Early yesterday morning I sat at this very computer with ideas of writing a thought-provoking piece about modern education. After 10 or so seconds it turned into yet another satirical diatribe aimed in the direction of our beloved and most respected Minister.
This morning I thought I would again attempt to start what I intended yesterday.
This week I was lucky to attend the Learning@Schools roadshow in Ashburton. This was a one-day mini-conference run by Core Education and attended by many wonderful educators all with the same mindset: How do we educate children in the 21st century? Probably better to turn that question into a statement: Look how we’re educating children in the 21st century.
Regular readers will be well aware of my feelings towards the national standard and what a backwards, regressive and downright dangerous policy it is. What it relies on is a series of measurements, at present taken by teachers, but in the very near Tom Cruise Minority Report future this government is dragging us towards, will be completed by a centralised computer server-based at the Ministry of Education in Wellington.
This government’s education policy is simple: declare it a failure, measure it, report it, cut funding to it (this, of course, does not apply to chartnership schools – their funding increases no matter how much they fail).
These bureaucratic measurements are designed not to improve educational outcomes but to justify neoliberal policy. After all, you cannot call someone a failure unless you draw a line in the sand and say, “if you are behind this line you are a failure” after which you gear more of your policy to “dealing” with this failure and PRESTO! You have an education system that is just teaching English and Mathematics and none of the good, character building stuff like the Arts, P.E., Social Sciences etc, etc, etc.
The other aspects of education that National Standards don’t measure are the key competencies – relationships with others, managing yourself, participating and contributing, thinking, and using languages, symbols and texts (this last one could possibly be measured. Possibly?).
Think about it… how would you measure a child thinking? Take the question posed in yesterday’s blog by my fictional Hekia: 6 x 8. That has a measurable answer, 42, but how do you measure the way a child gets to this answer? Hook their head up to a brain-reading machine to find which parts of the brain are active during answering? Get them to write down or discuss how they solved the problem? Time how long it takes them to solve – the longer it takes, the more thinking is happening?
Key competencies are notoriously hard to measure using a test in the National Standards sense of the word. There is no one observable event or result; there is just an overall, for want of a better word, feeling. When I’m writing my reports (which will be very, very soon (possibly should be now!)), I do my own thinking to decide how Child A has progressed on the key competencies. I ask myself questions: have they improved? Are they doing better than last year? Have they been working hard in any particular area?
There is absolutely no way that I can measure these things with a standardised test supplied by Pearson or another multinational education resources company who, undoubtedly, is donating money to the National Party in sums lighter than the notifiable amount of $15,000.
The problem comes with the current government policy colliding with the needs of a modern, 21st century working environment. Children currently negotiating their way through school need to be able to learn new jobs that don’t even exist yet. Solid key competencies, as etherial and hippy-ish as they must sound to people who actually believe that knowing 6 x 7 = 42 is the measure of educational achievement, are actually more important in the workforce than 6 x 7. As a 10 year old in my class pointed out one day, “why do I have to learn my times-tables when I can work them out on this calculator?” This was a fine point. Essentially he was saying why do I have to learn this knowledge when I know exactly where I can find it? This was 21st century learning in action.
I mean, when was the last time you used any of the maths you learnt in 6th form? For me, mathematics was a compulsory subject up to the 6th form /Year 12 level. Thankfully it was very easy for me to achieve well in because I was good at it. Unfortunately, or rather, more typically (as I’m a boy), English was also compulsory but because I wasn’t as good I didn’t get into it because it was harder for me to achieve.
Imagine if your entire schooling was spent stuck in English and Mathematics, neither of which you enjoyed because you weren’t good at. How motivated would you be to achieve? How motivated would you be to actually attend a school totally focussed on these two core curriculum areas and not much else.
I think I’ll leave school thanks. You suck!
And we have yet another marginalised learner who leaves school believing it to be the single worst experience of their lives.
New Zealand children have to be at school from the age of 5 through to 16. That’s a very long time to be doing something that doesn’t mesh with you. Yet the policy this government wants to embed will cause exactly this – a narrowing of the curriculum to the “core” subjects, more students who “fail” according to the standards and a vicious circle of under achievement and implementation of harsher measurements and more failing students, stricter testing regimes and a carbon copy of the system American students currently find themselves trapped within.
You only have to read this blog from the Huffington Post to know where National will take our education system through their (or more accurately, their donors) wish to impose upon us. We will end up with jaded teachers, unmotivated students who believe themselves as failures, and school leavers who will be ill-suited to work in a 21st century learning environment (I’m including school and the workplace in this environment).
Would you ever take a risk if all you’ve ever known is failure? Why bother trying when I know I’m going to fail anyway.
We will lose our sense of kiwi number-8-wire inventiveness that has made our school leavers first up the highest mountain, invent jetboats and superbikes, split the atom… I could go on, but you get the idea.
