Archive for Skills

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.

  

Doing what comes naturally… sometimes.

I watched a great American Football game on TV the other night between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. It was close, into the fourth quarter and the Giants had the ball. The two teams lined up on about the 50 yard mark. A snap pass back through the legs to the Giants quarterback and the forwards got into their dance of obstructing tackling and generally giving the running backs a chance to get up the field to receive the ball while at the same time making space for the quarterback to throw.

Hawking had run up the right hand touch and was approaching the in-goal area. He looked back over his shoulder to see the ball approaching high, it was going to go over his head. By now he was square on to the ball facing back up the field. He threw himself high into the air and backwards. His outstretched arm was out behind him and with impeccable judgment he caught the ball, blind, with three finger tips, crashed on his back to the ground and claimed a touchdown.

It was a miracle play that was to be replayed over and over and which will make highlights packages for years to come. The commentators voiced what everyone had thought. “How had he done that?” “Have you ever seen such a touchdown?” etc. etc.

But the real revelation came in the post-match interview with the coach and of course that play got plenty of mention. “How had he done that?” the host repeated to be told by the coach “You know, at the end of each practice, when everyone else has gone off the field, Hawking stays out there and practises just that.”

It struck me that there is a lesson here for us. Just the day before I had a conversation with Professor Mike Kirst at Stanford about the evaluation and assessment of career path activity and he outlined the problems that they were facing in assessing and evaluating the soft skills, the employability skills etc, in career path programmes.

The issue is that these skills are not really learned but rather are internalized over time just like the instinctive skills that led to Hawking’s touchdown. Moments of brilliance do not simply happen once, they come from practice that make the skills part of our being. Top sports coaches understand this.

Do institutions that are focused on career path activity actually practice the very skills that employers are asking for? Employers are clear in stating what they want. How might providers respond?

Employers say:                  “I want them to turn up every day!”

What attention do providers pay to attendance? What records are kept and how is such important behaviour reported? What happens when lectures and tutorials are skipped? Tolerance is not serving students well who expect to be employed in settings that have zero tolerance.

Employers say:                  “I want them to be on time!

What attention is paid to punctuality? To starting on time? Working until the end of the session? We need to show that time is a resource which needs to be used fully and well.

Employers say:                  “They have to complete tasks and in a timely way?”

Do we insist on this? Do we emphasise the importance of deadlines? Do we reward the behaviours that we want?

Employers say:                  “They have to have the technical skills to do the job.”

This is an easy one for providers because if the courses are current and are regularly refreshed, taught in industry standard facilities with the rigour of the work place, then having the credential should attest to this. This is the bread and butter work of the institution.

Employers say:                  “They have to be free of drugs and alcohol issues.”

Again, this is an easy one for providers since most institutions insist on just that. But do we make it clear just why we have a zero tolerance for it. Do we have a zero tolerance in our institutions.

Employers say:                  “They have to be appropriately presented, dressed appropriately, no garish disfiguring tattoos and piercings.”

Well, would it be a step too far to suggest that business students should dress appropriately for the business world while they are students? Students who study auto engineering, those in food and beverage, those who chef and many others do.  But do we have established standards for those who work in “ordinary” clothes?

And honesty, reliability, working in teams, resilience and a whole lot more.

You see, if training institutions practised these soft skills so that they became instinctive, a guarantee could be given to employers that graduates had these attributes. Over time it would be known that graduates from such an institution were worth taking on because they had a set of learned behaviours expected of professionals in the field and which will be seen by the employer as the mark of a new employee who is likely to be worth investing in..

And this would solve the issue of testing and assessing and evaluating the soft skills.

One final suggestion. If it is important that many occupations require those entering to have a driver’s licence why are institutions largely silent on the matter and why cannot a very early indication be made to students that over the one, two, or three years of the course they would do well to get one.

For that matter, are the requisite soft skills packaged and explained as something that employers are looking for?

