Education, Planting Seeds and Facing the Forces

It was a stormy kind of day as I drove to a colleague’s funeral out South. My habitual rat run to the Manukau cemetery took me through Papatoetoe and especially along a typical and modest suburban street called Birdswood Ave.

I got into this habit because in 1970 a class of girls and boys, my form class at papatoetoe high School, had been invited by the Mayor of Papatoetoe to plant kowhai trees along both sides of the street as a public service marking another Arbour Day. They were excited to about the same extent as I was apprehensive – this class was a group of students who had sets of experiences in school that were less than encouraging. As happens in schools this class had collected around them all of the descriptions of students with issues – some accurate , some pretty offensive, some downright ignorant and all mostly derogatory and negative.

But scratch the surface and they were suburban kids growing up with uncertainties, with suspicions and still to settle into school – they were in the Fourth Form after all!

Arbour Day went well, surprising some of the staff, pleasing both the the Mayor and me the students left the scene of their civic contribution as a street that would be enhanced by two rows of Kowhai Trees.

Each time I drove along that street those trees which over fifty years had generally grown to significant size with the best of them reaching the powerlines and of substantial girth, gave me great pleasure. They reminded me of the different students and the differences they each brought to school even though they were, like those trees, sharing a genus. Just as the trees had grown into different shapes in their idiosyncratic way, so too would those students have turned out differently and, like the trees, mostly well-formed and successful in ways that brought pleasure to people.

But entering the street last Saturday I saw ahead of me signs of disturbance – fire engines, some police cars and people milling around. A small tornado had ripped of the roofs of about ten houses and damaged quite a number of the largest Kowhai trees in the street. The worst were snapped at the base as if made of balsa and many others stripped of branches and foliage. Quite a scene of some angry forces in the face of which they had no defence. This event went unnoticed by the media who could find better tornadoes in better streets that weekend.

Was this a playing out of the pathetic fallacy? It seemed appropriate that human emotion should be attributed to what had happened as selected trees, each planted by a young person, was damaged to varying extents which ranged from those left mostly unscathed through to complete destruction, snapped in two, ripped out of the ground.

So too would this class, now in their sixties, have grown in different ways, met certain forces and fates. Education is about planting seeds and saplings but some times the results are at the mercy of forces that are beyond the reach of our endeavours.

I shall continue to drive down to the airport and the cemetery along that street. I shall continue to think of that class in 1970, and I shall keep an eye on the next generation of trees as they grow in Birdswood Ave.

What would Peter, Paul and Mary say…?

There is quite properly a strong focus being directed on to the challenges that New Zealand will face as it copes with the growing numbers of new unemployed who have lost their jobs as business shrinks in face of the pandemic. It has happened suddenly and rightly has produced a response from the government through support for businesses. As time goes on the impact of this support in stemming the flow of unemployment will become more explicit.

But we need to recognise that this group, newly unemployed, could mask the continuing issue of those who live in a state of enduring inactivity and unemployment – the NEETs. These citizens of New Zealand are typically a group of 15 to 24-year old students at some point, often around Year 10 at 14 – 15 years old, who disengage from school – the US simply says “drop-out” of school. This group includes a wide cross-section of all ethnicities, from a wide range of backgrounds, who all end up sharing a lifestyle of inactivity. The couch is more attractive than most initiatives that set out to address the issues.

But all is not lost, there is clear evidence that the development of secondary-tertiary programmes is able to create pathways that lead through skill development to a wide range of employment opportunities. These disengaging students respond positive to such programmes

And such programmes are becoming more favoured. They take the form of programmes located outside the conventional secondary school structures and offerings to varying extents. Some totally engage the student in a mix of learning opportunities heavily focussed around vocational and technical activity (such as the MIT Tertiary High School and the Unitec Pathways College) while the growth of trades academies provides for students to learn in a tertiary polytechnic setting for one or two or three days a week with students moving along a seamless pathway with a line of sight to employment.

The differences between school and the secondary-tertiary options are clear. The programmes focus on the things that matter: strong personal skills, a curriculum that is based on real world outcomes such as employment and activities that require students to demonstrate skills.

There are also pedagogical differences:

  • mandated engagement – doing the work is not optional but a clear requirement;
  • attendance is critical;
  • basic skills are taught in an applied manner and setting;
  • students with gaps in their learning have remediation that accelerates their progress rather than putting them into a holding pattern;
  • students work at multiple levels of qualifications and move at a speed through the levels rather than being in a lock-step group doing one level each year – time served is dead in these programmes!

