Archive for October 2012

Pathways-ED: The greatest little country in the world

 

 

Well the storm over whether New Zealand had a “world class education system or not” got eclipsed by the real thing in the US as the week went on. The NZ Herald waded in this morning and told “education commentators” what amounted to grow up and get over it.  I was a little saddened about their taking to all education commentators because I have diligently pointed out over many years that our enthusiasm for what we are doing in education needed to be tempered a little by the reality of achievement, especially when diced along certain lines.

Of course we do good work, that has never been the issue but to want to hide behind the world class claim is more than a little immature.

But chatting with a group yesterday we concluded that New Zealand rather liked to be able to make claims which engender enthusiasm for our view of ourselves but which become a little ragged when scrutinsed. The following were mentioned.

We have the best race relations in the world!

Certainly we work at them a little more than others and usually much more constructively. But to want to make the claim that we have the best race relations in the world is to enter a very dark place. What does it mean? What are the measures? Equity of educational outcomes? Demographic profiles of our corretional institutions and the clients of our justice system? Perhaps it can be measured in health, employment and housing statistics?

If it simply means that we do not often stand in the streets hurling abuse at each other then …. What about the incidents in the Jewish cemetry in Auckland recently?

Clean Green New Zealand / 100% Pure!

There are increasing calls for us to challenge this. Surveys show that our rivers are pretty dodgy, so are some of our swimming beaches. There is constant worry about mining, deep sea drilling, fracking and other such activity which suggests that for a variety of reasons there may be imperatives that are stronger than any commitment to Clean Green NZ or to 100% Pure.

This is a pity because primary schools often do good work in the areas of environment responsibility.

New Zealand is  great place to bring up children!

Well it ought to be, there is so much going for it. There is nowhere far from the sea, the grass grows green, the cities have open spaces, we commit to universal access to education and work hard to achieve universal equity in outcomes (but see above) and so on. But when I look back to when I was a child (cue in the violins and the soft focus cameras – black and white please) I note that we had a more comprehensive system for looking after babies – ante-natal and post-birth, that schools provided health checks and the free milk symbolised the commitment to feeding our young ones. Health camps were there for those who might benefit from a break from circumstances that were perhaps not helping and they varied widely – people bought postage stamps to help pay for them.

Family life was stronger as parents were free generally from work at weekends and could spend time with young ones.

And….. while there probably was hidden abuse of children, the scale seems to have gone well past the level that open-reporting could have produced. We never heard of youth suicide as a phenomenon, alcohol abuse by young teens. And there was no such thing as boy racers – it is hard to loose traction on a Raleigh bike!

So it is worth asking – is New Zealand still a great place to bring up children?

We are a great sporting nation!

I think we do possibly “punch above our weight” whatever that means. And recently the All Blacks were challenging for a record number of test wins, a record held by that famous rugby nation, Lithuania. But what if we measured our greatness as a sporting nation by sheer participation – how do we stack up then. Well, probably still pretty well. What if we measured it by the physical health of the nation? What if we measured it in terms of the big sports in world terms – football, basketball, golf and tennis? Still quite a good effort here. Olympic Games – OK?

We all need our cuddly blankets and New Zealand needs more than most perhaps given its isolation and its still difficult new orientation to Asia and the Pacific rather than the Old Country and Europe.

But as a friend of mine in London says – “You should be OK in New Zealand. After all, if you have an issue you can all get together at the weekend and sort it out!” That might turn out to be our real strength when we reach the point of recognising it. So I propose a new generalisation.

Small is beautiful!

Is that a trick or a treat?

 

 

Talk-ED: Continuing to believe in Santa Claus in your late teens

 

It’s bad enough driving to work on a wet morning on a wet Monday on a wet motorway without having to flick on the radio and listen to an educational leader complaining about  how wrong it is of Ministry of Education CEO, Lesley Longstone, to draw attention to the fact that the New Zealand education system has flaws which challenge its claim to be a world class system.