National’s standards will fail our children.
I’ll tell you this for nothing. The many teachers I met and talked with at the Learning@School roadshow the other day are doing all this amazing teaching despite National’s standards.
I work within your system. I’ll tick your boxes, I’ll fill out your forms, I’ll do your paperwork, but I won’t dumb-down my programme.
That is not in the best interests of my children.
Good morning everybody – Hekia speaking.
You may not have heard from me for a while. I can tell you I’ve been very extremely busy. Mostly I’ve been consulting with relevant stakeholders on a range of things. That’s probably why I’ve been out of the media; there’s only seven stakeholders in the country that I’m aware of but they’re all very important and
donate a lot of money are full of so many ideas, so it’s important for the National Party education of New Zealand children that I spend as much time with them as possible.
What I did want to talk about today is the process of measuring, in particular, how to measure stuff.
I know what you’re thinking. “Oh god no. Please don’t talk about measuring stuff. This is the single most boring thing you can talk about other than fiscal responsibility, climate change or basic human rights.”
However, measuring stuff is the only way to get better at things. If we measure something, we can find out where things need to be fixed. If we measure something, we can find out where we can stop spending money altogether. It’s really that simple.
Let me give you an example.
Recently I was attending a meeting of stakeholders. Some of these millionaires raised some interesting points. The over-arching consensus from all of those present was that despite the fact that none of them had worked in education or been inside a school since they had left formal education in the mid- to late-1970s, all were in agreement that things were much better back then and all children knew how to read, write and do their times-tables. Many said workers in their large corporations spent hours reciting the times-tables; it’s an extremely common part of many, many modern-day jobs. There was a concern that current school leavers would not be able to work out 6 x 7 and would think that, despite the advent of calculators and Google, there was no way on earth they would ever be able to work out this most complex of workplace problems.
It was then that I, Minister of Education, suggested a solution. A solution that already exists.
Why don’t we hold weekly times-tables tests across all New Zealand schools. Even though many such tests are available on-line for free, we can hire a multi-national test writer like Pearson to make the tests really hard so they are actually tests of unknown knowledge rather than tests of things children know. That way we can work out which children in New Zealand don’t know problems like 6 x 7 and then we can syphon money from Reading Recovery, ESOL, RTLBs and other special needs programmes to make sure that Novopay still sort of works.
We will be able to, in consultation with the journalistic community, release the results of our testing and, over time, see all the vast improvements that will be made as we reduce the overall education budget to spend it on failed pay systems and struggling chartnership schools.
I think you’ll all agree with me if we are sure every child knows that 6 x 7 is 48, New Zealand will be far more competitive on the international stage.
Right. Off to speak with more stakeholders at a $70,000 a head continental breakfast.
So many point so well made. Another gem from Kevin Smythe.
Kelvin Smythe, supported by Allan Alach
This posting is intended to provoke discussion and will be changed according to readers’ ideas.
The pattern has been that when Labour is in and is its usual generous self to education, the organisations have typically responded along the lines of: ‘A good start.’ When National is in, and virtually nothing positive occurs, the organisations have typically responded with an acquiescent silence – though when something token is granted near delirium eventuates. The organisation leaderships have been tigers with Labour and pussy cats with National, and the greatest tigers with Labour often being the most determined pussy cats with National.
Phil Harding for the NZPF was in typically pathetic mode in commenting on the budget: ‘The budget was read yesterday and offered little surprise’, he offered. He then meandered to say something about the cabinet process for announcements about the cluster policy, then returned…
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A great summary of the government’s misuse of PISA.
“PISA shock” is the term that has been coined for the sense of political crisis and knee-jerk policy reaction that typically occurs when a country drops in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s international education rankings.
Almost 100 education experts, including several of us from New Zealand, recently sent an open letter to the OECD’s chief education spokesperson, Andreas Schleicher, pointing out that the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings have become more of a problem than a solution.
In many ways the concern of New Zealand educators is also around the wider influence of the OECD education programme on New Zealand educational politics and policy – perhaps as much “OECD hangover” as “PISA shock”.
New Zealand’s government led by prime minister John Key often draws on the authority of the OECD to endorse its policy direction, using both PISA…
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An important read for anyone concerned about quality public education.
The article below is about the saddest thing I have ever read about education, and fits exactly what I saw starting before I left the UK to come to New Zealand. Sadly, this government is following the UK with this madness, and this horror is now here too. I am devastated. This is a shameful shadow of education and in years to come will be reflected on as a period of utter and total disgrace.
Secret Teacher, writes in The Guardian (UK):
When I began teaching I worked in early years. Back then, personal, social and emotional development was factored into every aspect of the curriculum. It was understood that to become a successful learner you needed to develop a love of learning and feel secure in your abilities to overcome challenges.
I remember rejoicing the first time a painfully shy child answered their name in the register and when another proudly…
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