Turning groups of students around through these programmes is the cheap option. Doing nothing is to take the easy and expensive route. Who knows what the real underlying costs of school failure and unemployment are. We do know that issues such as the 6,000+ young benefit-dependent people in South Auckland incur a lifetime cost of $239K per person, the cumulative costs of unemployment in South Auckland ($1.4 billion) and the 50% school leavers who choose not to pursue a formal tertiary qualification constitute a picture of that is simply undesirable and unacceptable. What about the many “South Aucklands” located through New Zealand? And what about school disengagement in the resrt of the community?

Currently there are levels of concern developing over an increase of students not returning to school after lock-downs. This will exacerbate the NEETs issue. Add the Covid-19 impact on employment and the situation looks grim.

It won’t just be the flowers that are gone!

Did the gain come with the pain?

The extent to which the education system responded to the Covid-19 crisis has been remarkable. The response to coming out of the lockdowns has perhaps been a little less praiseworthy in terms of the general community. And its probably too early to gauge the real impact on education going forward

Central to judging that impact on the education system will be the extent to which changes have been made. Or will the footprints of the pandemic have been quietly been wiped out of the system as it returns to the tried and tested “normal” Will what might have been seen as interruptions been sanitised out in returning to “normal”.

It would be a pity if the gains made in online learning, provision of devices (more on this in a minute!), home-based learning  and parental involvement and were to be lost.

Utilising online learning has the potential to alter the nature of the school day, to release teachers and students from the tyranny of the timetable through allowing students to plan and execute their work programme. The much-vaunted model of the teacher as a learning support might then actually increase both the development of students’ responsibility for learning while allowing teachers themselves to introduce variety into the ways they cut and dice the day. The boast of some schools that they are a “Bring your own device school” does not automatically mean that the capability of the device is being maximised to quality learning. Most schools are also “bring your own lunch” but this is no guarantee that the diet is wholesome and balanced.

The targets for the provision of devices and of the essential access to the internet was really a brave and daring gaol that had the power to change the way schools worked and probably put some better levels of equity into the advantages that are denied to many simply through a lack of access. I can’t help but think that the level of logistical sophistication required was simply not there. That was a great pity. It is hoped that the goals set out for the lockdowns are continued and eventually met.

There was a clear spirit among many families that took pleasure in being engaged parents and children doing things together in the process of learning. But not everywhere – the statement that “I worry about my children missing so much learning” was a somewhat sad reflection of a misunderstanding about what learning is and about the complementary roles of the home and the school in the educational process. Learning is not the sole property of schools, nor is the home the single fount of pleasure and freedom of spirit. Loosening the boundaries between formal learning and informal activity in daylight had a lot going for it. And institutionalising “after-school-care” and “holiday programmes” meet the needs of many grown-ups but might miss the mark for students.

We have just lived through a remarkable period, of that there is no doubt. It might not yet be finished. Lessons learnt might come in handy – they often do.

There is a Disease that Lingers

Attention has lately been focussed on the rates of return to school with something of a focus on primary education. But the real issue is still in the secondary and post-secondary levels.

It was reported about a year ago the number of those Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs) aged between 15 and 24 had gone past 100,000 in New Zealand. The US continues to break through 15 million in its numbers, Japan is at half a million while the UK approaches a million. It continues to grow.

It is hard to not expect that the events of the pandemic will have driven this statistic to even greater levels. The actual figures are very elusive. A number of NEETs are invisible in the statistics. The manipulation around “seeking employment” rather arbitrarily shifts the border between NEETs and Jobseekers and a lack of definition about disengagement leads to an opaque boundary between being at school and not being there.

Several posts ago I pointed to the long gaps of lockdown in the momentum of learning from a combination of the necessarily quick application of the Level 4 lockdown and the quite reasonable time that it took to get schooling up and going again. These gaps will have persuaded a number of learners at secondary (and possibly also in tertiary) to simply give up, or to feel that they are better to try for a job, or feel that returning is just too hard. This starts the retreat to join the NEETs.

Both disengagement and the process of becoming a NEET are deceptively pernicious and not well understood. There are some simple reasons for persistence of people who are in the NEETs category that disables them from making that progress to a better place.

The first of these, and the most misunderstood, is that the remedy that will enable them to progress to a solution is never located in the very same setting that drove them to being a NEET. It is pointless to try to return them to a school with all the pressures and stresses that have had such an unfortunate result both for them and the school. It is pointless to place them back in a programme that they have abandoned.

