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Month: October 2010

ThinkEd: Funding Going Going Gone!

Stuart Middleton
22 October 2010

There is always a robust debate around the issue of whether numbers of students in the tertiary system should be capped or allowed to float to meet demand. Australia takes a more permissive approach from that of New Zealand where tertiary institutions work within allocations with a 3% plus or minus margin. Penalties apply to institutions that fall below or go above this margin. Australia tends to let the market run it’s course.

The issue in New Zealand seems largely to be driven by the subsequential impact of student loans and allowances on total expenditure. The loans are interest free and the rate at which students repay them is greatly slower than the rate at which they take them out. A previous government made the loans interest free, introduced a benign repayment regime and despite the calls for financial literacy education in the schools, students have demonstrated a capacity to smell a bargain when they see one. The level of outstanding student debt is approaching $NZ10 billion.

The New Zealand Minister of Tertiary Education this week announced that he was taking a little over $NZ50 million from the industry training sector and putting it into the university sector in order to increase the numbers of student places in that sector. There was the usual brouhaha with the industry training people pointing out the severe damage to the future of the country if this was done and the university sector, in welcoming the Minister’s insight, foresight and courage, pointed out that the future of the country was not assured.

The universities had been conducting a not so subtle campaign for a long time and the threat of having to “turn students away” while perhaps being in reality quite hollow, started to have quite a ring to it. Beating hollowing things tends to get quite noisy even if they are only threats. The untested assumption that increasing the numbers of students entering the university sector with no no guarantees that increased proportions of them will get their qualification is good the for country is blindly accepted it seems on both sides of the Tasman.

But perhaps the real issue was that the $NZ50 million taken out of the industry training sector was apparently sitting there unspent, money which was available to them but not used. That this was not the subject of inquiry beggars belief. Business, industry and commerce are continually vocal about the shortage of skilled people in their sector and yet it appears that a key brake on industry based training is the willingness of industry itself to offer places for that training to take place. There has to be a reason for this.

At the top of the list is probably the fact that industries and businesses simply see no incentive in being involved. The costs are perceived to greatly outweigh the advantages. This in the traditional technical areas that lead to apprenticeships is certainly a reflection of their perceptions of the quality of young people available for such positions. As the K-12 education system has increasingly turned its back on technical and applied education, young people present themselves at the apprenticeship starting gate without the basic skills that enable them to be of much use to the employer.

In light of this the model needs to be changed. An interesting programme at a polytechnic in New Zealand sees a group of young people come out of their school for a day a week. They simply miss whatever the programme in school has on their timetable for that day in favour of a one-day-each-week course in engineering. I recently attended the “graduation” of the group at the end of the two year programme. They had all through this programme completed Year 1 of an engineering apprenticeship and in 2011 will start on Year 2 and they will all be in full-time employment. Industry has no issue in being involved with industry training when there is a clear advantage rather than a clear cost to them. These young people will enter their employment able to contribute to the productivity of the enterprise. Mentoring throughout the programme is a key part of its success as has been the work experience component that in many cases has led to the offer of employment. The funding is a mix of industry training money, school funding, polytechnic funding and privately source funding for the mentoring and support. This will be the way of the future – trying to continue to spend education money in the silos of the past will simply produce the levels of success that we currently have.

That sectors within education think that competing for funding between them is smart is simply old-fashioned behaviour. Funding models should be based on what works for students not what seems best for the structures and institutions that serve us less well as time moves on.

The co-operative advantage will serve us so much better than the competitive one.

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Think-Ed: Youthful but perhaps feeling youth-less.

Stuart Middleton
11 October 2010

I turned 14 in 1960 and at that point still went everywhere on my bicycle, was still happy to go out with Mum and Dad, girls were an absolute and total mystery life was unrelieved happiness. We listened to the radio to the Everly Brothers, Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley and Connie Francis. Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini was about as daring as it got. We got some excitement out of films such as The Magnificent Seven and Spartacus. I do not remember suffering any angst nor do I remember any talk about the angst that I was going through – radio programmes such as Night Beat and Life with Dexter never got that serious.

But things have clearly changed and the community is now quite consumed by issues of youth.

Now the question definitions show perhaps the change. The United Nations takes as its working definitions as “children” and 15- 24 years being “youth”. This might well have been able to be sustained back in the sixties but these days this seems hopelessly out of kilter with reality.

The 14-year old of today is sophisticated and independent compared with the 14-year old that I was. The lives they lead is tinged with an ersatz independence that allows them to make decisions about their lives and what they do and when they do it. Inevitably these decisions are not always good ones.

The recent disturbing Auckland incidents of teenage drinking that have ended in death have brought home with grim severity the world of young people final act of the Coroner’s hearing was the evidence of the dead youth/child. “We had no idea,” was their distressed conclusion. No idea that their lad was developing binge drinking habits that eventually became the instrument of death. The fact that the boy was at a reputable boarding school seemed only to underline that fact that no-one is necessarily safe.

I have long been interested in the fact that 14-year old, fourth formers, Year 10’s, have long had a reputation in schools for being adrift and difficult. Now this has to be kept in perspective. Many fourth formers are simply getting on with what is expected of them – school work, sport, music or whatever. But many seeming are not.

The age of 14-years features significantly in studies of disengagement from education – it seems to be something of a defining point in many young people’s development. If they have their stuff together at that point they are likely to go on to enjoy conventional success then they are in some trouble.

And trouble it is. As recently as 2009, 8.5% of 14-year olds are stood down. This might seem to be exceptional but it is at the clear peak of the stand-down pattern (the fact that 1% of 10-year olds might be worthy of more attention!). What is it about our education system that produces this statistic?

It is likely that it is a cluster of issues around the purpose. If young people are seeking adventure and excitement at that point in their lives, then some of them need renewed purpose. Why are they going to school? Where is it all headed? They need direction and purpose suggestion that there is no purpose that they can see in what they are doing.

That purpose in education terms is certainly to do with future directions. What are they going to be doing with all this stuff that they are learning? What kind of job will they have? Will they have a job when so many do not? Will they make a positive contribution to their family, their community, the world?

If they are to have this in place at age 14 then whatever process is to see that it is there and solidly in place will have to start well before that time, perhaps as early as age 12. This then leads to a question about the processes through which a young person prepares for secondary school and the advice given to them.

It might also raise questions about the nature of secondary scholl courses and programmes – should they offer wider choice right from the start in addition to the general academic option that currently seems to so often be the only choice.

Perhaps the average fourteen year old today is well and truly ready to roll their sleeves up and enter the adult world of work instead of facing prolonged childhood. Could it be that the explanation of the behaviours of a fair group of that in that troubled and troubling year which irritate us as teachers have their origins in this?

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