Archive for December 2014

Working with business is good business for education

Back in the 1960’s when a student was clearly heading towards the wall there was usually one solution – find them a job!

The principal would be a member of the Rotary Club and that would be a port of call. Or the school would have built up a series of relationships. Usually the troubled (and troubling) young person was placed in an environment where they would be under the watchful eye of an experienced employee. A sort of “sit-over-there-next-to-Agnes-and-she-will-show-you-the-ropes” solution. But it worked.

Then it seemed as if in the late 1970s through to the end of the last century, education and employers went their own way.

When new relationships emerged in the 2000s something had changed and I have only just realized what it was. The relationships between employers and education were no longer about the students but were about the institutions. Marquee relationships were set up with businesses lending their names to buildings or developments.  Educators got to know employers again but it was about the institution and a more social set than about the business.

It is now time for a radical shake up in this. What we know is that in a multiple pathways environment, and these are emerging slowly, in which transitions are blurred, the relationship between employers and education needs to return to a shared responsibility for certain elements of the students journey. No, it is not about money, it is about placing the human resource that business has next to the human resource of education.

In the 1990s I was lucky enough to lead Aorere College at a time when a fledgling Auckland International Airport Ltd was seeking to explore its community relationships. Aorere College was seen as a good starting point. And so there developed over a period of time a portfolio of initiatives that included activities such as:

  •  a mentoring programme, “Airbridge”, which matched promising Year 10 students with AIAL executive staff for the last four years of the students’ schooling;
  • opportunities for the school choirs, among the very best in New Zealand at that time, to share in important events at the airport;
  • the “Commercial Department” ran the Business Centre in the international terminal 356 days a year with a mix of student and employed centre staff – great and real work experience;
  • the “Home Economics Dept” ran the cafeteria that served several hundred lunches to airport staff out of a commercial kitchen with an employed chef leading the work;
  • the special needs units had for a time responsibility for some of the gardens at the airport;
  • the AIAL had a representative on the Board of Trustees and I attended senior staff briefings at the Airport.

None of this involved truckloads of money changing hands. It was simply an excellent company and an excellent school going about their respective business but finding ways of working together with the students at the centre of each of the equations that drove the relationship.  And this was just one of the relationships the school had that was of this nature. The Manukau City Council was another major partner.

The MCC operated the schools grounds, long and well used by the community but always a little out of control (!), as part of their parks network. It was an arrangement that suited both parties, the school had a much more controlled use of the fields while the Council had an additional park on which to place users in an area which at that time was short of such spaces. Aorere was one of the first four technology secondary schools and this was a further area of cooperation for students and council staff to work together doing real work – students helping with the drawing up of development plans, the geography department surveying a rural water course for the council.

When Aorere College had an employers breakfast it would have over a hundred “partners” attend.

Now some of this was also happening elsewhere spurred along in some measure by an early initiative from the Secondary Principals of New Zealand (SPANZ) when it ran several conferences on Schools and Business. This received the usual push-back from some quarters.

But that was then and we now need to design the new relationships bearing in mind the core principles that drove the work back then.

  • it is about the students and not the institution
  • it is about the curriculum and learning;
  • it is about students experiencing real work not standing, scared, next to the till watching others do the work.

Whatever the level, secondary or tertiary, the relationships are not about money but are based on something much more valuable, long-lasting and precious, the wealth of human knowledge, willingness and social responsibility that is out there waiting for education to offer a hand of friendship.

 

Working in the future now

Each time I hear someone claiming that we are preparing students for futures yet unknown to us, I wonder whether or not we have a basis for making this claim and whether it is in the interests of the students. “Waiting for the Future” seems to have the same level of hopelessness as “Waiting for Godot.”

But we can make some assessments of a likely future. Diane Ravitch, speaking at the conference I attended a couple of weeks ago noted that the future would in all likelihood have an increased emphasis on low wage jobs in healthcare, retail and restaurant services. Only 20% of jobs will require a bachelors degree or above. Despite this we continue to prepare students for middle class jobs – “We have,” she said, “lost our way”.

She mounted a huge case against the “pursuit of scores” which various policies – Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and Obama’s “Racing to the Top” particular targets – and argued that gaining high test scores was only gained by drilling students and raising economic viability of schools.

“There is,” she thundered, “no skills shortage, only a jobs shortage.” The audience dutifully clapped and, it being in the south of the US there was much hootin’ and hollerin’. She continued her catalogue of grizzles, niggles and well-worn at the tired old targets. This was not the Diane Ravitch of old and she is honest about having changed her position on a lot of things. Good on her for this honesty.

Her address turns out to be essentially the first chapter of her latest book – “The Reign of Error”. This awaits me for a Christmas Holiday read.

But I did wonder about her claim that never have drop-out rates been lower in the US. I subsequently met no-one who could or was prepared to agree.

An interesting construction she placed on what was happening in the US was that people were “struggling to remain in the middle classes.” This was something that was repeated quite often not only in the conference but also in later meetings and discussions I had. The gap between low socio-economic groups and the middle classes was closing it seems not by raising those lower groups to a more comfortable position but by the middle classes losing their advantage. It would be interesting to see an analysis of NZ from this perspective.