In the Foreword to the MOE Annual Report, Lesley Longstone paints a picture that is thoughtful and based on analysis of the facts. Unpalatable that might be to some, but until the problem is articulated the solution is unlikely to follow. The willingness of the MOE CEO to put it clearly is to be applauded.

Essentially, her argument is this. New Zealand achieves high results with a significant proportion of its student population and these students are predominantly Pakeha and Asian. In this respect the system is world class. This generalisation masks the fact that there are in our system Pakeha and Asian students who are not getting good results. That’s how generalisations work.

Now the other generalisation is that with Maori and Pasifika students, our system is not getting good outcomes and in this respect our education system is not world class. It is clear in the Foreword that her time in the New Zealand system has led her to believe that the issues that this raises are of such a proportion that we can simply lay no claim to being a world class system overall.

I have pointed out that our system is bipolar for a long time and was once rapped across the knuckles for doing so. But the facts have been there for a long time and PISA among other surveys continues on further analysis to show just that.

In a different analysis delivered to a West Auckland gathering convened recently she is reported By COMET Auckland to have described it in these terms:

“Lesley Longstone’s boldest remarks were about the overall quality of our education system. Before she arrived in New Zealand, she understood our education system to be excellent, with a tail of underachievers. After looking at the data, has revised her view and believes our system is fair with pockets of excellence.  When we disaggregate the data, international results for Pakeha are among the very best in the world. But for Maori and Pasifika we are on par with the worst in the OECD.  Our education system is at bottom in the OECD in its ability to mitigate against poverty and poor education outcomes.  It matters for all of us because it has both social and economic implications.  Data from the USA says the impact of the tail of underachievement in our education system is equivalent to a permanent recession.”

There is a consistency in this and I am quite clear in my mind that she is right. How can a world class education system continue to produce the following outcomes:

  •          21% of students leave the system prior to their 16th birthday;
  •          Truancy runs at high levels (10%, 30,000 a day – there are a lot of figures tossed around for this);
  •          50% of people who start a tertiary qualification fail to complete it;
  •          Educational outcomes for Maori and Pasifika students (groups that are rapidly increasing proportionately in our school system) are clearly and dramatically behind those for Pakeha (a diminishing group) and Asian (a growing group).

The fellow complaining about Longstone’s analysis of course adopted the Finnish Default argument saying that a recent visitor from Finland had noted a number of features in our system that he was impressed with and wanted to consider their place in the Finnish way of working. This is absolutely how it should be. But one, two or even a dozen swallows do not a summer make. I have studied the Finnish system closely and it is unlike ours in a large number of very fundamental ways. We could do well to take note.

Finland has the smallest gap between schools of any system – perhaps it is us that should be asking them how to it is so. None of the other higher ranking systems other than the Anglophone ones have the rather negative outcomes listed above. A world class education system delivers sound educational outcomes for all its citizens.

Intellectual honesty and a willingness to face the reality of the situation is the only sane way in which we might get improvement in our education. To continue to do the same thing and expect different results is simply a clinical diagnosis of madness.

 

Talk-ED: Change in Auckland without the shake

 

There was a good response from the piece last week about the population changes facing New Zealand as the growth focuses on the Auckland Region. The fact that 38% of New Zealand’s population would be contained in the Auckland region quite clearly has implications for all other regions. I suggested that the changes proposed for Christchurch should be the start of a national discussion on the forms of education and training that are appropriate for the future.

One correspondent thoughtfully asked “And what are the implications for Auckland? Do you think that no changes are called for?” And so, on to Chapter 2…

Quite clearly Auckland will change quite dramatically and the large amount of green field development will see large areas requiring new schools, better transport and increased education provision right through the system. So here are some suggestions.

New early childhood education centres and schools will be required as new communities are developed particularly in the north and the south of the region. It is wishful thinking to believe that this can happen without changes to existing provision. Some schools will close; others will need to get larger; some will merge; and so on. It will be Christchurch come to Auckland albeit a much gentler shake-up.

