Pathways-ED: Access isn't a doorway, it's a pathway

Stuart Middleton
EdTalkNZ
16 July 2011
 

I have just finished attending a conference in San Diego that looked at success and retention in higher education. It was a good collection of folk from a number of countries and the presentations were a mix of the earnest through to the thought provoking. I did a couple of things including taking part in a panel. I got called to account by a fellow by focussing on “access” in one of my comments.

“In our country we have excellent access to higher education. It is just that a number of young people are not sufficiently prepared academically to get into the institutions.” I just had to firmly but nicely point out that this hardly constituted good access. The old problem is still there – access is thought of in terms of getting in the door.

I much prefer, and I commented along the lines (and received support) that “access” is best thought of as an outcome of education. What does your education give you access to? That is the key question and the only measure of access.

To pick up again that little three dot theme from the last couple of weeks – I promise to give it a rest after this – it is worth  thinking of access and early childhood education as a starting point and therefore appropriately useful to retain an “access into” concept. That is why it is so crucial that this access is not allowed to become simply an accident of birth or where your Mum happens to live. That would be a cruel punishment to visit on a child.

But schooling is another matter. Primary and secondary schooling is surely based on an assumption that both will give to a young person access into something else. If a young person cannot progress through the system because they have not been taught in primary school to read or to do sums then their access to secondary education will have been severely curtailed by their primary school experience.

The point to which a young person is taken by their secondary schooling will in fact be their access to whatever is to follow. Access to postsecondary education, a career, a family sustaining income, to the skills of being able to contribute as a positive and productive citizen will in large measure be a direct reflection of access accruing from secondary schooling.

Then success at a postsecondary level and all that follows will again be a matter of access, to a profession, to a career, to being able to earn money and much more money and so on.

Placing “access” into the position of being a measure of education success rather than simply saying that they have had good access if they can walk through the school gates and later into the hallowed halls regardless of the success at each stage is a much more productive way if thinking about it.

Less controversial is thinking of “equity” in much that same way. Equity is an outcome and a measure of how fair and effective has each person’s education been. It is not equity if having given a diverse range of people the same opportunity but with uneven levels of successful outcomes. Equity is when all members of our community, whether they be rich or poor, of whatever ethnicity….Wait a minute, someone else said all this in New Zealand.

They were right.

“Access” and “equity”, still the biggest challenges we face.

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