NEETs need the energy of a new direction along a new pathway that is directly aimed at a visible target – employment. Career and life readiness are needed – the basic knowledge and skills required for learning both on instructional programmes and employment skills. Career development is also a key element – using that knowledge and skills to make informed choices.

At the heart of the drive to bring purpose to their lives must be a commitment to Pathways that builds purpose and maintains a line-of-site to employment and its demands. This pathway must be seamless, focus on the goal, and teach the relevant skills and knowledge for that goal. Rather than surround NEETs with a well-meaning focus on well-intended educational programmes, it is much better to surround them with people from the world of work who bring an authenticity to purposeful learning.

All this implies a pedagogy that breaks the mould. Early exposure to hands-on applied learning will trigger those parts of the brain that may have been untested and little used. Speed in approaching skills work will bring better results that trying to wrap the learner in a variety of preparatory and remediation strategies – problems for no obvious person – teach the real skills and let them apply them. Well, we all know about the claims for the ability of dysfunctional events to bring about change – let’s hope it works this time.

Hat’s Off to the Minister

Well done, Minister! The simplicity of your concession to NCEA students consisting of a distribution of credits made to compensate them for the difficulties of continuing their studies through the lockdowns, is appropriate and measured.

In this the other hero is NCEA itself. The actions taken make the most of the flexibility of this successful system of assessment and reward; students will still receive a balanced programme and exhibit skill and knowledge at appropriate levels. This is what standards-based assessment is designed to do.

Back in the 1990s I was involved in the development of NCEA and a constant and tense discussion focussed on how the students would receive credit. The Unit Standards were planned to operate simply on an Achieved / Not Achieved basis – if you demonstrate the knowledge and skills required by the standard, the student receives the award of the credits.

But this did not satisfy those (a relatively small group) who believed that there are many kinds of demonstrations and many levels and, this was important, some students would not get credit for being better than others.

NZQA sought to appease that group and thought it had by inventing a system of grades to differentiate performance among the group that had demonstrated the requisite knowledge and skill – it required, the conservative group of schools argued, differentiation of success. So NZQA developed the system assigning Achieved / Merit / Excellence with credit differentials. I was there, in the room, when the official revealed his plan to smiles from one side of the argument and puzzled frowns from the other. The smiling group had got what they wanted, a system of assigning results in a way that seemed to replicate the norm-referenced outcomes of the examination system that the frowning group had sought to replace.

Standards-based assessment does not require differentiation beyond that of Achieved /Not Achieved. Minister Hipkins realised this in his plan to adjust credits and to use them to recognise those who had completed the work and to distribute some in a way that seemed fair.

I have been a Chief Examiner of a few old-style national examinations way back, usually national senior school examinations. Issues sometimes cropped up and situations developed that seemed to be a set-back not of the students’ making such as the teacher who taught the wrong Shakespeare play in an English exam then went to the evening Post to complain, the marker who lost ten scripts (found a year later down behind the backseat of the family car), and the examiner who forgot to insert an instruction  to Write on ONE of the following topics, none of the moderators picked up on this,and well-intentioned students wrote four essays when only one was required. That kind of thing. The emphasis was on what to do then that is fair to the students. Old fashioned common sense prevailed just as it has with the actions of Minister Hipkins. It might not seem to be the solution that wins over those who think they know better, but it is the right decision to those who do.

Looking over the Shoulder for Those Being Left Behind

It isn’t perhaps generally understood that the development in the late-2000s of Secondary Tertiary programmes – the Tertiary High School Model, Trades Academies, Youth Guarantee places and so on – were essentially developed in response to the growth of disengagement in the secondary schools. On the one hand the fall-out / rate was running collectively at about 15% – 20% for a students under the school leaving age of 16-years. The growth of NEETs numbers seemed to be resistant to any intervention and continued to grow inexorably.

I wonder if it is known that there are about 6,000 young benefit-dependent people in South Auckland at a lifetime costs of $239K per person and the cumulative cost of unemployment is $1.4 billion. 50% of Māori and Pasifika school leavers choose not to pursue a formal tertiary qualification.

I spent a lot of time in the USA on a Fulbright award working with a team of scholars on the issue of equity, access and success in further and higher education. I concluded that the issue was shared both between further and higher education (in terms of completion rates) and the secondary schools.

Along the way I started to understand the process of “disengagement”, a more accurate description of a process than the Americans’ use of the inaccurate term “drop-out”. Disengagement was a process over time and not an event in time. In short, it ought to be possible to construct an intervention that provided for those in danger of being left behind to have a pathway to success.