As increased interest in the schooling sector starts to promote the notions of different ways of working, of a multiple pathways approach to senior secondary schooling, of increased growth of secondary / tertiary interface programmes and other new ways of working, the face of the secondary school system will inevitably alter. Auckland has recently seen the building of Junior and Senior High Schools without any overall view as to the role of such institutions and the impact of this development on the wider system.

So how will Auckland change in its education provision?

For a start, it is expensive to provide great increases in university places. I suggest that the Epsom and Tamaki campuses of the University of Auckland be converted into “community colleges” taking students from Year 13 and combining it with the first one or two years of an undergraduate degree. This would create space in secondary schools and at the university where the impact of such a move on undergraduate / postgraduate ratios would be advantageous. Equitable provision would probably demand that such a community college be established in the north of the city as well.

Polytechnic provision. Given the fact that Auckland already has less polytechnic provision than the population demands and the fact that participation in polytechnic education and training is at half the level of the national rates, this sector is one in which large growth can be expected. This should be planned growth rather than reactive provision which always runs after demand and never quite gets there. There is probably a good case for another large polytechnic to be created in Auckland or it could be a major new campus within a federal relationship with either or both of the two existing polytechnics.

A clear emphasis on growth of provision in Auckland must be on trades and technical areas (Disclosure: I work in a polytechnic) but this is essential for the skills levels of in both Auckland and the rest of New Zealand. The skill base needed to maintain industries and infrastructure and to cope with extraordinary demands such as is currently evident in the Christchurch Rebuild, the Leaky Building Response and the sheer size of the demand for new housing in Auckland. A significant portion of these new skills will have to come from Auckland. Therefore, look to see an increase in programmes such as those currently under the banner of the Youth Guarantee policy, look to see an increase in early access to vocational education and training, look to see young people get traction from Vocational Pathways and so on.

In short, we are facing a major repositioning of education especially in the senior secondary school and that will inevitably be the basis on which new secondary schools and other kinds of education and training provision that will be developed in response to the new demands.

You can be sure that Auckland will face changes that are dramatically more significant than those elsewhere which will be typified by a need to cope with declining demand across the education system.

Sensible management of the education system will seek to maintain universities at a viable and productive size throughout New Zealand so that will be one area where Auckland students might just have to travel to access university education if they fail to secure a place in an Auckland institution. And that is not such a bad thing.

We are talking about these major changes being required within 30 years. The discussion must start now.

 

 

Pathways-ED: The crusty issue of hungry students

 

We used to talk about a hunger for learning and a thirst for knowledge. Now it seems we mostly just talk about hunger.

Children cannot learn if they are hungry – we have heard this shibboleth for a long time now but it has never acquired a status of being any more than an assumption. Now along comes a research study that finds that when the assumption is tested it is found to be less than robust. Or put more strongly, there is no evidence that children who are hungry cannot learn.

If, indeed, you believe that learning is not possible if you are hungry then you dismiss learning as being out of reach for quite a proportion of the world.

On the other hand if by “hungry” you mean “didn’t have breakfast” then that is a different matter. I know of middle class young people who do not have breakfast – they learn and they survive in schools.

Now we need to be clear that the multiple factors of disadvantage that characterise poverty will certainly act against a child’s learning. Poor health, bad nutrition, damp housing, over-crowded living conditions, low or no regular family income, all these factors will impact on a child. But these go far beyond being hungry.

A lot of education systems do something about this systemic issue.

In Finland all students of all ages in the education system get not only free health care but also a free lunch. They are about the same size as we are and they spend about the same amount on education. We envy their levels of achievement so anything they do should be thought about carefully.

In the USA most states have a free lunch programme that is means tested one way or another. Of course that will raise cries of stigmatisation through identification of those with need but those arguments are generally coming from well-fed adults.

Similarly, in the UK, children qualify for school lunches and in fact the school lunches and the “dinner ladies” have long been a tradition. A positive relationship with a dinner lady really helped one of my sons settle into an English school. But it is also in the UK that arguments have broken out about the quality of the school lunches provided by parents.

Jamie Oliver even has a “school lunch manifesto”.

