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PMACS Alumni speak to students about Year 10 Subject Selection

ALUMNI RETURN WITH WISE WORDS FOR 2020’s YEAR 10 STUDENTS REGARDING SUBJECT SELECTION.

Recently, I was reflecting on Google’s own employee research projects, Oxygen and Aristotle, where they identified the seven most desirable characteristics for future employees. Their requirements are termed as soft skills, namely coaching, communication (listening, written and verbal), insight, being empathetic and supportive towards colleagues, critical thinking, problem solving, and making links between complex ideas. The TED podcast ‘Why the Tech World Needs the Humanities’ by Eric Berridge, the CEO and founder of the tech company Bluewolf, also provides further evidence supporting the essential need to study Humanities subjects at secondary and tertiary level. I encourage you to watch his ten minute presentation through the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2XPF6rQ6fs

Such publications mirror my own thoughts about a balanced education, which effectively challenge the Western Australian government’s current campaign to ‘Take Two STEM’, as well as the Commonwealth government’s misguided increase in the cost of Humanities degrees. Surely, more nuanced advice should be given to our students to make subject choices which will enable them to prosper in the complex social, political and economic world of the future. It is not just about coding, developing logarithms, rote-learning scientific fact and having a logical mind. As Google, a tech company perceived as the paragon of STEM, has rightly identified students need to future proof their careers and status as active citizens and future leaders by studying subjects which consistently work on soft skills. Soft skills are what the Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) teachers develop on a daily basis, and we should be encouraging our future students to opt for subjects that will provide them with the tools to navigate and be successful in an increasingly complex and challenging world. Perhaps, it would be more appropriate for our governments to run an advertising campaign clamouring for senior secondary students to ‘Take Two HASS’.

With those thoughts and the upcoming Year 10 subject selections in mind, I asked some recently graduated PMACS students to respond to some questions that every Year 10 student considering their future academic pathway would want to know the answers to. Emillie Foster, Eva Revet, Simran Vyas, Shae White, Georgia Bowler, Megan Bothma and Jason Hughes have all graduated within the last three years and kindly agreed to share their views about the usefulness of studying Humanities in Years 11 and 12. They all achieved ATARs of 90 and above, which was primarily achieved through their take-up in Humanities subjects. They also studied Humanities electives and General pathway subjects, such Business Management & Enterprise. They are all now at university studying economics, commerce, law, medicine, international relations, journalism, military leadership (army), teaching, meteorology, zoology, urban planning, environmental conservation, veterinary science amongst many others. Here is a selection of some of their responses below, which I hope all that read them will find useful. If any further queries or questions arise please direct them to the Head of Humanities and Social Sciences, Mr. Keith Briggs, via e-mail or telephone.


What were your most favourite moments studying a Humanities subject?

I honestly have so many great memories to look back on from my two years studying ATAR history, but I have to say, my favourite was learning about people like Rasputin, who almost seem more like fictional characters than real individuals. Learning about Rasputin’s death was a standout moment for me in year 12. The story of his assassination is insane, but I won’t spoil it here because everyone deserves to learn about it in the context of a history lesson. I also have to say all the little breakthroughs I had where I would go from not understanding something at all, to grasping a concept, were very memorable and I’m sure any other HASS student would be able to relate to this feeling. 

The best part of studying a Humanities subject was the way in which personal anecdotes could lend so beautifully, and with such relevance, to the subject matter, and as a result, make the learning that much more rich, entertaining, and interesting. The second best part is the moment of enlightenment you have once you finish your WACE exams and realise, truly, how much those HASS subjects taught you about the world.

My most favourite moment studying humanities was going on the European trip in 2015; it made everything I learnt in history into a living reality. I was able to see what I was learning in real life and because I have such a good interest in history, this was so exciting and interesting. Aside from the European trip (which most students won’t have the privilege to go on) one of my favourite moments in history was when we were all playing different colonies of America and we were playing a game, acting as that colony. It was such a new experience compared to the mundane repetitive teaching of other subjects that it made me really look forward to History.

My favourite moments in History were the times we spent discussing the subject material. History was never dull - it wasn’t just about answering questions and remembering dates. Instead we spent classes having interesting discussions. We got to express our views and hear those of others.

