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SACE, or “sexist and constricting education”


Something is rotten in the state of South Australia. Let me introduce you to the new SACE (South Australia Certificate of Education).

It would be hard to imagine a world where the state’s education curriculum isn’t a contentious issue. Parents, and children who have progressed beyond just simply resenting the education system, will always have different educational values and ideas about how they should be implemented. Is it better to encourage all students to finish Year 12, or should we be putting more emphasis on the option of starting a trade? And then there are the subjects being taught – should certain subjects be compulsory? Should subjects like Tourism be offered, or should we stick to the more traditional, like English and Mathematics? For particularly dissatisfied parents, there are other options available, like the I.B. (International Baccalaureate) and Montessori schools. Yet the majority go down the SACE route. So how will the new SACE, which sees a change from five subjects in Year 12 to four (plus the individual Research Project), be affecting the next generation of South Australian students?

The consequences of reducing the number of subjects from five to four are – at least – two-fold (and here I talk with primarily university-bound students in mind). Firstly, it is clear to see that Year 12s will now be less prepared for the academic rigour of tertiary education and face more challenges in taking the subject prerequisites that many university courses require.

Less obvious is the effect that the new system will have on those students who do not yet have their future goals chiselled into stone; to oversimplify, those students who are sitting on the fence between a future in the humanities and one in the sciences. To a certain extent, a student under the old system who was interested in both subject areas, ‘The Humanities’ versus ‘The Sciences/Maths’, could do a mixture of the two during Year 12, and still satisfy the subject prerequisites for certain university courses. Now, with only four subjects allowed, students cannot as easily do this mixture. They no longer have that ‘extra subject’ which, under the five subject system, allowed them to do that class that they just really wanted to do, university prerequisites be damned (Classics, Drama, Visual Arts, I’m looking at you). Now, it will probably only be those students who have firmly decided upon a degree in Medicine, Science, Engineering, who will take those ‘tough’ subjects (Specialist Maths, Physics, Chemistry), because they have to. As a result of this, I am arguing that the new SACE is particularly disadvantageous for females.

The stereotype of women doing humanities is not just a stereotype; in the tertiary system, women are still outnumbering their male peers in Humanities faculties, with the opposite being true in the engineering/science departments. People will argue that this is a matter of choice – if girls want to be teachers and boys want to be physicists, then that is for each to decide for him- or herself. However, with the new SACE, these choices are being restricted. A high school student planning on going into a Bachelor of Science will have to do subjects like Physics and Chemistry in Year 12 because they are pre-requisites for a B.Sc. Yet for students who are not so decided, they are less likely to choose the tough subjects ‘just in case’ they may later need them. The problem is that they will instead do subjects that are not prerequisites for any university course. A student studying a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in History, was not required to do History at high school (or any other particular subject for that matter). Yet, if she did do History at high school, then with only three other subject places available to her, she is less likely to be able to satisfy the prerequisites for a B.Sc, for example (while a student satisfying the right Science prerequisites can, at the end of it all, choose instead to do a BA instead, no problems).

If a woman chooses to study the Humanities at university, then that is one thing, but what kind of choice is it when she cannot do any other degree because she was restricted in her choices at high school? And it will, without a doubt, be the high school girls who will choose English and History over Specialist Maths, rather than the boys (indeed, recently at a prestigious all-girls’ school here in Adelaide, Specialist Maths was no longer offered internally due to lack of demand. The few girls wanting to take the subject had to take it externally, out of school hours – hardly an encouraging start on the difficult road to a male-dominated career). Before the critics point out that it was the individual’s choice in the first place to pick History in Year 11, rather than Physics, say, it must be pointed out that teenagers are notoriously changeable. Ask a few university students and chances are that most of them will have transferred courses at least once. How much weight, then, can we really give to the ‘choices’ of a fifteen-year high school student – a student, moreover, who likely was not given the proper advice or encouragement concerning the subjects that would be in her best future interests?

A world in which there is equality in education and the workforce is still, apparently, a long way off.

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4 thoughts on “SACE, or “sexist and constricting education”

  1. I say this as someone who didn’t know what he wanted to do until he was 25 and so think any forcing of students at that age to narrow their choices is bad. Expecially as I did the ‘hard’ classes but ended up deciding years later on a path in humanitys.

    This is about choice. If men and women have the same choices you can’t complain if women choose to do humanitys subjects more.

    My gf does Masters Science and her sister Aeronautical enginering. They choose to do that. There is no reason other women can’t choose that as well. To say that women will inherently go for the ‘easy’ subjects is patronising and quite frankly I would have though a feminist writer would have more ambition for women. Expecially considering out of the men and women I know between 16-20 odd its the women who have the life plans and the men who are just going with the flow.

  2. I’m not a fan of the new SACE either, however I agree with Brett in that I don’t think you can say it disadvantages women more than men. I do think it is a big disadvantage to only have 4 Year 12 subjects instead of 5, considering the subjects that will suffer the most will be Drama, Music, Art and languages, however everyone at school has the same choice of subjects- the subjects are not restricted to particular students based on gender. Unfortunately, it does mean that all students need to have a clearer picture of what they think they want to do after school, so they can study the right subjects.

  3. While I agree with your outline of the almost frightening weaknesses of the new SACE, I don’t really see how this is a feminist issue.

    From what you’ve said in your article, your premise seems to be that in high school, those who are uncertain of what they want to study are less likely to do pre-requisite subjects at a school level (as they have less subject options for ‘just in case’ subjects) and as a result be forced into doing humanities, and be excluded from courses with pre-requisites. This does seem valid,but what I don’t understand is your argument then that this is more likely to be detrimental to women?

    You’ve said in your article that statistically women outnumber men in humanities subjects at university level, and that the opposite is true in the sciences. However, surely with new SACE only starting last year, this statement is based off figures from “old” SACE, IB and national high school curricula, and so speaks of a different issue to that of new SACE, the subject of your article.

    Further, you say “Before the critics point out that it was the individual’s choice in the first place to pick History in Year 11, rather than Physics, say, it must be pointed out that teenagers are notoriously changeable.” – again, I agree, but how is this also specific to women?

    New SACE is crap. For everyone.

  4. The comments above make good points and do focus on the main argument from this article which I feel is very true: limiting the options available for students (either by shrinking the number of subjects taken in a year or removing subjects from the curriculum) is unlikely to help anyone.

    It seems I was lucky to swap from SA education to QLD in time for high school – I was able to take English, Maths B, Ancient History, Physics, Drama and Film & Television in year 12.

    I’d also say another thing to think about is the attitude that the sciences and mathematics are the “tough subjects” (you do hear this all over the place, and it was somewhat true that the Chemistry curriculum at my school was harsher than everything else…)

    Sure, lots of people find maths difficult, and often maths is also involved in science, but I find it belittling to the humanities. I didn’t put in any less effort in Ancient History than I did in Physics, and achieved equal grades for both by the time I graduated. A friend of mine swapped from a science subject to my history class, and a science faculty member commented on her “going to the dark side”, although how jokingly this was said I don’t know. Another friend was surprised to find I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts after achieving a high Overall Position – the general attitude seemed to be that the smartest of the crowd would take on the sciences.

    Show some love for the humanities, please!

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