“As many of you know I released my new school food manifesto this week outlining my concerns for school food in England today and the actions I think need to be taken by government to ensure our kids continue to get the great all round food education they need to feed themselves better in the future and to help reduce the crippling rise in obesity. I have been overwhelmed and delighted by the support I have received from you guys out there for the manifesto. So thanks and big love to my fellow school food campaigners, school caterers, the press and the general public…. the fight continues…..”  All good stuff for the ratings.

A Chicago principal had her own campaign and banned lunches being brought to school by students on the grounds that they were of such poor quality. Students either bought their lunch at the school dining facility or they went hungry. It is reported that quite a few choose hunger over the school-provided option. Of course some of those students might simply have no money and this is the critical issue. If providing a nourishing meal for a young person (it could be breakfast or lunch) is beyond a family then we all own an issue that needs to be addressed.

When I went to school (fade in the violin music) we received a plethora of health checks and we received a half-pint bottle of milk each day. Such events were sometimes enjoyed and sometimes endured.

One thing New Zealand is good at is producing food. Might not the government consider a social investment contract with food producers to supply/provide a small percentage of their production for use in schools for all New Zealanders. This would apply to the basics mostly – surely a baker could put one out of every hundred loaves aside for the schools. It might well be possible, would take a little organising and would achieve what is needed.

I recall when I went to school that we would sit under the trees to eat our lunch. We had lunch boxes but many didn’t. One group of kids brought their jam sandwiches to school wrapped in newspaper. Having written that I am wondering whether that really happened or am I confusing my own experiences with those of Kezia in Mansfield’s The Dolls House.

It’s  funny how memory can sometimes confuse fact and fiction but that also happens in many education discussions, none more so than this school hunger / breakfast / lunch business.

 

Talk-ED: The inevitable drift north for the education system

 

The recent demographic growth figures for New Zealand have some clear messages for education.

The key figure is that by 2031 it is forecast that 38% of all New Zealanders will be living in Auckland.  This is an extraordinary proportion that Dublin eclipses at 39% but which takes Auckland ahead of cities such as London (21%), Tokyo (25%) and Copenhagen (24%).  Or put another way, 61% of the total growth of our population will occur in Auckland.

Additional factors are that there will inevitably be population decline in many other areas of New Zealand and that the significant concentration of higher population growth groups in Auckland will see a proportion of young school age citizens even higher than the 61% general forecast – perhaps as many as 75%.

Twenty years is not a long time period in which to prepare for these shifts.

In short, the sort of shuffle that is happening in Christchurch is only the beginning of a significant shift of resources to the Auckland region. It is simply a fact that many schools outside of Auckland will close, it is inevitable that many schools will be merged (a softer form of closure).

Just north of Auckland there is a little settlement called Waiwera. First there was one school on the hill which was replaced by a new school down on the flat. Finally, that school was closed and the young ones transported to Orewa. This reflected the shifts in school population and is a bit of one example of what has already happened in many rural and isolated communities throughout New Zealand.

I am told that perhaps twenty schools are likely to close in the Central area of the country simply because they will run out of children. It is a matter of simple maths that if two thirds of New Zealand’s new babies are born at Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland each year then five years later two thirds of New Zealand’s new Entrants are likely to be in the Southern Auckland area.

Rather than go into denial. The education system would be better to start planning for these dramatic changes and participate in them rather than sit back hoping it will all go away. This can only end up with tears as the necessary changes are  brought about.

So what will it all mean? Schools will have to close and others merge. But this should be on the basis of known formulae rather than have the appearance of random and perhaps responses to pressure from communities that can bring pressure to bear or simply make more noise. The formula could be agreements about optimal size of schools and optimal distances for children to travel, all having regard for “community” however that might be defined.

Each of these factors has changed over time: roads are better, no-one travels to school by horse, many parents transport the children to school, few use bicycles. It is likely that schools do not need to be located where they are currently. It makes no sense to spend capital on schools without these assessments.