I found that the best moments of studying both History and Geography occurred through the varied approach to learning, namely the open class discussions. Not only did this allow for the consideration of different perspectives on topics, it was a way to both work with classmates and broaden understanding and appreciation for Humanities. Namely in History, as a large part of understanding a particular event, person, time period etc. was to be aware of the different experiences held by different groups and the effects these experiences had in formulating history in general, but also in formulating our present.


How well did studying Humanities prepare you for tertiary study?

There were times in year 12 where I wondered if any of my ATAR courses would prepare me for life outside of school, but now with hindsight, I’ve realised that History was by far the subject that best prepared me for uni. The way I see it, all humanities courses give students a few main skills; the ability to research subjects effectively, the ability to critically analyse sources and determine their accuracy and reliability, the ability to put your opinions into a coherent and logical format such as an essay and finally the ability to deal with a heavy workload and make a heavy workload more manageable (ie. work smarter not harder). I think anyone can agree that these are all skills that will not only come in useful in university but also in everyday life for the rest of your life. 

Not sure yet!! Though if I study History at tertiary level, I know I will be prepared and able to excel due to already having knowledge of concepts relating to historical perspective, referencing, separation of ideas from the narrative, critical and objective analysis, et cetera.

Despite me studying a subject at university primarily based on human biology, studying history was arguably the best subject to prepare me for future study. There are so many skills I learnt from the lessons that stretch far beyond dates, key figures and events. I learnt how to correctly structure essays, which they expect from you at university to be second nature. I also learnt invaluable skills in higher order thinking; problem solving, applying and having a keen eye for detail have been paramount in my success. Another key trait history has embedded in my academic ability is being concise. History is a subject where you have to make judgements, understand these further and structure these judgements in a way which is accessible to a reader/audience. University in particular demands this skill and by having this already due to studying history, I was able to settle in fast and keep up with the heavy work load. Another important aspect of the Humanities is that it is great for public speaking; in Economics I partook in a G20 summit, representing France and in History we had numerous presentations and group work. Group work is a guarantee in university…no matter how much you dislike it (or the people you’re working with)!

My study of history for ATAR was by far the best preparation I had for university study. Even in my Commerce degree, the skills I gained in researching and analysing complex issues has enabled me to connect what I am learning to the real world. Studying a Humanities subject requires you to develop a higher level of critical thinking, which is useful no matter what degree or career you choose to pursue.

Learning Humanities subjects are particularly challenging/interesting as there is no limit to the learning. You can learn and study as much as you please and cater it to you. There is no one textbook you can read that provides the answers. Which means that, particularly in Year 12, a lot of learning is down to you; independent study as it is designed for tertiary study. Whether someone is interested in university, TAFE, or getting straight into the workforce, learning after high school comes from self-motivation and dedication. Similarly in life, any learning pursued after school is down to the individual, so being put in the position to broaden your own independent study skills is extremely beneficial. Humanities therefore prepares you to be one step ahead after graduation, as students are already accustomed to a certain level of independent study and learning.


How did the HASS courses inform your choices at university and the prospective career you are looking at?

I was very close to not even taking History as an ATAR subject despite it having been my favourite subject all throughout high school. I was set on taking more STEM subjects even though I didn’t have as much of a passion for them, because I was convinced that they would provide me with better and more practical job opportunities in the future. I ended up changing to History from another subject a few days into year 11 because I realised very quickly that there is really no point in taking a subject that doesn’t interest me. Even though I’m not studying History now at uni, this experience that I had in year 11-12 was one of the main things that informed my choice to study something I loved at uni and not worry too much about what other people expect me to study. 

Given how much understanding ATAR Modern History and Geography have given me about society and the way the world works today (and why it functions as it does), and thus how interesting I found them, I'm very keen on the idea of studying Humanities at university to expand on that knowledge and further understand the world in which we live, as well as to build on my skills in writing, analysing, and interpreting.

