Friday 14 September 2018

A Demonstrable Difference

Two weeks ago mobile phones were removed from the daily regimen of College life. The rationale for this was and remains very clear, particularly in light of research which has been emerging for some time in the field of neuroscience. Eminent scholars such as the Baroness Susan Greenfield, have maintained for many years that learning is impeded when multisensory activity – compounded by light and sound, those consonant with the intense focus on mobile devices, is undertaken. Research has demonstrated that the access, storage and retrieval of information is compromised when vicariously affected by external stimuli. Such stimulation crowd for attention and, in the process, act as distractions. Games such as Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto and Minecraft, have saturated the market and with it, the minds of the young. They have their own addictive centripetal forces that seduce attention inward rather than outward. In less glowing terms many years ago, prominent Australian social commentator, Phillip Adams, referred to the marketing phenomenon of such products as “corporate paedophilia”. Around the grounds at the College over the last two weeks there has been a noticeable difference in the ‘bio-chemistry’ of the school. Gorman Field has not been as packed for years, with boys engaging in spirited (and not unsurprisingly – competitive!!) play, the general volume of conversation around the yard has enlivened and intensified in frequency and volume, while the level of human interaction has increased dramatically. It has been instructive to observe this to a point where even the boys have raised this in general discussion. Some young men have volunteered in their own casual and nonchalant way, that they have enjoyed the change, gaining much from the increased interpersonal exchange and the intensity of the physical games. This is the stuff of young men in school, actively burning off the steam that has accumulated during lessons and in the process, building community.

I can faithfully report that after ten schooling days, only 51 boys have been in violation of the phone standards that have been established, and there has been no dispute about the fact that the initiative was widely known and promoted. This is very pleasing to report and I thank the many parents who made contact via email to acknowledge and endorse the decision to move in this direction. It is still early days, but we are delighted with the response of the boys and the noticeable shift in the culture of the yard and the grounds.




Aside from the deleterious effects on learning, the removal of mobile devices opens up space for that quintessential element of Jesuit education; namely, reflection. Between the demands of the classroom, the intensity of study and travel routines, training and practice schedules for the coming sport and co-curricular season, there is little time that is left to make sense of the lived experience on a daily basis. When any ‘non programmed’ time is absorbed with screen activity, the opportunity cost of the reflective process is lost. And in the best of the Ignatian tradition, this not only accounts for time to reflect on those many circumstances that transpire on a daily basis, it also affords an opportunity to give thanks to a benevolent God for the many blessings and endowments that are gifted to us – ones that are otherwise taken for granted. Ingratitude, according to St Ignatius, was the greatest sin; that is, the inability or the unwillingness to acknowledge and appreciate the great gift that life is in its manifest forms. So as devices that can be subject to ubiquitous use are removed, space is provided to enter the reflective domain – in both a spiritual and a temporal sense. And that is something to truly embrace.

While on the theme of demonstrable difference, the colossal energies of the P&F and the Fire and Ice function over the weekend were directed towards the difference that the Bursary Program makes in the College. The success of this program, both for those who are awarded bursaries and for the College, has been captured in a short videograph which highlights the efficacy of outcomes for the boys who would otherwise be denied access:

With approximately 90 boys on needs-based bursaries – the largest of its kind in Australia, the program is both ambitious and far-reaching. Each year, over a dozen boys in the graduating class are either on, or have been supported by the Bursary Program, and each and every year they are over-represented in sporting achievement, in academic success and in leadership. Every bursary that is granted is based upon demonstrable financial need. Earlier in the week I was reminded of the extravagant outcomes of this program when I received an email from a former bursary recipient who graduated in 2016. This particular young man, like many others had his own story to script. He was not a sportsman and not a House Captain, but he studied hard and made the most of his opportunity. His email explains:

I’ve recently returned to the Australian National University after 6 months in Canada. While there, I was studying and working at the University of British Columbia … and living with the Jesuits to learn about character. Since I’ve been back at university I won first prize in my category at the ANU Undergraduate Research Conference … and I have been given a fund to attend the Australasian Conference of Undergraduate Research in Melbourne. I have also been accepted to study for 4 months at the National University of Singapore starting in January, where I will focus on politics and management. (E. G.)

All this, from a boy who arrived from Moruya just a handful of years ago, not yet 21, and who is making and taking his place in the world. In the process, he is making a meaningful contribution to it, as do so many whose cause lies at the heartland of the mission of the College.

As we enter the final fortnight of the term I urge the boys, whether in Year 5 or Year 12, to embrace each lesson and each experience that can make a difference in real terms to their performance as they confront the break in just nine teaching days from now.

Dr Paul Hine