 

NZ Yesterday, USA Today

 

San Francisco

Arrived in the US in time for the autumnal snows by the look of it.

But the very first newspaper I pick up devotes half of its front page with an articled headlined with “More high schools turn out hire-ready skilled workers”.

Noting that over the last three decades schools had dropped vocational education programmes with the result that only a very few schools had retained a capability to teach vocational skills leaving increasing numbers of students in a situation where the pathways to employment had been, if not obliterated then at very best been made obscure.

Project Lead the Way was established to create high school engineering and technology curricula. It is reported that one programme it established for manufacturing is now taught in 800 high schools. (This sounds like a lot of schools but remember that the US is a big place!)

These new courses are not a re-run of the old but rather ones that reflect the modern environment. A spokesperson for the manufacturing industry’s training organization says that “manufacturing is dogged by an outdated image that it is very physical, labour-intensive, you’re working with your hands, you’re getting dirty and there’s no career path….. Actually you are working with computers and robots that are doing what you used to do by hand. That requires a skill set in maths and science above what was required a generation ago.”

I wonder how much of our progress in New Zealand is hampered by such outdated views of the world of work?

And it seems that industry is keen to be involved. Siemens needed 1,500 employees for a new turbine and generator plant in Kentucky. It worked with the local community college to design the programme and then when graduates (with at least diploma level qualifications) finished their course they were hired at a starting wage of $US55k per annum.

Volkswagen did a similar thing in Tennessee with a programme to prepare students to repair and maintain the robots that are so important to Volkswagen manufacturing process. It built its own academy next to the factory and then had the local community college deliver the training. This is a high stakes programme that costs the company $US1m per student over three years. They describe it as a bargain since they then have workers with high-level skills. Typically the graduates of these programmes have at least an Associate degree.

Another programme that is gaining momentum is the community-college-apprenticeship model promoted by President Obama. This is gaining ground across the states and invariably involves industry and many high-profile companies.

There seems little doubt that vocational education and training (VET) is making a comeback in the USA just as it seems to be in New Zealand.

What are points to note in this? Well at this point they seems to be:

·         that the initiatives seems to be closely associated with employers and industry partners;

·         that they involve high schools / community colleges and those industries working in partnership;

·         that there is no shyness about preparing students to work in the kinds of jobs that are available locally;

·         that the picture is one of students performing well, getting qualifications and entering the workforce into well-paid jobs.

There are lessons in this for New Zealand. While we tenaciously hang on to the notion of the value of a generalized education for all, many students will continue to have low educational outcomes. While regional New Zealand fails to specifically prepare students to work in local industries, youth unemployment will continue to be a factor in the regions.

One of the industry leaders involved in these developments is enthusiastic. As the programmes spread and increase he sees emerging “a path to America’s new middle class.”

And all this on Day 1!

 

The middle as a worthy goal

It used to be the practice when starting a career that entry was at the bottom and you learnt the business by working your way up. This was thought to be good for young people and gave them the practical knowledge that infused real life into what it was that they had learnt in school and in postsecondary places such as universities.

This seems no longer to be as popular as the notion that a degree will take you, if not to the top, then certainly to the other side of those lesser tasks that keep the business actually running. This ambition has further fed the growing view that a worthy goal is to see everyone with a degree level qualification.  And the middle classes hanging on to preserve what status they have insist on nothing less for the next generation while those clamouring to join them see it as a ticket to ride.

It doesn’t stop there either. Governments in the western world have made an art form out of generating goals for the proportions of the population that should be degree qualified. The USA gamely wants everyone to have a degree, the UK and Australia link arms at the 40% mark. All three might be better devoting energy to seeing that all young people successfully complete secondary school!

The real issue is that such “stop only at the summit” approaches ignore the realities of how business and enterprise is organised. There are people working at the top of every organisation but there is also a larger group working at different levels below that. There will in some businesses even be a place for the unskilled provided that they are at least employable.

