was now in grade 2, the teacher told me not to worry, she was taking all the right steps in that direction and she would get there in her own time. I must admit I wasn’t reassured, seen that some of her friends where going through the first Harry Potter book while Julia had absolutely no interest in putting more then three words together!

Different ways of learning, using floor or desks!

Different ways of learning, using floor or desks!

Needless to say I was wrong and, yes, the teacher was right. She took her time but Julia did learn to read and developed a passion for books and learning in general.

The way of learning is certainly very different to what I was used to. In primary school there are no specific subjects, no history or geography and even maths seemed to be taught in a very “practical” way. I never heard my girls reciting the times tables like I used to do, but somehow they appear to have learned them. There isn’t much memorising involved in the australian system, the learning is done in a more “organic” way, kids are getting there through their own path. It does sound like a lovely way to learn and still I spent years worrying about my girls path to learning. Could they actually become responsible adults without having learned the structure of the Greek city-states???

End of primary school assembly

End of primary school assembly

As we are approaching the end of her school years I am very pleased with what Spensley St Primary school taught Julia. The move to high school went smoothly and she took with her the skills she learned to help her settle in a more structured environment. High school has been another journey, but I will have to write about that some other time!