The proposal I placed before the Ministry of Education was for a secondary tertiary high school. It would specially target Year 10 students who were either on the point of or even through the process of disengagement. The principles were clear: students would be not taken out school they would be in school but not at school; the transitions into tertiary, NCEA, and higher TVET qualifications were to be seamless, there would be early exposure to TVET post-secondary qualifications; and a clear focus on employment as an outcome.

The NZ Education Act made significant changes to the law which enabled this to be developed and started in 2010.

Currently there is a timeliness of reminding ourselves and others of the role for secondary programmes in supporting students in danger in disengagement and who find a prolonged absence from school almost impossible to overcome. If the seeds of disengagement were sprouting or even about to prior to Covit, the Covit-19 Lockdowns will in many cases have an unintended consequence of directing onto a pathway that does not include a return to school – disengaging students seldom recover an appetite for conventional secondary schooling – this is in part an explanation of the failure of well-intentioned attempts to re-direct students ssuch as truants, back into the very same education structures and approaches that they have rejected. Pathway that are a U-turn back into school is for a disengaging students no pathway at all.

The secondary-tertiary approaches – tertiary high school, trades academies, Youth Guarantee – are proven successes and offer hope to those being left behind.

These opportunities must be offered to what is a significant group of students to see them safely through this trying time and facing a solid future.

The Perverse Divide

I don’t think I hold a grudge, it happened a long time ago. It was 1958 and my brother and I were due to go to high school from intermediate school and had been enrolled at Hamilton Technical College – the sort of high school that ITPs replaced. My mother had been there in 1928, our brothers had been students in the 1950s. There was no reason why our going to “Tech” was not the obvious pathway.

That was until the Intermediate School Principal intervened and asked to meet with our mother. We were perplexed. But the meeting took place and she was told that “the boys shouldn’t be going to Tech.” When asked why he replied “Because they are academic.?”

We had no idea what that meant and the Principal was asked “Well what school should they be going to?” He answered “Hamilton Boys High School.” “They are not going there, they are too little!” was the reply.

So we went to a new secondary school which had all the courses and discovered that being academic meant that you got to do feast of French and Latin. Our results were poor largely because we were out of our depth, had few academic skills and were quite new to the idea that one “studied”. But we survived by the skin of our teeth.

The classic mistake had been made. The teacher knew best. Trade courses were not for us  for we were “better” than that.

The perverse divide still continues. Academics being directed one way and the rest take the other way remains an almost automatic response. I am thinking about these things largely because we have been having a new kitchen installed leading to a stream of qualified trades people through the place. They each have exhibited high level skills, followed complex plans and navigated current routes for water pipes and electrical cords. These Hi-Vis-clad experts each had wonderful person skills, a sense of humour and a capability that was obvious  and, of course, rewarded well.

Charge out rates for these experts were very high indeed. No wonder that a New Zealand survey a little while ago showed that five years after graduation the top earners were graduates of MIT above all other tertiary institutions including universities. I did not begrudge the tradies one little bit when I considered the assets that they dealt with. All of this added up to my seeing them as applied activity academics. That survey result  would have been comprised of qualified academic trade graduates along with other academics who brought skills in business, digital technology, nursing, and probably with a smattering of chefs, professional engineers and others.

It is a good thing that so many will benefit from the Government’s policy of fees free to learn a trade. The timing is right, the targeted nature of the policy is right and many people will go on to work well and to earn well.

All of this no surprise. When it comes to learning, if the hands are involved the head really gets going. And it works not only for the younger ones in the trades academies but also for the graduate level student. It is sad that too many learners fail for no reason other than that half the skills they have are unable to be utilised as they are march across what is for them a barren academic landscape. The track that we took through school did us no harm thankfully. And I confess that the study of Latin was not wasted : In rivo imperfectum manet dum confectum erit as I often say.

Did you hear the one about…

Did you hear the one about the lighthouse keeper, the NZ Diplomat abroad, and the remote sheep station owner?

No, this is not the opening to a music hall joke some time in the last century or indeed any time right through to today. This unlikely trio would have been seeing their children receive a sound education for one of New Zealand’s education’s educational jewels – the New Zealand Correspondence School still working 90 years later to provide educational services for learners without a school nearby.