But the real gap is in the middle. If education systems are focussed on turning our degree level students in two groups (those who succeed and those who don’t) and with the encouragement of governments have persuaded the community that this is the favoured route to the top, fewer young people see the middle qualifications and skill levels as being worthy of the effort and attention. This leads to a shortage of the technically skilled and western economies turn to immigration to address the shortage.

Not only is such a situation bad for business, it doesn’t serve the needs of young people well at all. Giving to young people the opportunity to engage in applied and technical education earlier is emerging as a key strategy in retaining them in education and training and in developing those literacy, numeracy and digital skills that underpin all employment now. Evidence is that when engaging in technical and applied programmes at around 14-16 years, young people can not only discover a confidence in themselves as learners but also are inspired by a line of sight to a future job. In turn that job could turn into a career. Instead too many are being lured into a degree/university track and become the failure fodder for those that succeed.

Why, it should be asked, are western countries all madly addressing the issue of skills shortages and at the same time pumping increasing numbers into educational tracks that can never address those same shortages? The long term damage could be considerable to both economies and to individuals. We need to seriously address the image of the middle – no longer is it a middle earth populated by grease-covered grunting types who are “good with their hands” and answer to the orders of others. The modern middle requires a wide skill set, has a wide range of work situations many of which show the impact of technology on activity now. Leadership skills, team skills, and all that bundle of attributes that are sometimes called the “soft skills” are of the highest order in the middle. These are also the markers of the educational programmes that lead to CTE certificates and diplomas and associate degrees. By the age of 18 or 19 years those who have been taught well will have started on their journey.

The good news is that if they really have been taught well then they will be back because the middle is a good place at which to start a career. Not just good for them but also good for us.

 

Party at Hekia’s Place – BYOE Bring Your Own Excellence along

It looks as if 2014 is shaping up to be somewhat unusual for education in New Zealand – three key developments are happening.

In March a set of Education Festivals will be held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Developed by Cognition Education and with the four key themes of COLLABORATION, INNOVATION, COHESION and CELEBRATION.   The festivals are co-ordinated by Cognition Education with the support of the Ministry of Education and will coincide with the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession, jointly hosted by the OECD, Education International and New Zealand through the MOE.

The festivals focused on two key dimensions, the performance of students, teachers, schools and institutions in our community and the proud record New Zealand has inspired improved educational achievement in other countries by sharing our expertise and systems.

The press education receives is generally at best miserable and at times plain negative. I have frequently pointed out that the profession too often contributes to this. Here is a golden opportunity for education to put on its best clothes and strut its stuff in public and rather then spout clichés  about a “world class education system” , to allow the outcomes of the work of schools and other education providers be seen and enjoyed by a wider community. Let the work and skills of our students be the push for the excellent brew that comes out in most schools.

An added opportunity is to be able to do this while an international community of educators is here as our guest – a chance not only to show and teach but also to listen and to learn. The participating countries at the 4th International Summit are the top 20 education systems as measured by the PISA  results and the five fastest improvers.

This is a unique opportunity for New Zealand to learn and to gain insights into how we can match achievement data with greatly improved equity measures.  Both the festival and the summit will allow us to share insights with others and to learn from the insights of others. This is not a bragging contest but potentially could be a fine week for education n New Zealand.

The Minister of Education Hon Hekia Parata is behind both of these initiatives and her leadership deserves strong support from the sector and from all levels within the sector.

The third element that could lift the image of education in New Zealand is the announcement, also from Minister Parata, of the inaugural Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards to be introduced for 2014. The tertiary education sector has had just such a set of awards for about 10 years and they have been markedly successful under the astute leadership of Ako Aotearoa.

This new set of awards will focus on early childhood education, primary and secondary schooling and collaboration between secondary schools, tertiary providers and employers. This last award – collaboration – is particularly pleasing coming at a time when it is emerging that pathways between sectors will be a critical feature of the new environment that will allow us to address equity.