I would encourage younger students to choose HASS because you learn so much more than the basic syllabus. You are set up with skills that are essential throughout your entire life and the earlier you can learn these the better. Other subjects seem to be crafted around learning material and shoving endless content in front of students that they obviate the teaching of invaluable and transferable skills such as public speaking, attention to detail, higher order thinking such as critical thinking and a greater awareness of the world.

The HASS courses allowed me to connect my studies of Finance & Economics at university to the wider world. I could see the value of the skills I was developing beyond what the students around me could. While they saw jobs at banks or accounting firms, I saw jobs at the highest levels of government and within international organisations like the United Nations. By having studied HASS subjects at ATAR, I had a better idea of how things in the world fit together, where things are developing and what career opportunities I have.

Having taken both Geography and History, I found that I got a real sense of accomplishment from research and independent study-based tasks. Assignments that required both research and essays, whilst being the most challenging and time consuming, I found to be the most rewarding. Moving into tertiary study I knew that I wanted to pick a course that would challenge me intellectually, but also enable me to focus my learning on specific areas through my own research. Knowledge of this drove me towards UWA, as the structure of the courses meant I would be able to cater my learning and university experience to me. Having taken a gap year to decide on prospective careers and university courses, I have been able to discuss different courses with friends who have already started tertiary study. I’ve found that the method of study in HASS subjects has benefitted students who pursued any area, including sciences, as the independent nature of tertiary study means that students are required to do much of their learning on their own. Research tasks conducted in HASS classes are therefore key in preparing students for learning environments where they are not ‘force fed answers from a silver spoon’. Furthermore, students who study Humanities in university are better equipped for careers involving leadership, team management and collaboration, and communication, as they gain transferable skills. It is because of these skills that Humanities and Arts degrees are far more adaptable than ones dedicated to a specific branch of science or engineering, for example. Therefore, the jobs and opportunities graduates are equipped for coming out of university are far more wide spread.


Why would you encourage younger students (Year 10) to choose it?

I really hope most year 10 students pick at least one Humanities subject to study in year 11 and 12. I personally wish I had done more Humanities subjects than just History, especially now realising how relevant these courses really are. Like I said earlier, in year 10 when I was choosing my ATAR subjects, I was set on taking more STEM subjects because I thought that would look better on a resume, especially in our current, technologically driven world. Of course, I was wrong, not only to take subjects that didn’t interest me as much, but I was also wrong to think that HASS subjects would not provide me with good career opportunities. While it is true, in the last few years employers have been on the lookout for people who specialise in STEM subjects, they have recently changed tactics with a new focus on STEAM subjects, in which the A stands for Arts. Employers have realised that Arts and Humanities subjects are vital in helping students develop better academic, social and people management skills. 

At first glance, the Humanities may not seem appealing as a subject choice, particularly if you're not so writing or reading-inclined, but as a subject area, they offer more in knowledge of relevant topics, as well as skills that are thoroughly advantageous and borderline essential in the world itself, than any other courses. Math may teach numbers, and Science may teach the facts relating to how the Earth functions, but they don't really address humans and human nature, and how our society works. Ultimately, it's harder to get by in a society dictated by humans when you lack understanding of the structure and reasons for that society, or the motives behind choices, or how things work behind the scenes -- an understanding that the HASS courses offer. Math and Science as subjects alone won't explain the human response to pandemics, or why the wars in the Middle East seem so endless, or why Donald Trump has always been more a businessman than a president, or why it's so important to consider different perspectives before making a choice or stance on a subject; why we shouldn't believe everything we read due to bias, corruption, and manipulation. The skills to critically analyse, communicate ideas, be socially aware, understand motives for global decisions, determine ethically wrong from right, and interpret given information, are developed in the HASS subjects, and that, paired with a deep understanding of our society, is empowering knowledge to have. 

Through studying History in particular, I acquired a great critical thinking approach, problem solving and had a refined method of research. This was fine-tuned through extremely thorough feedback after each assessment. After every essay or document study we had a lesson, or a section of a lesson, where students obtained their marks and what they needed to do to get the ideal 100%. This was not done in any other subject and thus eliminated, in our minds, the prospect of ever achieving 100%. Through feedback we knew what we had to work on – we identified the flaws in our answers and were educated on a critical thinking approach. The continued reinforcement of critical thinking, whether it was by breaking up a complex essay question or looking at the time, date or author of a source for more sub-textual information, instilled a critical way of thinking in the students. A global awareness is automatically achieved through the nature of History and its comparison to current world events, historic events and its branching out into every day society. History requires extensive further reading and during this pursuit students are rewarded with an increased global awareness.