But, back to the future. We prepare students for it not by waiting for it but by preparing them for the immediate future in a manner that sees the skills needed for life-long learning, for contributing to society as a worker, as a citizen, as a family member and as a well-rounded and able individual. In other words, there are jobs out there and young students should be able to go into them.

The challenge to education is that too many young people leaving schools have yet to acquire the skills, attributes, and disposition of an employment-ready prospect for an employer.

In the past it didn’t matter so much. Employers had lower expectations of entry-level workers who were often going into an apprenticeship where there was an expectation on both sides that they would be prepared to participate in the industry or profession.

And, I think this is important, there were many opportunities for young people with a modicum of get-up-and-go to work and demonstrate the attributes of a worker.

I had my first “job” at about the age of 8 as an “assistant” in my uncle’s grocery store – a benign and gentle start I will admit but I had to do the right thing and received 5 florins each Friday. Next came an opportunity when I was at intermediate school to work in a Hardware store during school holidays – packaging nails, and plaster of Paris, sweeping the floor and fetching and carrying and occasionally serving a customer (£1/10s per week).  At secondary working in school holidays in a sheep farm was the next step. More responsibility, expected to achieve certain critical tasks etc. The holiday employment when at University was, first, in the parks department in Hamilton at the cemetery working as a general factotum and asst. sector but I moved after that to five years of working with a drain layer.

There is nothing special about this. It was how things were. But the preparation for “real” employment happened long before I had a “real” job.

None of that is there now. All this work is done by adults. So it is over to educational institutions to build that preparation into the way they work so that young people are on the road to employment earlier than they realise and ready to go when the employer pulls the trigger on the starting gun.

  

Educated balance

 

It is not a bad thing to grow up believing that moderation in all things is an honorable goal. Extreme positions and behaviours seldom help whatever the cause. “Going over the top” – originally a phrase that had great meaning during World War I and more recently fashionably abbreviated to OTT – is thought to not be a good thing.

So the recent display of binge grieving over the awful death of Peter Hughes, the Australian cricketer, leaves us in something of a confusing position. The grief felt by those outside his circle of family, friends and accomplices is to some degree inexplicable. It is Princess Diana all over again.

Sometimes there are people whose contribution to the world has been such that a widespread display of grief is both appropriate and understandable. Mickey Joseph Savage and Norman Kirk, are two New Zealand leaders whose contributions had captured the affection of significant sections of our population and more so than at the times of their respective deaths.

But for an Australian cricketer whose test career has been relatively short – this was no Don Bradman – the extent to which the tragic death has been the central focus of media and pretty well all parts of the community has been astounding.

It is, of course, largely fuelled by the social media that got cracking with a #putdownyourbat campaign which, had it been restricted to appropriate expressions, might have been OK but to see a soccer game start with a bat and silence reduces it all to sheer theatre if not farce.

The displays of uncontrolled emotion shown on television by those who ostensibly lead, such as the captain of the Australian cricket team invites me to ask:  Are these the great great-grandchildren of the men who went to World War I, the grandchildren of those who went through the Great Depression and the Second World War and the sons of those who now lead our countries in many different ways?

Restraint and dignity takes courage and fortitude and we need such characteristics more than ever. The theatrical reaction to Hughes’ death robs the community generally of the dignity of paying respect appropriately and in a more muted fashion.  About seventy death notices appear in each and every edition of the NZ Herald and each reflects a loss to a family and the circle around them. They bear this with dignity and privacy. They are greatly to be admired and one hopes that the examples such as this will stand the younger ones in good stead.

I was in the US last week when the announcement that the Grand Jury in Fergusson MS would not prefer charges of murder against a policemen who had shot dead an African American youth led to widespread rioting across a dozen cities. This was binge protest at its worst. A mix of every grievance, of pent-up disputation, and of sheer hooliganism that ended up masking completely the point of the protest – police violence against the black community.

IT seems to be a fashion that OTT is now OK and the media of course simply cannot help but feast on it – they are addicted to such behavior. Look at the number of deaths that have occurred in New Zealand recently as a result of fights that have got out of hand. When they start there are no voices of reason that calm it down, it seems that everyone wants to join in and usually with dire consequences.

Some responses to the Hughes accident are obvious and cricket as a sport could react more sensibly than it has. The Saturday after the tragic event I went for a walk and passed a number of parks in which 8-10 year olds were playing cricket with a standard hard cricket ball and batters were decked out in all the protective equipment imaginable. Many of them were simply too small in stature to move adequately with all this gear. They would have been better playing with a softer composite ball and learning to protect themselves through movement.

No-one sets out to maim or kill in the interests of sport but key objectives in cricket are for bowlers to intimidate batsman through both pace and placement of the ball. With 100 instances of the kind of injury that Hughes suffered known to world medical science, and with a total of now 12 deaths in cricket, perspective is very important.

Within days of Hughes passing away, an Israeli cricket umpire was struck with a cricket ball on the head and died. Little mention of that. Balance is also important.

We have a role in education to develop the judgment and balance that equips young people to cope rather than simply copy.