27 August 2010
Knowing what is happening in education requires us to “tell the story” with some accuracy. But that is not easy. We end up having to apply statistics and measures and known performance measures at different point. This shows us the trend and the pattern but it is also something of a fiction because of our inability to actually talk about what happens to real people as they progress through.
The development of the unique student identifier, a number given to a student on entry into ther education system that they carry with them right through their schooling and even into the post-school education and training will be an enormous help. For it will enable cohort stories to develop. What happens to 100 real children who enter the education system?
Many of the current measures probably overstate success. It happens like this. One hundred students start school. Let’s say that 70% get NCEA Level 2 – this is probably too high but will serve this example. We then go on to talk about completion rates in tertiary and perhaps they are reported as 75%. This is probably too high and it is important to know what completion means – course completion or qualification completion.
The 75% tertiary figure is actually 75% of the 70% who succeeded at school and went on to study further. Of the young people who started school this means that 53% were successful. True reporting od educational success should be on a system basis not on parts of it. It gets back to the dis-integration of the education system into sectors. The true story would be the whole story.
The issue of course completion against qualification completion is also an interesting issue. New Zealand has a large number of people who at tertiary are successful in passing courses but who never complete qualifications. We seek comfort by claiming that “they” don’t want the qualification or that “they” only come for specific purposes. These are simply untested assumptions. I cannot for the life of me see why someone would set out to get an incomplete qualification.
There could be other explanations of the incomplete qualification phenomenon. Perhaps the length of programmes is simply too long and students, particularly part-time students, have to get on with other things in their lives. Perhaps it is students in employment who are disproportionately represented in this group. What is the gender split of this group? The ethnic split? We simply don’t know. The untested assumptions that we use tend to be ones which seek explanations not on what we do but what “they” do.
For my money, qualification completion trumps everything else.
It also seems to me that our method of collecting information about the life-long impact of education is also self-serving. For instance, take the Bachelor of Business as a qualification. Again using fictitious numbers – 100 students enrol in the Bachelor of Business degree programme and about 60 complete it. Do we know the proportion of successful graduates who are able to make appropriate use of this qualification by entering qualification related employment? No. Do we measure the worth of a B.Bus. across the entire graduating class of 60? No. We look at the returns to people working in the sorts of jobs that some of the 60 will do.
This is because we have no mechanism for matching the graduating student to the earnings performance of workers in employment. We could do this if we would need to have a unique student identifier that also became a unique worker identifier. Well, we already have such a number, the IRD Number. Think of what we would actually know about education and its value of students were given their IRD number at birth and this was used to track performance both of the individual and the education system.
We would know a lot more about access and equity for a start. We would know about performance of cohorts of various kinds. We would know about the return on investment of different qualifications much more precisely. We would know more about the career and education trajectory of different qualifications. In other words we wouldn’t have to rely on untested assumptions and guesses.
Already I hear the sounds of protests developing – human rights, the invasive state, the “they already know too much” brigade gathers. I have never quite understood such protests. Knowledge of these things would be able to encourage performance of systems that are resource hungry and which seem to never quite satisfy. There is simply too much nystery about what is happening.
Years ago I knew a fellow who had an intriguing approach to identity. If I phoned him at home I used what I believed to be his real name – “Is Tom there please?” – a name that also reached him at one of his jobs. But he had two jobs and at the other one I had to say – “Is Harry there please?” To this day I am not sure whether either of the names was his birth name.
Tom / Harry would not have wanted a robust unique student or worker indentifier.