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Education, GERM (Global Education Reform Movement), Government Policy, National Standards, New Zealand, OECD Research - Education, Parata (Hekia), PISA (programme for International Student Assessment) Data, Research on Education, Testing

Hekia Parata, Painted-on Ears, Testing and Learning

la-la-la-not-listeningI sometimes wonder whether Hekia Parata and co walk around with their fingers in their ears saying “lalalalalala” or whether they have mastered the art of switching their ears off at will?

Because truly they just don’t seem to want to listen to or learn a thing.

Take this week’s news…

Political Bagging

The University of Waikato’s Professor of Education, Martin Thrupp, and his team release a calm, well-reasoned report into the effects of National Standards on teaching and learning and offers recommendations on what can be done to improve the situation.

This is not the wild raving spouting of a politician, not even the ranting of an infuriated blogger.  This is a Professor.  Of Education.  He kinda knows what he’s talking about.

Lalalalalala Not Listening

I'm not listening earplugsBut what does Hekia sayabout the report?  She proudly boasts that she hasn’t had time to read it.

Wait, isn’t she the Education Minister?  Isn’t it part of her job to read research and know what’s what? Hey I’m just a mother, and I’ve found the time to read it.  Wouldn’t you think it’d be prudent for an Education Minister to use facts and information, and to critique research properly rather than dismiss things out of hand?

Well your answer there would be in how she chose to describe the research in a Radio New Zealand interview.  She called it “the Thrupp NZEI research”.  That’s no accident.

By brushing aside the University of Waikato and leaving out the title Professor, Parata leads the lay person to believe Thrupp is part of the NZEI and talking from a union point of view rather than that of an expert in education.

Why? Because she is not interested in discussing the points made in the report, rather she wants people to dismiss it out of hand and not face the questions it raises about negative impacts of National Standards.  She has an agenda and no research on earth is going to move her.

How can we improve our education system when this petty game-playing is the focus of the Minister and others?

PISA Rankings

It’s been the same story with the up-coming release of the latest PISA data, in which New Zealand is predicted to slip back in the rankings.  Hekia Parata is immediately out there in cahoots with the Herald using this as a reason to promote PaCT.  I won’t get into the ins and outs of PaCT here, more important is to consider why Parata chose not to address the more pertinent issue of whether NZ’s PISA scores are holding firm.

It’s an important difference.  Are we doing worse or not?

Assuming for now that PISA rankings are a reliable indicator of the state of a nation’s education system, then what would matter is whether our scores on the test are holding steady, improving or declining.  If New Zealand’s scores are holding steady or improving, then dropping down in the ranking means other countries have improved ahead of us in the tests, it does not mean we are getting worse.

At this point it is important to note which countries are thought to have moved ahead of us:  Singapore and Hong Kong.

Both of these countries push a narrow curriculum and have a strong societal push for children to do well in tests.  But  just because you produce a nation of good test takers doesn’t mean you produce students who will contribute to the economy, nor does it mean they will have the ability to adapt should the economic climate or industry focuses change.  It’s a very narrow view of success and not one I’m sure sits comfortably with the Kiwi ethos for life and living.

There’s another thing to consider with pushing children to be great test takers, and that is the effect on their health.  

Hong Kong has reported “heavy study loads and pressure from parents to succeed contribute factors to youth suicide, particularly in the run-up to spring and summer exams.”  Singapore has also reported rising suicide rates amongst the young, with one ten year old killing herself because she felt her grades were not good enough.  A visiting academic reported that “Due to rigorous study schedules and pressure to succeed academically, the suicide rate is lofty for high school and college students.”

So is getting the highest test scores all that matters?

What truly matters  is whether New Zealand children are getting a good education that meets their needs for life.  Tests only tell us so much – they are not the be-all and end-all.  And education should not be a political football, it’s not something to use as a way to make money, it’s not there to gain points in an election.  Or it shouldn’t be.

listen to understandListen, Read, Think, Discuss, Learn

We must get over this obsession with merely measuring and reporting test scores.

We have to meaningfully consider and discus expert finding.

We should visit more schools doing brilliantly and research what is happening there that works.

We need  time and resources and good mechanisms to share and promote the best working practices far more widely.

We must adapt teacher training to keep up with best practice and latest pedagogy.

We should work together to further improve the public education system for the benefit of all students.

Shouldn’t we?

About Save Our Schools NZ

"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds." Gandhi

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