Various things are afoot with education in New Zealand.
We all remember those days when we had a “progressive” New Labourish government led by Auntie Helen. How we miss those days. Days when all National and their far-right hoodlum chums could attack that government over were an alleged flatulence tax and energy-saving lightbulbs. God-forbid if Auntie Helen had presided over a policy which led to working New Zealanders having to put messages up in supermarkets asking to rent parts of driveways to park their cars – cars they live in because they don’t have a home.
Recently Hekia Parata has announced a few things:
- Global Funding – a chance for school administrators to “choose” how they spend their money rather than having to spend certain amounts on teaching staff.
- Communities of Online Learning – placing part of the education system in the hands of operators who deliver their service over the interwebs giving parents and students more “choice” over how they consume their educational services.
- Special Needs Funding Swap – moving funding from older students to pre-school students with special needs.
Take the “Global Funding” plan. You know the government is on to a loser right from the start because they are trying EXACTLY the same thing they did in the 1990s with the bulk funding of teacher salaries. All they’ve done is put the policy through a giant semantics machine (possibly paid for out of the goodness of our taxpayer hearts) and come up with a completely different policy that is exactly the same. We know it is far-right bullshit because they’ve used the phrase “choice” whenever they are talking about what the policy will deliver for schools (The semantics machine has also been used for charter schools – now partnership schools because of the negative experiences overseas jurisdictions have had with them – and the current Auckland housing “challenge,” dubbed so because calling it a crisis would mean they might have to actually do something about it).
This word “choice” is also popping up for the online learning policy. This policy gives parents and students choice about how and where they learn. No longer do they have to attend their local school! Sit in the comfort of your own filth and study for NCEA or your Year 8 National Standard! It’s a pretty choice choice!
They haven’t used the word “choice” in reference to the special needs funding changes. Hekia and her ministry have, however, been talking about the phrase “special needs education” and how terrible it sounds. To whom, I’m not sure, but this is what Ms. Parata has been quoted as saying:
“This terminology accentuates differences and can act as a powerful barrier to development of a fully inclusive education system. The terms, inclusive education and learning support, better describe the broad system of educational support available for all children and young people and we want to transition to these terms,”
Choice is never a good word when it is used by a Tory government. More often than not the choice being offered is the choice of the government to fund the sector less. The reality is the only people who have any choice over their education are the people with money. They rest of us just get what we are given. And if Hekia has her way that will be inclusive learning support delivered through a tablet in the lounge of your house.
We live in exciting times. Change is exponential. Children starting school today will be doing jobs that are yet to exist. Robots will do everything else. By the time I retire, Hekia and the National government of 2008 will be a pony-tail pulling footnote in history.
All that can be put to one side when we consider this: they single greatest thing that can improve outcomes for children in the classroom is high quality teaching. A well-trained, highly skilled workforce of educators working together using the latest research and pedagogies to create the citizens of tomorrow. Perhaps that’s pie in the sky stuff, but it’s my pie in the sky stuff. It’s what I believe education is about. Teachers and students moving through a school year together on a journey.
You are not going to get that sitting on your tablet playing Crossy Road when you’re meant to be studying calculus.
Tory governments are notorious for basing their policy decisions around cost (remember austerity and how it has ultimately led to Brexit??). Education is a cost, not an investment. A cost that must be minimised. How can we minimise that cost? Why not marginalise teachers? Cut the wage bill by giving schools the “choice” to hire the least skilled teachers they can. Marginalise them even more by getting rid of them altogether and delivering the curriculum on an app. Make their job impossible by demanding a fully inclusive service for students with different needs while at the same time removing any funding that goes with those children, thereby reducing the schools chances of hiring learning support staff to assist the teacher educate the student.
Now we come back to the word “choice.” We do have a choice – a choice between a high quality public education service that is free to everyone and helps to reduce inequalities outside the sector by giving every single New Zealand child a chance in life. Or… we can take what National wants to give us, which is the exact opposite – schools driven by cost and profit for the benefit of the few. Our choice will be at the ballot box towards the end of next year.
I’m not against change, I’m just against tories.