Ands that brings us back to the festival and the summit. We need to see these three developments as a set of tools that the education system can use to create a better education sector, one characterised by collaboration, by clear evidence of excellence and by a commitment to improved equity of outcomes. We will do this in part by seeing collaboration (bringing the fragmented sector together for the festival) and celebrating (excellence in teaching through the awards) as necessary to lifting our game. Necessary but not in themselves sufficient – long term change will require us to make a habit of collaboration and celebration.

In summary:

  •          Festivals of Education  – Auckland (21-23 March 2014), Wellington (29 March 2014) and Christchurch (23 March 2014)
  •          The 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession – March 2014 
  •          Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards – entries close 31 March 2014

Roll on March I say.

 

 

There’s more than one way to reach the stars!

Rather than let off a few sky rockets on yet another silly day we remember, hard on the heels of that even sillier day called Halloween, I thought I would throw a few ideas up in the air as we head towards the end of the year. These are called game-changers. They would lift educational performance in New Zealand. We have known most of these for a long time but other things get in the way. On Thursday I will give a complementary list of show-stoppers.

Principals of secondary schools are welcome to use these lists as they put the final touches to their prize-giving addresses.

The “Game Changers” List

1. Access to early childhood education

It astounds me that in this rich country we still have uneven distribution of opportunity for early childhood education. I do not need to repeat the evidence, it is over whelming. And the lack of equity in the area is hidden by two factors – quirky gatherings of information about actual participation (likely to be lower than reported) and the evening out of statistics into regional and national figures.

A stark statistic: In the Tamaki suburb in Auckland there are 7,000 youngsters under the age of five and there are 2,000early childhood education places.

A quick but excellent fix: In areas of low participation, add an early childhood facility to each primary school – same Board, same management, shared outdoor facilities, great savings. Best of all, it would be goodbye to the entangling bureaucracy that surrounds the development of conventional centres.

2 Greater attention to basic skills in primary schools

I might be naïve but it is bizarre that in the country that led the world not only in reading performance but also in the teaching of reading that so many children fail to reach a safe standard in the eight years of primary schooling. The same can be said of mathematics (sometimes called numeracy). Add to the list the development of knowledge, social skills, preparedness for further education, and exposure to arts and practical skills all in a context of new technologies and you would have not only an interesting programme but one which didn’t place so many students on a trajectory of failure.

A stark fact: Students show a decline in learning in key areas between Year 4 and Year 8.

A quick but excellent fix: Demand that primary schools do less but that they do it to higher standards. The foundation skills are taught in primary schools. Isn’t it ironic that the term “foundation skills” has been transferred to the first several years of post-secondary education and training for those who have failed to accrue such skills and this is clearly too late.

3. See a clear distinction between junior and senior secondary schools.

Education systems that we admire and would wish to emulate invariably have a clear distinction between what is in New Zealand Year 10 and Year 11. The first two years of high school are years of finishing off the processes started in primary school and the preparation for discipline focussed study that is in a context of future employment. Years 11 and 13 in these overseas systems are clearly differentiated with the availability of clear vocational technical opportunities emerging to complement the university track (which is working well in New Zealand). In other words, young students have choices about their futures.

Another shared feature is that at that age students are credited with much greater maturity but also supported to a much greater degree. The style and organisation of schooling is more akin to a tertiary institution than to the primary schools from which the secondary schools evolved.

A stark statistic: By age 16 years 21% of 16 year olds have dropped out of New Zealand schooling system.

A quick but excellent fix:  Sorry folks, but there isn’t one. This area is where the most comprehensive reforms are needed. Put simply, apart from the track to university, the New Zealand senior secondary school is broken. That style of education no longer suits too many of our young people. Don’t despair – we share this with our sibling systems in Australia, the United States, the UK and most of Canada. WE need to look elsewhere for evidence of what works and then craft our own responses for our particular circumstances.

