Tonga 3: NZ could learn from Tonga

Stuart Middleton

EdTalkNZ

22 November 2017

The two most recent EdTalkNZ blogs have detailed the exciting events in Tonga as hundreds of secondary school students have received the Level 2 Tonga Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills developed through a partnership between Tongan Secondary schools and education agencies and Manukau Institute of Technology.

It was suggested that New Zealand could learn from the success of this programme and here’s how!

  1. Honest recognition of the extent to which secondary students are not engaged with their schooling.

We continue to delude ourselves about the level of successful outcomes in our schooling system. One wonders whether the move to abolish National Standards without replacing it with some form of measure and accountability, and the support that this proposal is getting, will simply add further murkiness to the view that parents and caregivers have of their children’s progress. Until secondary schools and tertiary providers report on cohort outcomes rather than qualification completion there will continue to be a distorted view of the levels of success. Meanwhile, the snowball of failure that is the NEETs issue continues to roll and to grow.

Tonga grappled with the issue of disengagement, was prepared to try an approach that was positive and is being rewarded with responses that are promising. New Zealand has to also be prepared to work differently if the outcomes are to be different.

  1. Providing early access to trades training.

There is clear evidence that early access to applied learning (in this instance, trades training) benefits all learners including those making good progress as well as those needing  boost. It is not simply the potential disengagers who are being disadvantages, the bright and the gifted could also be making better progress earlier if they were to escape the diet of programmes presented under the banner of the word “academic” that hides many pedagogocal and curricular sins.

But,  for the disengagers escaping the conventional school programme is a clear and incontrovertible pathway to success. Trades Academies, Dual Pathways and initiatives such as the MIT Tertiary High School are proven ways of providing managed transitions and seamless pathways for students. Questions must be asked. Why does New Zealand persist with a curriculum that is interpreted so as to suit the 30% who are headed towards university and ignores the 70% who are not? Why are the initiatives that have been shown to increase successful outcomes not being rolled out? Why, are NZ students being denied the options that emerge from a multiple pathways approach that is less bounded by lock-step progression and characterized by flexibility, more success earlier and a purposeful pathway to a future?

  1. Creating multiple pathways.

As an education system, we do not create multiple pathways for a number of reasons. It doesn’t suit the turf protection mentality which has built the walled cities we call sectors (early childhood, primary, intermediate, secondary, and tertiary) – turf once gained must be protected. The education system is, by and large, designed to suit those administering and delivering programmes rather than those who are seeking and learning and hoping that it will provide for them a future.

We can create multiple pathways but we choose not to and this is to the detriment of many students.

  1. Placing the responsibility for the management of transitions in education on the institution.

Too many baby-boomers grew up reading war comics and learned that you collaborate with the enemy! The lack of collaboration, partnerships has led to the concretisation of the sectors and as the inhabitants of each walled city are busily focusing on their own activity, it is left to those least able to manage the difficult transitions early childhood into primary, primary to secondary (sometimes through intermediate) secondary to tertiary and tertiary into employment. Partnerships and collaboration are critical of if we are to create pathways.

  1. Actively promoting collaboration with Secondary and Tertiary working together- the value of partnerships.

Of course, Tonga secondary schools and tertiary institutions (MIT and the Tonga Tertiary Providers) have taken collaboration and partnership to a well-advanced level where curriculum design, delivery of programmes, the use of teaching spaces / specialist facilities, involvement of ex-student bodies and, in the next project, industry sector groups, businesses, all work to contribute pathways for students who might otherwise not succeed. In simple terms, it is achieving a lot with a little in a setting where resources are scare and those that exist must simply be shared.

  1. Injecting purpose, confidence and success into education for young students.

Finally, students who emerge from their schooling in Year 10 and 11 the Certificate in Vocational and Technical Skills have found purpose and confuidence to move into further trades training, or back into the “academic programme or, perhaps, return to their village and community as a person with the skills to help others and to make a useful contribution.

If every secondary school in New Zealand adopted these goals and, perhaps, had a programme similar to the Tonga programme, our education system achieve more equitable outcome and students would be much more successful. Malo au’pito to our colleagues for this opportunity to work with them on bringing about change in education in Tonga.

4 comments

  1. Jim Doyle says:

    methinks the paragraph under heading number 4 needs a rewrite.

    • Stuart Middleton says:

      Hi Jim

      Is it the word “concretisation” that is the problem? The point being made is that currently transitions just happen and each one of them is a casualty point in the system.

      • Malcolm Bell says:

        No Stuart – the first two sentences of the para don’t make sense. There are some words missed out I think – and I think the reading of comics taught us NOT to collaborate with the enemy. Damn good article though. I worked on the Youth Guarantee for the last two years before I retired at the end of last year. A great programme captured by the nonsense of NCEA Level 2 being an end in itself, rather than just the beginning of a vocational pathway. I can say those things now! Cheers. Malc Bell

        • Stuart Middleton says:

          Hi Malcom – Thanks for your comments. I have only recently taken up responsibility for personally posting the blog and there was a confusion (mine!) about correcting material and then ensuring that it has got into the final published piece. Glad that you are now liberated – it was you in the Herold letters page the other day. Welcome to Auckland! Let’s keep chatting.

          Stuart

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