The world is about more than just numbers, rules and formulas. The world is filled with complexity, uncertainty and grey areas. Studying the Humanities gives you both the skills and the knowledge to understand and appreciate the beauty in that. It is that complexity that makes human life interesting and worth living. An understanding of the world lets us put science in perspective. Doing a HASS subject at ATAR is the best way to position yourself for further study, whatever field that might be in.

Courses such as Geography enable you as both a student and a young person growing up in an evolving world, to understand the ways of different societies and the challenges people face. History shows us the reasons why the world is the way it is today. This element is particularly important as it answers questions about why we are seeing certain global issues arise now, and how history doesn’t necessarily repeat, but it does echo. The awareness students gain of the world around them therefore helps to prevent a naïve take on the world, always believing what is presented to them. This is important today especially as we live in such a fast-paced online world in which anyone’s opinion can be shared and presented as truth in a matter of seconds. The awareness gained through undertaking HASS courses means that students are better equipped to take on the ‘real world’. This is because they never stop questioning any information handed to them. In a world where we are so used to being told what to think, HASS enables students to learn how to think, namely for themselves.


Here's some more general comments from a few other students that have e-mailed me after starting university this year or a couple of years ago.

“I couldn't refrain from sending you a quick email to show my utmost appreciation for your teaching methods and contributions to the Humanities department. I am now in Melbourne, starting my first week at Monash University. I am doing a unit called Natural Hazards and Human Vulnerability this semester which I am eager to get stuck in to, as it was one of my favourite topics in the Geography course (probably due to the environmental aspects to it).  Your teaching style was always very unique and refreshing, as I always felt challenged in your classes. Your passion for the topics were reflected through the classroom and made all the difference in my learning. Although I was never the best at Geography, I am truly grateful I chose it - and stuck with it - as it now seems that the units I'm doing in Semester One and Two here at Monash, are ones I've already covered in Year 11 & 12 Geography. Not only that, but your method of teaching is identical to my faculty coordinator's here. The way she lays out her lectures, and the work that follows them, is quite literally identical to yours and it has made me feel a lot more at ease that I will find the transition from high school to uni, not too daunting. I actually laughed when I opened up my first pre-lecture work package, feeling like I'd opened up an email from you. I swear they are IDENTICAL. I'm sure there are many other students who benefited in the same way I did from your teaching, even if they are not studying any Geography units, and for that, we cannot thank you enough. The effort you put in to your students and your work does not go unnoticed. I do miss our class’ antics, but feel as though you'll always be with me through these units due to such a resemblance in teaching. I hope this year's Geography students aren't giving you a hard time, and that your own studies are going well.”

“Hope all is well with you and your new batch of year 12s! I just thought I would kind of let you know what’s going on in my life now after school. So after year 12 I got accepted into the University of Sydney to study Doctor of Veterinary medicine, I don’t know if you already know this because I recently spoke to Mrs Neilson on the phone because I was invited for a talk with the year 12s but obviously I couldn’t attend because I have moved to Sydney now. It is a pretty big change and leaving mum was hard but it is an amazing city, I have started making friends and getting into the full swing of uni life and study. When I saw the huge libraries for history and geography I thought “Mr Briggs would definitely live in this library with the books”. Anyway I thought I would say again that you were such an integral part of my learning at PMACS and because of your teaching and life lessons in geography like the “file cabinet” the work load of uni has seemed slightly more manageable so far. Anyway, I also thought I would be fun to take an elective unit next semester on global challenges, which is particularly Geography based, seeing as I actually enjoyed what we learned last year :)) Alrighty, hope everything works out well for your new year 12’s and your family and everyone at PMACS!”

“I’m at Nottingham uni at the moment studying for GAMSAT the medical entrance exam this year and all the sections draw upon skills I learnt in History involving essay writing, cartoon and literature interpretation. It has been really helpful.”