ThinkEd: A pattern of simplicity thwarted

Stuart Middleton

EdTalkNZ

14 August 2010

 What’s wrong with simple?

When the Little-Ones start school the parents / caregivers know exactly why they are going. They are going to learn to read and write and to do maths. They hope they have some fun as well. They will get to know other children and perhaps make friends some of whom might well last for a long time. In order to achieve they will need to take their lunch each day, go to school except for days when they are sick and do their home work every night.

What’s wrong with simple?

When the government says that there are going to be national standards the parents / caregivers know exactly what they are and why they are being introduced. Well, actually the polls say that parents / caregivers don’t know exactly what they are but we are also assured that they don’t mind this too much. They like the idea. They are more confident in knowing why they are being introduced – they are some sort of guarantee that parents / caregivers will get information about the progress that their Little-Ones are making in reading, writing and maths and give them an idea of how they are going when compared to the Little-Ones of others.

What’s wrong with simple?

When the Now-Larger-Ones go on the secondary school the parents / caregivers know what to expect – that their Now-Larger-Ones will build on the basic skills of reading writing and maths and start to use them in traditional subjects (English, History, Physics and so on) in order to prepare themselves for further and higher education, training and employment. Graduation is nice too!

What’s wrong with simple?

When the Now-Quite-Big ones enter Year 11 the parents / caregivers know what the goal is – to get their NCEA. They might even hazard a description that it is a qualification in which credit is given for what the Now-quite-Big-Ones know and can do. It’s a sort of package that takes the place of School Certificate, Sixth Form Certificate, University Entrance and University Bursary.

What’s wrong with simple?

When the Now-As-Big-As-They’ll-Get-Ones go on to a postsecondary course the parents-caregivers who are still paying the bills know that they can expect that if their Now-As-Big-As-They’ll-Get-Ones work hard and do what is asked of them then they will be set up for life – a job, the skills to get other qualifications and they will soon leave home!

Oh yes, parents – caregivers know that education is a relatively simple matter.

So when teachers say that they will boycott National Standards training parents – caregivers wonder what on earth is going on. Wait a minute! Surely it is responsibility of an employer to give training to staff? Surely when something new is introduced, training is thought to be a prudent activity? Why would professionals turn down training? Especially when it is about this simple activity called education? And when it is about something being introduced to help parents?  And does this mean that we as parents will not be getting information about how our Little-Ones are doing?

The community, rather than being engaged by explanation they can understand is envoled in a fog of educational discourse that might or might not mean something.

And that is exactly the issue that we constantly face in education. We turn something that to others seems quite easy into a complex mystery slightly more complex than the physics required in putting a manned spaceship on Mars. The education profession must head towards simplicity not complexity in its communications with its communities. Researchers communicating to practitioners, principals communicating with teachers, schools communicating with communities, all of these interfaces are bedeviled by turgidity, unnecessary complexity and perhaps even obfuscation.

So, when the suggestion is made that it is time to have a really good look at the system we have to ask by whom? This suggestion has been made in response to the National Standards Stand-off. If it is the profession will it simply be more gobbledygook which sets out to socialize change into the system so that it ends up as the change you have when you want things to stay the same?

The only way in which a clear analysis can be made of the education system is through the establishment of a Royal Commission. Well led, such a device could make a clear statement that can be understood by the widest community and set out a direction for us to move forward. This going round in circles makes us dizzy!

In making the call to take a look at the system, we were reminded that it was twenty years since this was done. I presume they meant thirty years and it was the trio of reforms which was comprised of a) administrative reforms – Picot and all that, b) curriculum reforms – Merv and Lockwood and a cast of thousands and 3) the qualifications shake up. Well all that constitutes a sad collection of situations, dropped proposals, the pleasing of each and every pressure group and, most importantly, the socialization of the reforms into the education system so that change was minimal.

I support the call for a Royal Commission into Education in New Zealand. and the clear report that will probably follow.

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