13 January 2011
One of the interesting items to come out of the recent PIS reports is the fact that over all of the OECD countries the gap between those who come from the advantaged end of your communities and those from the disadvantaged end is in the order of the equivalent of a year’s schooling. Remember, this is the average so the range means that there will be 15 year olds who have lost perhaps several years of schooling in terms of their achievement.
New Zealand’s gap between the two groups – the advantaged and the disadvantaged in over 30% greater than the OECD average. The combination of automatic progression through our education system (it used to be called social promotion but it has long been simply the modus operandi for our system, it’s how we do things) and the fact that at 15 years of age student face the NCEA regime of assessment.
We can predict with certainty that those who are lagging several years behind the average in terms of schooling will have a high probability of failing. Do we simply commit them to this or do we start to seriously ask if there is a better way?
The notion of multiple pathways is one which encourages us to think of different routes through the education system that lead to the same outcomes – qualifications, access to further education and training, employability, a family sustaining income and all the things that flow automatically from success at school and from being up with the mainstream rather than behind it.
It is ceratin that we cannot solve the myriad issues that produce socio-economic disadvantage quickly. It is certain that trying to do so is a thirty or forty year time-frame task even with the resources and the will.
But, as I keep saying, remember the Gulf of Mexico. Cleaning up the beaches would have been pointless if we were not at the same addressing the issue of the leaking pipeline. It is the same with education. Addressing the issues of the disadvantage that comes from educational failure and disengagement requires both new opportunities for re-engagement and an aggressive approach to stemming the leaking educational pipeline.
Multiple pathways is one way of addressing the issue of students who are coming through the education system but at a different pace and with perhaps different sets of skills and different aspirations that those headed for advantage and success. To think that they should continue in the same pipeline but end us somewhere different from where they current end up is very strange thinking indeed.
Offering new options, different directions and different ways of working to students who are coming through the pipeline but without success and headed towards an inevitable failure or disengagement is a crucial part of our response to the situation which is confirmed in report after report.
Yes, 60% of students are doing well, some of them as well as any others in the world. But 60% will simply not do. If they had been able to stop the flow of only 60% of the oil from that well in the Gulf, the beaches would have been still in pretty bad shape and try telling an oil-drenched Pelican that is was just bad luck that they got caught in the 40%!
We surely have to set goals for ourselves and our education systems that give meaning to the discourse of equity and access that is now de rigueur in western developed countries.
When the cut is along racial lines with groups that show markedly different patterns of population growth, the 60/40 split will not remain constant and without change can only head in one direction.
Let’s celebrate the extraordinary success of the 60% who do well in the education system and who take us so high up the learning power of PISA. Let us also use that to develop a confidence in trying different approaches for those who are not succeeding and seeing multiple approaches rather than the single strait gate.