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Pathways-ED: Nudge it, Budget, Fudge it!

Stuart Middleton
20 May 2011

We are a strange mob in education all right!

Yesterday we had a budget that was relatively sobering for most in the community, modest gains if any and cuts to our savings scheme. In amongst all that there was a glimmer of good news in the education area. But still the response was negative.

2.92% increase in operating grants. “Not enough. Won’t keep up with inflation.” No, but it gets closer to it that would a zero increase.

Money into the ECE area. “Not enough, centres will have to raise fees.”

And so it went on. Are the education organisations in New Zealand and the media that constantly seeks views from them incapable of noting the things which deserve praise from the levels of muted to wholesome?

The targeting on the increased spending is worthy of quite wholesome praise. Increased spending on the much vaunted Te Kotahitanga programme. It has been one of the success stories in Maori education with significant flow on to all students. It changes the way we behave and the way we think and the way we teach all of which can bring better results for students. Are we reluctant to praise this simply because an implication of it that we as teachers can do better? I hope not because we don’t know what we don’t know and programmes like this expand our knowledge and broaden our horizons and sometimes even turn us in the right direction.

The continuing support and increased funding for the Youth Guarantee is also worthy of wholesome praise. This government appears to understand something that continues to escape other governments in other countries and quite a number of researchers and educators: the issue with disengagement and educational failure can only be addressed by our working differently. Do the same and get the same. That is not only unpalatable from a social equity position but also a considerable risk from an economic point of view.

To support the new and growing focus on secondary / tertiary interface programmes such as trades academies and service academies and on pathways that have the potential to ease the passage of some students away from possible and perhaps probable failure to success seems to me to be a good investment which will avoid continued waste of resources (cash and human) and teacher effort not to mention the downstream costs of social dysfunction and dislocation.

The broadband investment – good.

The history of education demanding additional resources without a commitment to improve results started back in the 1960s when school were under pressures due to numbers. Once we were on top of the reasons changed but the cry remained the same – “Give us the resources and we will do the job!” Well, fifty years later is apparent across the English speaking world that the education system has done what it can do exceedingly well and, in fact, in New Zealand as good as any system in the world. But increasingly the areas in which performance has not been sound, and these are now explicit and widely understood, we have simply continued to do what we do with the same results.

The budget directs resources at key pressure points in the schooling sector – ECE and pathways through senior secondary schools. Similarly in tertiary education, the increased funding the funding addresses English language issues, the general increase (Ok it is only 2.0%) for degree and postgraduate courses, the strengthening of export education initiatives and the provision of more doctors each seem worthy and well-directed.

Our colleagues in Christchurch are recovering from disaster, it might have been a time when the rest of us understood the need for lean pickings in terms of additional funding and new money. So on the whole, a fair analysis of the budget from an education point of view might conclude that education did not do so badly.

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