Tomorrow’s Schools

This tag is associated with 3 posts

Learning languages, Education Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences: Joining The Dots

flag world imageA good discussion is currently taking place through the media about the low numbers of secondary school students who are learning a foreign language.

Even the NZ Herald wrote an editorial on the subject following publication of an article by Martin East, an associate professor and language teacher educator at the University of Auckland.

Both pieces made some good points that are worthy of consideration.

But neither spent much time examining how this observed outcome might be one example of how the infamous “Law of Unintended Consequences” plays out in the education reform debate.

Consider the interplay of the following factors and how these have played out over the past 25 years:

  • The effects of isolating individual schools as silos, which arose from the 1989 introduction of the Tomorrow’s School policy;
  • The erosion over many years of centrally funded specialist support teachers who, as part of the advisory services, used to support schools in specialist subjects;
  • The introduction of standards-based assessment via the NCEA qualification at secondary level, coupled with high stakes accountability by way of publication of school results measured only as % pass rates;
  • The impact of “narrowing the curriculum”, which was one of the serious concerns of those who spoke out against the introduction of National Standards and its narrow focus on the “3Rs”;
  • The current Government’s strong endorsement of STEM (Science, technology engineering and maths) in determining what are the most desirable subjects to fund and support;
  • The introduction of the charter school initiative, which has seen the creation of very small schools with a limited range of curriculum subjects on offer, especially at secondary level;
  • And finally, the general “dumbing down” of education as we lose track of what the real purpose of education is and what we want for our young people.

So much of the effort put in to the resistance against the education reform movement, or GERM, as Pasi Sahlberg has christened it, has been to raise the spectre of how things can go wrong, no matter how well intentioned the reformers believe they are.

Each of the reform initiatives listed above has played some part in contributing to the outcomes we see today.

How can schools as isolated silos employ all the teachers and resources needed to support a full curriculum, including foreign languages?

And if small schools in particular struggle to do this, why introduce small secondary charter schools with such a limited subject range?

Why have we systematically dismantled many of the support mechanisms we used in the past, as we rushed to implement the quasi-competitive stand-alone model?

Or, in other words, why have we ignored the reality that the unit of production is really the “system” as a whole and not individual schools on their own?

Is it any surprise that schools (intentionally or not) are encouraging students to take less demanding academic subjects, that will assist their NCEA % pass rates to climb ever higher with each passing year?

Is it all that fluoride in the water that makes each successive cohort of students supposedly smarter than all those who passed before them, or is there something else at play?

And lately we have Steven Joyce, as Tertiary Education Minister, expounding at length about how STEM is all that counts in education in the eyes of the current government!

Professor Robert Greenberg, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Auckland, gave an address defending the value of an Arts education at the Wellington alumni gathering last year.

He quoted from several of the University’s distinguished alumni on the worth of their Arts degrees and the value of what they have learned from their studies.

Cultures, Languages & Linguistics, along with Social Sciences and Humanities (as we now call Social Studies) are the major schools within the Arts Faculty at Auckland.

Another aspect of Humanities education has been at the forefront of our minds over the past month, as we helped our children do their ANZAC projects at school.

The incredibly moving events of ANZAC weekend underscored the importance we still place on history and learning from our past mistakes.

But will the architects of the modern education system of today learn from their recent mistakes?

Do we have any confidence that today’s education leaders and policy makers have understood the folly of the past 25 years and the unintended consequences that have arisen?

What will it take to bring about a sea change in the education debate starting with no lesser a question than “What is the purpose of education”?

Only then might we start to move together and to break down the silos and the competitive mindset that has caused so much damage.

We live in hope.

– Bill Courtney

Bill is a parent and former school trustee who writes for Save Our Schools NZ. 

A new, shared vision for NZ education, by Bill Courtney

“What’s the biggest challenge currently facing New Zealand education?”  That’s the question the New Zealand Education Review asked a range of sector leaders, movers and shakers. Their responses are are wide and varied and are shared in a special edition dedicated to the question that can be read here.

This is SOSNZ’s response, by Bill Courtney.


Education Review - Bill Courtney article 3Education Review - Bill Courtney article 1

Read the rest of the responses in the New Zealand Education Review publication, Sector Voices: The biggest challenge currently facing New Zealand education:

Petition for Democracy in Christchurch

A number of petitions, rallies, and so on are being planned in support of Christchurch and, in particular, its education system. I’m sharing this one, and will add in any others as and when they pop up, so keep your eyes peeled.

Vote Canterbury Kids

Why this is important

 Together we pledge to stand up for Canterbury’s kids, protecting and retaining democracy for our local schools, city and environment
This petition is for the democratic decisions for our kids’ schools, city & environment.

New Zealand was the first nation to win the vote for ALL citizens, and that movement was led by Kate Sheppard and a small group of women and men from Canterbury.   Let’s ensure that we renew that great democratic legacy for children.

Since the earthquakes in Christchurch we have seen democratic decision making swept aside in three really important ways.

1. First the government has taken real decision making power away from our elected city council and replaced it with an unelected government with no plan in sight for how they will transition back to elected decision making.  Even if we vote for city councilors next year they have no real power over any important local decisions.   We may not have all agreed with the city council, but it was our council!

2. Second, without warning the government suddenly suspended the right of citizens to vote for a Regional Council (ECAN) which makes the decisions about our water, air quality, and public transport for 5 years.   This is simply unjustifiable.   The government has appointed commissioners who they argue have done a good job but if so now the Commissioners should stand for election and gain a public mandate.

3. Third, the government has announced a sweeping array of changes to our local schools including closures and mergers.   Some of the plans maybe good, but the grounds for other changes are less clear.   Long term this represents a major change to the way we make decisions in locally elected school boards.   Nor is it clear why we’d need new ‘charter’ schools, when we already have community schools we call “Tomorrow’s schools”.   Our schools are the heart of our children and our community recovery, we need to take time and make change in small steps not a great rush.

To recover from disaster you have to take people with you.  

Our tamariki, our children need stability, warm homes, secure schools and to be listened to with respect, we all do.  It is unwise and unfair to rush so many changes through -change must be done with the people’s vote through our schools boards, city council and regional council.

Sign the petition here.

Source: (retrieved 17.9.12 at 17.55)

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