Of course, for much of its history the children were characterised by living in a remote setting – at a distance that defeated any easy reach of a school and a teacher. But over the decades the Correspondence School was required to fill gaps developed by changes in the widening of gaps and the  bnreadth of the student cohort  which was required to go to school or, and this was a major area of growth, those who in this atmosphere of universal education were not able to go the school.

The tyranny of physical distance was over time supplemented by the various “distances” between young people and the schooling system that left behind increasing numbers of young people. Those groups included for example those who were excluded / stood down from school, those with conditions which made conventional school settings difficult in a number of ways, those who had talents that placed them at elite levels where flexibility in use of time was critical (typically these are young people with extraordinary skills in music, theatre, sport etc). In addition to these groups the school was required to fill in the gaps caused by shortages of teachers both generally and in specialist subjects.

Physical distance is still a category of enrolment of students but it now lines up with over 20 further categories that entitle students to enrol in Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu (the name of The NZ Correspondence School these days). And delivery, once centralised in Wellington is now delivered from all parts of the country by a regional system of teacher groups and an innovative mix of face-to-face and on-line delivery. It still has a paper-based capability but this is minor compared to its on-line activity and the nation-wide system of “advisories” which gives students access to teachers who are based through out the regions. Te Kura is inarguably New Zealand largest school in outreach and numbers of students. Another key element marks it as a (the?) leading school in its innovative online presence.

This school would be the only place in New Zealand that can deliver the total school curriculum – early childhood education, primary schooling and secondary education – online covering Years 1 -13 curricula with stunning resources and with full assessment capability and proctoring.

Just as well this is so for when Covid-19 arrived the Ministry of Education was able to take the entire output of the Te Kura on-line developments and put them to use in generating an on-line capability for schools.

Nearly 100 years of working in an innovative way saw Te Kura emerge not only to support those left behind but to also take a part in helping New Zealand’s schools move ahead.

Stuart Middleton declares his interest in Te Kura as a member of the board for 7 years which has enabled him to develop an understanding of and delight in the progressive work the school undertakes especially as a provider of supported online programmes for all New Zealand students. It has been a grandstand seat for witnessing wonderful transformational developments.

Swapping Bad Habits for Good

There is little doubt that much of what we do is habitual – a string of habits whose origins have been lost in a murky and distant past and for which justifications have a hollow ring to them. If there is good to be had in the current Covid-19 crisis it might be in the consideration of  some of those habitual elements in our lives.

Winston Churchill is credited with saying “You never let a serious crisis go to waste!”  And Charles Duhigg in a most engaging book entitled The Power of Habit (1) has this to say:

During turmoil, organisational habits become malleable enough to both assign responsibility and create a more equitable balance of power. Crises are so valuable, in fact, it’s worth stirring up a sense of looming catastrophe rather than letting it die down sometimes.”

I hasten to add that he makes this comment largely in relation to a serious medical crisis. But our habits generally are ones confined to a much more constrained physical setting and with outcomes that can be serious enough but usually not on the scale of a pandemic. Nevertheless, there are learnings (as we say these days rather than lessons) to be had from Convid-19. Charles Duhigg states in referring to a comparable medical crisis in Rhode Island that once the crisis gripped, everyone became more open to change. Such could be the case with NZ Education at this time.

Working from home. Now here is something that has struggled in time of normality to develop a wholly positive reputation. There was an element of nudge, nudge, wink, wink about it. But now, by fiat, everyone is potentially able to “work from home” largely because the argument on who shall have the ability, the right, and the levels of ethical and responsible behaviour have been side-lined to be replaced by a discussion  on questions such as how it is best achieved and a consideration of which activities can be delivered with quality in this way.

Technology has stepped up in a big way and TEAMs and ZOOMs and Skype for Business whichare all delivering invitations for getting together to meet on a whole variety of purposes. Institutions at all levels have replaced lip-service with action and found ways to wrap students of all ages into the Education bubble.  On-line learning is another example. Yes, there are issues. The provision of equitable access to the online materials through appropriate devices is challenging.  The pattern of pairs of parents committed to be out at work rather than at home, some out of necessity, some out of choice, creates a set of issues that caregivers need to solve. The skills learners need to “work at home” is not necessarily embedded in learners used to having their time managed by others and their work in large measure orchestrated by the mysteries of the curriculum and the experience of the teacher.