4 Cement the output of graduates from tertiary education to employment.

There needs to be a clear line of sight between tertiary programmes and employment. I know that the universities resist any such notion – I have been told by those who know that such a connection is not helpful – “We do not train people, we educate them.” Just think of it, all those untrained doctors, ophthalmologists, engineers, lawyers – what rubbish such a claim is.  And in light of the unrelenting marketing of universities as the place to secure a future, to get high earning powered positions it is simply not sense.

Tertiary education is expensive both for the taxpayer and for the students who are the sons and daughters of taxpayers. They have a right to know that their investment in education at a tertiary level be it at a university, an ITP, a PTE a Wananga or wherever will lead to a job. If a degree in business has prepared you to look after the valet parking desk at the airport (as was a case I came across recently) then it can only be concluded that the programme offered little in the way of access.

A stark statistic:  About one half of those who start a post-secondary qualification actually complete it.

A quick but excellent fix:  it seems as if we are drifting towards a situation where tertiary providers are to be held accountable for the progress into employment of their graduates. If this were applied to all levels and types of tertiary education it might well be a good thing. Of course it would have to be first accepted that a key purpose of post-secondary education and training is to get the appropriate job. This might also require a better connection between demand and supply in the labour market. Consideration of these a matters need to be sped up.

There might be more than meets the eye!

 

I have been criticized plenty of times for suggesting that a key purpose of an education is to get a job. I have plenty of times put up with arguments about the higher purposes of schooling. I have even been told, with great seriousness, by the VC of a prestigious university that “We don’t train people, we educate them!”

Then dark clouds rolled in – we had a skills shortage, we had a mismatch between the labour market and the supply line from education providers. We had a growing sense of unease at the indicators that pointed to something of a perfect storm where Salt’s demographic faultline rumbled at the same time as the GFC (i.e. a recession for those not into TLAs) took hold.

There then developed a set of sideshows that risked turning education into something akin to a vaudeville show. Student / teacher ratios led the charge, then there was Novopay, then there was push back in Christchurch at offers of support to look at working in other ways that some other parts of the country might have welcomed (without, of course, the earthquakes that provoked them).

Meanwhile, without a fuss, the world had started to change. New programmes appeared that were more closely aligned to employment. Students started to move into these programmes at a younger age. No longer was a 15-19 year old faced with a single choice – stay in school – but was able to consider pathways through different kinds of institutions and face having not just what used to be thought of as a school leaving qualification (NCEA) but with a set of qualifications, NCEA and a technical qualification, employment ready at about the time the rest were heading off to university to start the journey.

In short, we are at a time when the education scene is changing for 15 – 19 year olds and the conventional senior secondary school is slowly being moved sideways to take its place alongside other pathways. Some of the developments are highly visible (the Tertiary High school, Youth Guarantee fees free places) while others are less obvious retaining a little of the look of school (trades academies for instance).

I am told that by 2015, there will be about 17,500 young people (15-19 year olds) who will be pursuing their education in a place other than a school – ITPs, wananga, PTEs would account for most of them I imagine. This is something of a silent revolution. Imagine the size of a group of 17,000 students would look like in the one place! It is quite a few empty classrooms.

That this is happening is not an argument against schools, it is simply affirmation that some young people have their life chances enhanced by continuing their schooling somethere other than a school. Don’t you love the US habit of referring to “school” for pretty well all levels? One fellow said to me recently I am going back to school next semester – that was to Harvard to do a Masters degree!

So imagine my surprise when on Labour Day (consider the irony of this) I heard two news reports on the radio both urging the authorities to see that education institutions be measured by their success in getting people into employment. And they both were teacher organisations, one here in New Zealand and the other in Australia.

We have just had the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment issue a RFP calling for proposals that bring together community connection and involvement, quality trades training, involvement of ITOs in the process of moving the student through to employment, the provision of tools – this all sounds like a commitment to seamlessness, it sounds like a carefully constructed pathway. And it is interesting that the TEC and MBIE are involved with each contributing what they do best.