“Community” is a very emotional factor. But that has changed as well. Many students choose to transport their children out of the community in which they live to access schooling is another community. Many schools actively seek students from communities other than their own for a wide variety of reasons. “Community” cannot be assumed to a simple matter of plonking a school in the midst of a suburb or a town.

There are also implications for governance and it is probably inevitable that we return to some key principles of Tomorrow’s Schools that were never implemented and ask if they now have a key role to play. I am thinking of the Parent Advocacy Councils, The Community Education Forums and the Education Service Centres. Each of these would have contributed to a greater sense of community and to a much higher level of community involvement in education than the truncated model based only on the Boards of Trustees has been able to achieve.

Finally, the greatest proportion of teachers will be needed in Auckland and this will happen within the next twenty years which is half of a teaching career. The impact will be wide and the cuts will be deep.

Those who cope with change best are those who embrace the future and take an active part in the changes. How we feel about such changes is a matter of choice.

 

Pathways-ED: Accentuate the positive!

 

There is something a little misleading when arguments are conducted mostly in the negative. A recent educationalist from Finland visited the country and most of the media coverage appeared to be a list of things not to do. It was a catalogue of things that were familiar to us.

Don’t have a national testing regime, don’t consider differential pay for performance and so on. They constituted a list that fitted neatly into the predilection of those who argue for no change.

What would have been instructive would have been the challenges that the Finnish experience poses to the New Zealand current way of working. Here is a little list of things that Finland has done and which the same educationalist is enthusiastic about:

  1.     provide free lunches to every child in school;
  2.     unify the Year 1-10 into one sector with shades of difference rather than wholesale difference between the first 7 years and the last three years;
  3.     introduce a clearly differentiated set of pathways at the Year 10-13 level that includes access to technical and vocational pathways;
  4.     treat young adults like adults rather than the young – the upper secondary school allow for student choice, are not based on age related cohorts, students choose courses rather than subjects and so on;
  5.     make a Masters level degree the basic teaching qualification at all levels;
  6.     require regular upgrading of qualifications of teachers;
  7.     make teaching a high-appeal career – 10% of applicants are selected (compared to 42% in New Zealand) and teachers are held in higher esteem that doctors by the public;
  8.     cluster schools and allow a lot of local independence in each school;
  9.     all tuition right up to university qualification is free;
  10.    there is only one teachers organisation that covers the total spectrum from pre-school through to higher education.

All of this requires a vision and a level of professionalism that we have yet to achieve. Especially in the matter of social justice and equity. The Finns believe that learning about and within a mixed social environment is a key contributor to one of the major outcomes of education – a society that is just, fair and balanced in its respect between people and the way it treats special need and disadvantage. Schools therefore are planned to be mixed to something of the same degree.

The result of this appears to have been a key to producing the smallest difference between schools in the OECD without detracting from and perhaps actually being a key contributor to Finland’s high PISA ranking. Meanwhile we continue to wear decile ratings as either a mark of honour or a badge of shame greatly to the detriment of one end of the range and consequently we have one of the biggest gaps between schools. In dropping decile ranking in its reports, is ERO giving a message to us all?

To return to the nature of what we call the senior secondary school years – Years 11-13. In Finland the Years 11 -13 are based on courses that last about six weeks. Students choose the courses they want on the basis of their pathway plan (each student has a personal careers advice / information /guidance / education allowance). Systems of co-requisites and prerequisites give longitudinal coherence to study without compromising the choice element.

In this tertiary style approach, Finnish students are required to complete 70 courses in the three years. Most students study more than the minimum and many achieve around 90 courses successfully completed. Meanwhile we struggle to get many students up to the minimum.

While the teacher education results in the Masters level qualification required for teaching at all levels and while those courses have quite a degree of shared content, there is a slightly different emphasis in what appears to be three slices – the pre-school / early years, the middle years of the “community school” and the upper levels of that school. But the shared level of course content that all have allows for flexibility.

Finally,there is the question of hunger – does New Zealand have the hunger to do the things that need to be addressed to lift our world rating and to move our education system into the ranks of systems with equitable results? Finland clearly did but we need to take a good hard look at ourselves.

