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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Rethinking ATAR and HSC: Focusing on Holistic Education for Young Australians


Wil Massara

Chief Executive Officer & Founder

In 2019, I stood on stage at my graduation with an empty envelope. I had not achieved an ATAR, nor had I secured my certificate of education; I had simply failed.

Fast forward 3.5 years, and I proudly have completed my Master's in Business Administration (pending graduation). While I am an outlier, it's essential to question whether the relentless emphasis on these arbitrary numbers is causing undue academic pressure on our youth in our rapidly evolving world.

Here are the facts: According to the 2022 Youth Report by Mission Australia, 41.5% of young people highlight their most significant challenges within the school environment. These challenges include academic pressure, excessive workloads, difficulties with teachers, learning impediments, and general school-related stressors.

The reality is that our education system, while designed to benefit students, often places overwhelming pressure on them to meet predefined academic standards. This pressure, especially the fixation on rankings, contributes to substantial stress among young people, many of whom have endured two years of disrupted education due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the increasing challenges faced by young individuals as they transition to higher education, such as the rising cost of living and the growing prevalence of depression, anxiety, and suicide, it's time to reconsider the relevance of these increasingly archaic numbers.

The high-pressure ATAR, which dominates discussions throughout a young person's high school journey, is undermined by a study conducted by the Mitchell Institute. This study revealed that fewer than 30% of first-year university students gain admission based on their ATAR alone. The majority are accepted through alternative pathways, including portfolios, bridging courses, interviews, recommendations, or, like myself, professional experience.

It's high time we place greater value on conversations about alternative pathways during the final years of school.

Looking internationally, particularly at the USA and the UK, we see a more holistic approach to the application process. These countries place significant emphasis on a young person's extracurricular activities and the essays they submit with their applications. This approach allows colleges to understand the individual behind the application, going beyond what a mere number can reveal.

To clarify, I don't consider the ATAR or HSC to be the root of the issue. The problem lies in ATAR being the sole metric for measuring educational success over 13 years of schooling. This number fails to encapsulate the unique stories, contributions, and extracurricular achievements of our young people.

The oft-cited Future of Work report by DELL, which revealed in 2017 that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have not yet been invented, coupled with the rapid advancements in technology and the emergence of AI, underscores the urgency of prioritizing flexibility and adaptability in our schools. We must equip our youth with foundational skills in innovation, creativity, and leadership, and be prepared to rapidly adapt our education system to ensure their success in an ever-changing world.

It's time to rethink our approach and pave the way for a more holistic, adaptable, and empathetic education system that truly prepares our young people for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

Who am I?

I am a passionate advocate for innovative education and the power of Gen Z, I founded the Youth Leadership Academy Australia (YLAA) at the age of 15, revolutionising youth leadership nationwide. With a focus on empowering young individuals and transforming school programs, YLAA has positively impacted over 30,000 students in more than 1,000 schools. Wil's expertise in designing and delivering youth engagement strategies has earned him recognition as a consultant for local and state governments and organisations. His recent completion of a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at 21 underscores his commitment to advancing education in a rapidly changing world.


Additional Note: This article was written by,

Wil Massara

. This author is a member of YLAA's Youth Advisory Board. As our organisation continues to evolve, we want to make sure that we continue to represent and empower the voices of youth in their own affairs, that’s why we have created our first Youth Advisory Board - not only to ensure that our students’ interests are at the core of every aspect of our organisation, but also to give the young people we serve the opportunity to develop themselves personally, whilst contributing to our mission of ensuring a sustainable future for all youth.

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