Is there enough happening to claim that a paradigm shift is under way? Possibly, the signs are there that we are moving away from a set of practices that have been fairly constant for thirty years. Next will come the uncertainty and then the emergence of a new way of working.

But let me put this forward as an idea. Education was pretty constant in the way it worked for a hundred years until the late 1960s and 1970s when much change happened. Tracking / streaming was bad – out it went. Industrial arts were a reflection of an age now gone – out they went. The government employed 80% of the apprentices but they sold off the industrial and service agencies that employed them – out they went. Polytechnics were invented and training shifted both in the institutions and into daylight – out went learning on the job.

It could be that the big paradigm shift really started back then, went through a time of great uncertainty (the 1990s and the 2000s) and what is happening now is the emergence of a new way of working. Now that would be exciting.

 

Pathways-ED: It’s not just another project!

“You mean that you don’t have any scheduled classes on a Wednesday?” I asked wondering what was happening here.

“That’s right, the students spend that time doing their impact projects,” the Principal replied. “We call them the Impact Projects and it gives them a chance to bring their learning together and apply it for a practical purpose.”

I had been invited to participate in the celebration evening at the Albany Senior High School. Thinking about it as I headed across the Harbour Bridge, I wondered if this would be like so many of the many Science Fairs I had attended, or the other efforts I have seen where students generate hugely disproportionate amounts of energy and fun but produce not a lot – never mind the quality, or the warmth.

I was sure that what I was about to see would not challenge the amazing activity I had once seen at High Tech High in San Diego. There the students were nearing the end of the semester and this school, located in buildings in an old and historic naval base, had developed a project-based approach. Students were too busy to talk to me but they took time out to quickly explain what they were doing, etc. It was greatly impressive as they gave voice to the learning they had. Mature scholarship and youthful inventiveness characterised the typical project.

In New Zealand many tertiary programmes, especially in IT, have a requirement for a keystone project towards the end of the course. Would the high school projects be like these but perhaps at a lower level?

Well, was I in for a surprise. I saw that evening some of the most advanced and mature work I have ever seen high school level students produce. It was remarkable.

Microsoft had agreed to publish an app developed by one student that simply but incrementally taught a learner the basics of music theory. It was clever in its conception and beautiful in its execution. Clean lines, simple instructions. The student was articulate both about the IT and the music. Other music projects included performance, original compositions and, the building of a “copy” Les Paul guitar. To this last student I was able to chat about a concert I had seen Les Paul give in a jazz club in NewYork. We shared an enthusiasm.

Another student saw his project develop out of his after-school / holiday job in a surf store. He had set about developing the complete array of programmes and IT services needed to run the business especially the customer end of it – using barcode for stock control, an interactive and youthful internet store (increased turn-over = ten-fold). This was IT, business, strategic thinking, all wrapped into a very smart piece of work.

It was appropriate that in that very week where those daring young men, sailors in their flying machines were bouncing around San Francisco harbour, a further project had built a small craft that lifted out of the water on foils. The group had encountered issues, all tackled and resolved as the project unfolded.

There were dance performances, art projects (original painted shoes, a graphic novel, an origami chandelier), environmental projects (I loved the recycled furniture project – from inorganic collection to art work) and so on.

What was the point of all this? Well, quite clearly in the face of such explicit evidence of learning, some excellent teaching had occurred. But that seemed minor in light of two more important elements.

There had been extensive engagement with the community across this array of projects. Business, local government, tertiary education providers, retailers, primary schools, and sports organisations both local and national. This is just a sample. Students were faced not only with finding a confidence in doing this but also a security about their own learning as they interacted with busy people. The school had confidence in these exchanges which might have caused some nervousness in a more conventional setting.