The public discourse is all about what NOT to do with very little focus on changes that need to be made. In this respect the discourse is timid and negative. Let’s get rid of the fear of ideas and have much more talk about what we might do. It has become a cliche that to continue to do the same things but expect different results is a clinical sign of madness. The evidence suggests that change is needed, big change, and fast.

When visitors come to New Zealand we should exhaust every last idea they have which might inform or excite us rather than simply seek support for digging our collective toes in.

 

Pathways-ED: Degrees of difference: Money or the BAg!

 

Oh dear, what a little fluster we got ourselves into when the newspapers came out with the news that our degrees don’t lead to much financial advantage for the students who slave to get them. And let’s not take anything away from that achievement.

 

First, degrees are worth a lot. As pointed out by AUT’s Derek McCormack, degrees provide advantage in the employment stakes and those with jobs tend to have financial advantage over those who don’t!  Some degrees are in high demand and do provide not only better starting remuneration but also greater rapidity in a rising career trajectory – Auckland University VC Stuart McCutcheon pointed this out.

 

Bob Jones of course had his contribution to make with his well-known view that degrees weren’t important unless they were in the thinking subjects such as history. He requires prospective employees to be readers, the mark of the thinking person. He has a strong point here. The parchment is not the endpoint of a degree but a lifetime of access to ideas is.

 

It is sad when a discussion about higher education settles down to the level of a whinge about pay but the newspaper in an indignant editorial did raise that old argument about whether education, especially Higher education was a private gain or a public good. It is a silly argument because it is and always has been both.

 

Of course it is a private good, a student who gets a degree (the mark of what is taken to be an education at that point) is privileged through a likelihood that they will be employed, be less likely to be in jail, more likely to have better health and housing. Importantly, their families are more likely to follow in their educational footsteps and even exceed the success they have had. Money? Well there is also advantage there but not as much as in some other countries. Relative to remuneration levels those differences might not be as great as they are portrayed.

 

Public good?  Of course there is a level of public good. While some of the rising credentialism that has occurred over the past fifty years has had an irrational element to it, degrees are an important entry qualification into many professions. The legal profession and the medical profession have always required bachelor degree level qualification for entry into those professions. Now a host of others also require degrees – teaching, nursing, accountancy and town-planning. This is more the result of the push to increase the numbers of degrees offered and the clear increased focus on being vocational that came out of the feral 1990s when the tertiary institutions battled it out for market share.

The private gain / public good argument received its big push in the Treasury briefing papers of 1987 which was responsible for the education system taking a swing to the right in what did become something of a fees rocky horror show for many students. The private good argument won back then and ever since every taxpayer funds degree programmes to all starters. It will be looked at again one day when questions are raised about the sense of this wholesale money laundering scheme that leaves too many young people in debt.

 

But what was not highlighted in the discussion was that while degrees are important they are not the only qualifications that are both needed and highly valued. New Zealand probably does not need increased numbers of graduates with degrees. What we do need are those with quality intermediate qualifications – the technicians, the supervisors working at the applied practical end of successful business, industry and commerce – the ones that keep the wheels oiled and turning. That is the “skill shortage” and, now it seems, that is the group that we are losing to overseas opportunities.  This is not an argument that dimishes the value of a degree but one which simply draws attention to a fact.

 

Of course we need degrees but even the Tertiary Education Commission joined the feverish chorus in a recent youth transitions paper by emphasising the importance of “higher qualifications (particularly degree level)”. Australia, the US and the UK have all set targets for the proportion of people who should have a degree that they have not a chance of meeting. It is much more intelligent to have targets such as those set by the Better Public Service Goals (85% of 18 year olds with NCEA Level 2 by 2017 and 55% of 25-34 year olds with a Level 4+ qualifications by 2017) – they are achievable and are key markers of both the school system and the tertiary system getting our young people onto a success trajectory.

