Big Picture School Model Aims to Enhance Australia’s Schooling Methodology
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Kristin Van Wyk didn’t take exams to get into university. Instead, the 21-year-old used a personalized portfolio she created in year 12, following a hands-on high school curriculum she designed herself. Kristin is a graduate of Big Picture, an alternative education program offered in numerous high schools across Australia, with a dedicated campus in Launceston, Tasmania.

“I’m a lot more independent than many people my age,” said Van Wyk, who attended the Big Picture school from years 9 to 12. “Personal motivation” is a key principle of this model, where students develop a personalized curriculum based on their interests, with guidance.

Students also gain on-the-job experience. For instance, if a student wants to become a mortician, they would approach one to shadow. The ABC visited the Launceston Big Picture School to speak with students and teachers, observing students heading to diverse workplaces such as art galleries, coding companies, and farms.

Big Picture School principal Cindy Johnston highlighted that this practical experience results in job-ready, independent graduates. It’s estimated that tens of thousands of Australian students participate in “alternative” education models outside the traditional university admission system, which heavily relies on the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank), a score from zero to 99.95 indicating a student’s position in their year group.

While many educators interviewed by the ABC believe alternative education models shouldn’t replace traditional schools, they argue that a diverse range of learning styles and a reduced focus on ATAR could enhance Australia’s education system. Big Picture’s assessment system replaces exams with “exhibitions,” where students present their work and answer questions from teachers and family.

“You have to publicly stand up in front of all the important people in your world and say, ‘This is what I’ve been learning about, and this is what I’ve done,'” Johnston explained.

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