The other exciting element was that the students were clearly demonstrating the qualities and skills that are so often spoken about as the soft skills of employment. Certainly they are the skills sought by tertiary education providers as students move into the higher levels of learning and qualifications. Team work, strategising, planning, implementing, setting of goals, ability to think creatively, to be articulate about technical knowledge and suchlike are the key outcomes of a good grounding in the basic skills.

Schools such as Albany Senior High School are leading the way in showing that having confidence in the quality of your programmes and in the the teaching / learning dynamic of the school then liberates the students and allows them to use new learning and develop new skills in ways in which the quality of the activity is nourished by personal interest, need and passion. I say need because one student had realised that she was light in physics given the direction her interests had developed – she saw an opportunity in her project work to do something about this.

Perhaps all this was summed up for me in a comment from Lucy in a reflective piece that looked back on her Impact Project experience – “The highlight for me was being able to learn from Amy.” This captured the essence of a good programme where the teacher stood aside and students saw the real lifelong learning resource -those around them.

Proud parents and grandparents, excited and animated young people, teachers who knew their job had been well done – education at its best.

 

Pathways-ED: Bridging the Divides with Pathways

 

 

Over the past two days 260 educators have been meeting in Auckland at the third National Conference on Pathways and Transitions – Bridging the Divides : Secondary-Tertiary-Employment Transitions for Learner Success.

The conference was organised by the Manukau Institute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways in association with Ako Aotearoa, the University of Auckland, the Ministry of Education, Cognition Education and Cyclone Computers. This “family of six” reflects the importance given to the topic and the extent to which it has moved more and more towards centre stage in the awareness of those who care about improving students outcomes.

There are two key concepts – the notion of “transitions” and that of “pathways”. We know that the transitions between and within the different parts of the education system are choke points in the journey students face as they pursue an education. The shift from ECE to primary, primary to intermediate and subsequently for all, into secondary, then on into some postsecondary education which finally move into employment is a reflection of a system that is built for the adults that survived rather than the learner/student.

Dr Joel Vargas from the Jobs for the Future Foundation in Boston U.S. showed that the loss of students at transition points was an issue that went well beyond our shores. We know that we “lose” over 4,000 students between primary and secondary, that 20% of students drop out, that half of those starting a postsecondary qualification do not complete. Much of this waste of talent and potential is the result of the issues surrounding transitions. And there is that transition form the stages of education into employment.

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan (University of Melbourne) reminded the conference of the weak link between education and employment, a point reinforced by business leaders who addressed the conference.

Transitions need to have “pathways” if they are to lead to the levels of seamlessness that will address the issues of the dysfunctional transitions which might more correctly be thought of as fractures.

Pathways are seamless, start somewhere and arrive somewhere else. In themselves they are an organising principle that calls for connection and quirks each of those who work on each side of the crevasse to work together. It is interesting that some of the systems we admire have solved this issue through looking to sector reform to shape a system based around the needs of young people rather than around the sensitivities of adults.

260 educators working to address these issues simply have to make a difference. There is developing a community of practice that is seeking to construct new pathways and transitions with a more seamless approach to create increased likelihood of more positive educational outcomes for more students.

This was a clear message of the Minister of Education Hon Hekia Parata who in addressing the conference emphasised the Better Public Service goals as clear markers for outcomes which the system must work towards.

This will require us to work differently but this will not always require us to embrace startling and new or radical ideas. As has been a theme of recent EDTalkNZ pieces, some of the ideas have moved across the education stage before. The notion of a “jagged edge”, even “seamlessness” and the reforms of Post Compulsory Education and Training in the 1980s had canvased many of the changes now being seriously considered – a point made elegantly by Professor Gary Hawke who led the reforms back then. Professor Hawke made an interesting point in his reminder that we need to focus on post compulsory rather than postsecondary.

So it was an exciting gathering where ideas surfaced and were considered, where for two days there was a coming together of people working towards shared goals. The things that divide us in education were parked at the door and students were considered. Many were impressed by the eloquence and directed energy of the students, especially one who had gone through the MIT Tertiary High School.  He had made the transition from risk to reward, from being given no hope in school to seeing a pathway that would take him into a job he loves and which opens up a big wide world.