 

Nor are university degrees the only degrees that are valued. The MOE published a useful little report in 2009, Does it really matter where you study, which compared the relative benefits of a bachelors degree gained from a university with those gained from a polytechnic. Its findings are not complex and are that:

 

  •           the labour market in New Zealand “appears not to discriminate” against polytechnic degrees;
  •           the starting pay is “roughly the same” regardless of the provider;
  •           after five years those with a university degree do edge ahead with a “relatively small advantage at the upper end”;
  •           in fields of speciality for the polytechnics  such as IT, commerce, engineering and architecture there is “little difference” and in some cases in these areas, the polytechnic graduates are earning more.
  •           the study was unable to find evidence that provider quality leads to a gap in earnings over time.

As with all qualifications a degree is merely a stepping stone to further education, to employment, to enhanced life choices and chances and to the likelihood of increased opportunity for your children.

 

If you can’t take pleasure from all that and want to have a grumble about money, seek solace in the fact that you are doing for your child rather than yourself.

 

 

Talk-ED: And we thought we were doing well!

 

I have recently had drawn to my attention a publication from the OECD which challenges seriously some of the thinking that has been bandied around in discussions of the “information age”, “digital natives” and technology in general. The report, Connected Minds: Technology and today’s Learners (OECD, 2012) calls into question many of the assumptions and statements that underpin a lot of what is said and done. Here are some samples:

“To begin with, although an increasing percentage of young people can be said to be adept in technology, it is misleading to assume that all of them fit equally into the image of New Millennium Learners.”

“Secondly, there is not enough empirical evidence yet to support the idea that student’s use of technology and digital media is transforming the way in which they learn, their social values and lifestyles and, finally, their expectations about teaching and learning.”

The report clearly demonstrates that, as of today, there is not enough research evidence to demonstrate that technology attachment or connectedness has critical effects on cognitive skills development……. Yet claims about changes in the brain caused by attachment to technology or connectedness are simply not backed by evidence.”

The OECD is known for its careful and challenging research reports and this one seems to knock to pieces the assumptions that we so often hear about in educational discussions.

I have long felt that the supposed advantage that young people had over we elderly was simply that – a supposition that this should be so. When time spent is taken into consideration, being technically adept is not related to age any more than the older age groups know how to manage a vegetable garden better than the young generation.

Malcolm Gladwell has asserted that it takes 10,000 hours to develop high level competence in a skill area. Students spend a little less than 8,000 hours in school (up to Year 10) so school alone is not going to get them there. Perhaps they spend huge amounts of time out of school connected through technology but some of that raises issues that are challenging to educators rather than helpful. The influence of video games might not be totally wholesome (although they have been found to have developed further some skill areas), cyber-bullying and distorted relationships can result, students can develop a loose attitude to what we could call plagiarism, and so on.

But a key issue is the importance attributed to “digital literacy”. The OECD material is right in asserting that digital literacy is not meant to replace conventional literacy. But the relationship between the two skill sets is, the report suggests, a little confused. This is because, and here New Zealand might be able to claim immunity from the allegations, as the report notes, “digital literacy tends to be marginalised from schools.”

Digital literacy requires the teaching of digital literacy just as literacy requires a conscious effort from both teacher and learner. It cannot simply be a side dish to the more traditional fare of education programmes. Now there could be a good case to be made here that New Zealand schools do give digital literacy the emphasis and place that it deserves.

The OECD perhaps weakens its case in this regard when it uses as evidence this lack of a central place for digital literacy the fact that statements about digital literacy are not taken “into account seriously, that is, translating statements into requirements for national student assessments.

The report further concludes by noting some of the challenges: integrating digital media and social practices into the daily school life, dealing with the issue of 21st Century Skills, helping young people learn the digital and information skills that are simply assumed to have been picked up and helping young people become connected so as to enhance the learning experience.

Postscript

Today is the first of October,. Who remembers the 1 October Gazette which unleashed an avalanche of teaching position applications from those aspiring to teach the following year. All that has changed as the dynamics of supply / demand have altered. Another little exciting ritual consigned to the scrap heap!