Attendance is another. Does authentic learning require attendance in a place called a school? Does ever learner from 2-years-old to 18-years need to be at school all day every day. The levels of observing the requirements of attendance that is ostensibly compulsory suggests that the habit for many is anything but!(roughly 20% of 16-year-old students are no longer at school, about 76,000 students are absent each day, and around 50% of school leavers in some areas do not have a pathway to further education). So what’s the lesson in this? It is that attendance is not a measure of the value to each student of an education, the critical measure is what students actually learn and can do. Perhaps students are learning more by being engaged in learning at home rather than being at school? Or benefit from a blend of the two?

Being at school to learn, being in a room for a meeting, being there every day might simply be habits based on assumptions. If they are habits, then habits can be changed. But we do have another habit in education – knowing what needs to be done but failing to act on it. Talking about the need for change but not changing. As Charles Payne says: “So much reform, so little change.”

For that would show only that we have learned little from the experience and that would be a very high price to pay. School students have tasted on-line learning, working with parents, flexibility in where and when learning tasks are engaged and having varying degrees of shared responsibility for their learning. Adults in education have learnt to engage with each other in a different way that is more economical in terms of meetings and especially time spent travelling. And have learnt perhaps to trust others, parents for example as authentic partners in their children’s learning and when their gaze cannot reach the student!

The challenge of coming out of lockdowns must not be to make up for lost time. Rather it should be to ensure that the return to a normal is not a return to the same practices that prevailed pre-Covid-19.


[1] Random House (2012), New York

Not OUT of school, AT School, but not IN School

EdTalkNZ is back! After a gap in postings EdTalkNZ has returned to start all those conversations that arise from matters educational. Engage, support, challenge are the hallmarks of a strong education environment.

Not OUT of school, AT School, but not IN School

Has there ever been a time in New Zealand’s recent history that the whole nation acts in unison for a single purpose? Well perhaps not within our memories but reacting to an event as tragic as an epidemic or a pandemic it is not new to New Zealand nor is it new to our schools.

Endemics and pandemics have floated across our horisons with some regularity inflicting varying degrees of damage to people of all ages and to some more than to others.

I looked up the dates and they spread across a range – 1890 -94, 1872, 1899, 1915, 1916, 1918, 1948, 1952, 1955, 1956, 1957, 2009, 1912, and, of course, 2020. The nature of these periods of epidemic varied also: Influenza, Smallpox, Incephalitis, Polio, Asian ‘flu, SARs, and Covit-19. The number of deaths varied from the largest tragedy (9,000 in 1918) across numbers in the 800 – 1,000 range in the fifties, down to the extraordinarily low number of NZ deaths in 2020 (as of yesterday). Kia maia, kia manawanui, kia kaha!

They haven’t all resulted in school closures. The whole system was shut down in 1918,  primary schools were closed in the 1950 for a period and in 2020 schools were shut and are now being re-opened in a measured and staggered fashion. At other times groups of schools have been shut down.

The big difference between 2020 and the rest is the extent to which technology plays a critical part – enabling scientists and those responsible for assisting  public health to access data quickly and in a form that has been massaged to a sophisticated level. And who would have thought that schools could tool themselves to respond to the challenge of teaching students in large numbers and at a distance and in a hurry? Of course paper still has a role and always did – documents tell the tales of piles of paper being circulated to schools in pretty well all the closures over the years.

To what extent will the wider use of on-line teaching currently influence the direction curriculum delivery takes in the near future or will the structures and the artefacts that fuel such strategies meet resistance as schools and institutions return to their “tried and true”? Could this be a reform without a change? And the question of who the teachers are and where learning takes place might arise and challenge a century or more of practice.

There are reports of children and their caregivers enjoying the home delivery of lessons. But there is also a group of parents that express their feelings in statements such as “I really worry about my children missing their learning” and “I would like my children to get back to learning”. Such views might expose a section of the community that has less confidence and perhaps a degree of ignorance as to what to do when it comes to learning. For an equitable use of parents and technology there needs to empowerment not disenfranchisement. There is a truckload of evidence that parents with help can be effective first teachers. The home-schooling movement has generally shown that parents with help are excellent teachers. Parents as first teachers has proven itself for those up to 3 years but the community has not had the opportunities opened up to them to have real responsibility across the system.

Both the schooling system and the tertiary education sector will discover that when we “return to normal” we will find that “normal” is not what it used to be. Education has received clear messages – learners can learn without teachers, the home environment is a good learning environment for some but it is also an uneven place for others, teachers are required to guide learners through the complex pathways of education and so on.

Can we move on from the lessons of Covid-19 to a place where we make effective and equitable use of technology as powerful instruments of teaching and learning? Can we bring all parents into the mystical circle that education has become? Perhaps the question is: Do we want education to be different?