It is early days but directions are emerging that hold the promise of an education system that will deliver pathways to students that see them college (postsecondary) ready and career ready. If we can achieve this we will perhaps avoid the demographic time bomb that ticks away and was so clearly described by Sir Mark Solomon.

 

It could be that in time is not on our side in these issues.

 

Talk-ED: The Aspirations of a Three-year Old

 

Chatting to a friend over the weekend she was telling us about her grandson.  I will call him Taylor for that is his name; he is three years old, lively and normal.  In response to a question about what he was going to do in the future he told his Nana that when he was five he would go to school and after that he would go to university.  “Why will you do that?” his Nana asked. Quick as a shot the answer cane back – “To get a job!”

And that is the middle class advantage, growing up with a possibility that develops into an expectation and becomes an aspiration.  I would be certain that Taylor doesn’t really understand at this point just what it means.  He will know about school because they walk past the local school often enough.  He will know about jobs because Mum and Dad both have them.  But already the connections between schooling, postsecondary education and training and jobs are starting to grow in his mind.

Middle class children get all this with their cornflakes. It’s part of the chatter that goes on in those homes and it becomes a powerful factor in sustaining young people such as Taylor through the 16 or so years that come between his simple plan and the future.

So starting the talk about jobs as an outcome of education is very important.  But it often is hidden behind a number of myths.

Myth 1.                                                                                                                                         

Most of the young people we are teaching will end up in jobs that have not yet been invented.

This is patently untrue.  Most young people in education now will go into jobs that exist now and many will work in jobs that have been around for a long time.  Those who do go into the cutting edge of employment, into the jobs that are really new are not these novice workers starting out but the experienced, highly skilled and workers.  The jobs the children in classrooms now will need to be skilled and prepared for are the jobs that are out there now.

Myth 2.

We have to prepare young people for a future in which they will have seven careers.

“Career” is a very funny word. Can you set out to have a “career” or does one simply emerge from the set of activities and experiences that are accumulated over time? Is a “career” something you look back on, a useful term that means all the bits and pieces I have done?  Is there a difference between changing your job quite a bit and a career that is usually applied to substantial experience in the same vocational area?  And that’s the point – we have changes in our jobs bit not necessarily a change of jobs.  I have had one job all my working life but I have had six positions.  I am an educator – I guess that is my career – but I have added skills as different positions have demanded them.

Preparing young people to get into the workforce – to make a start in a career by getting a job – is a key outcome for schooling and tertiary education and training.

Myth 3.

There aren’t any jobs out there.

Try telling that to employers desperate for skilled workers.  There are jobs for those adequately prepared.  The sad truth about youth unemployment is not that young people are unemployed, although that in itself is not to be desired, but that so many young people are unemployable.  You hear quite a lot of talk about university graduates who are clearly under-employed,  that is to say that they are working in jobs that require skills and knowledge at a much lower level than their qualification demands.  That is not a good thing at all.  But with young people who are perhaps early school leavers, the skills of employment are a balance of practical skills as well as what is called the “soft skills” demanded by employers.

These so-called soft skills are attributes such as a strong work ethic, a positive attitude good communication skills, time management abilities, problem-solving skills, acting as a team player, self-confidence, ability to accept and learn from criticism, flexibility/adaptability, and working well under pressure.  How would our students score if those were the heading on their report card?  And could we point with confidence to our programmes and show that each of these is explicit in them?

Add to this that employment also requires knowing other things as well – language, mathematics, science of one kind or another and so on.

Yes, Taylor has got quite a lot to do before he gets that job!

 

Announcing the Bridging the Divides Conference

For more information, please contact the Manukau Insitute of Technology Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways, Colleen Young:

E:  colleen.young@manukau.ac.nz  or P:  09 968 7631.