7 June 2011
Folks, today we wrap up the continuing story of the three dots. Those critical markers in education. The milestones along the educational journey to a bright future in which there are jobs and income, and civic participation, and better health and housing and happiness. Not just for some, but for all.
Dot 3: Postsecondary Qualification
The first step achieved, two years of quality early childhood education, and then the second knocked off, NCEA Level 2 in the bag. There remains only one more step to ensure a life of relative success in education and all that flows from that – the gaining of a postsecondary qualification
Of course, in the long run, the level of qualification that is obtained will have a relative benefit in terms of money. Certificate, diploma, degree, postgraduate qualification and doctorate will all brings rewards but the highest has some relationship to the level of the qualification. But the biggest gap is between those who do not have a post secondary qualification and those who do.
And from the countries point of view, any postsecondary qualification will be of benefit to the country. Most importantly, getting one postsecondary qualification could lead to getting a higher qualification. A surprising fact is that if young school leavers have no gap between getting their school leaving qualification and success with a postsecondary qualification at any level they are very likely to go on to a high qualification.
Why is it beyond us to take note of these simple facts and make them our goals. This country has the best teachers in the world, something obscured a bit by the whingers and those frightened of change, but the fact remains – when New Zealand teachers get it right they get it better than anyone else.
So let’s go for it and make sure that each and every young person gets to the postsecondary qualification. Then it is over to the tertiary sector. But don’t underestimate the challenge that this would be. The most robust education statistic over the last sixty years is the fact that in English speaking countries a little under half of those who start a postsecondary qualification actually finish it. That is, remember, only half of those who start a qualification!
So we had better start acting in tertiary education thinking more about the student and more about how a co-ordinated network of provision could provide success for each and every student. This will require a step change in tertiary institutions – it is, folk, all about the students not about the institutions. We need concerted action to see that students are in the right course and flexibility to react professionally when they are not. Parity of esteem should be about not how we see each other but how we see each student.
Until New Zealand catches up, the greatest need will be for low level programmes and institutions that specialise at that level, being allowed to grow to cater for this. Over time – 15 to 20 years? – the growth should shift to those catering for higher levels as failure at school and at low levels of postsecondary programmes slowly disappear from our midst. Is this just a pipe dream?
The three dots connected would provide the basis for a targeted education system that sees a well-qualified community develop a skill-rich economy that puts New Zealand where it belongs. There is agreement that until the long tail of educational failure and disadvantage disappears, New Zealand will only fire on three cylinders. Wealth generated by the qualified and the skilled will, if there continues to be inaction on these matters, simply be soaked up in providing for those who take and do not generate that wealth.
This set of goals can do the job:
1. Each and every New Zealand pre-school child will have access to two years of quality early childhood education.
2. Each and every young person in New Zealand will graduate from secondary school with at least NCEA Level 2.
3. Each and every young adult in New Zealand will complete a postsecondary qualification
Why are these goals appropriate and important?
Evidence supports the view that when a young child has access to quality early childhood education (i.e. 15 hours per week for two years with qualified teachers), he or she will not only be equipped to start the journey through school but also be advantaged throughout their entire education.
Finishing and graduating from secondary school with the recognised school leaving qualification (and this is NCEA Level 2 in New Zealand) makes a school leaver highly likely to proceed to a postsecondary qualification.
Finally, completing a postsecondary qualification is the marker of a potential lifelong learner. When that postsecondary qualification is gained without a break after completing secondary school the student will in all likelihood go on to a qualification at a higher level.
Can we do it? Yes, we can. Must we do it? Yes, we must. Will we do it? Well …
Just close your eyes and imagine a world in which each young person is unleashed on the future. Dr Seuss in his wonderful book Oh, the Places you’ll Go!
You have brains in your head
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.