14 July 2011
Since the early 1980s New Zealand and Australia have had an agreement to work closely together in trade and financial matters. The “Closer Economic Relations” agreement, as it is commonly called, was thought to be a progressive recognition of the need for two countries with clear differences but many more similarities to work together to their mutual benefit.
The time has come for a Closer Education Relations Agreement between our two countries.
Why would you do this? Well perhaps the key reasons would be the advantages of a synchronised curriculum which would ease the flow of students between the two systems. Resourcing the development of curriculum, supporting its implementation and refreshing it through professional development and activity is expensive. The scale of economy in setting out to work co-operatively in this would be not only have potential fiscal advantages but also professional ones.
New Zealand teachers would benefit from having a larger canvas with which to work and Australian teachers from contact with those areas in which they could learn. These areas come and go a little but at different times New Zealand had an advantage in its approach to reading instruction, at another Australia was clearly ahead in the use of technology. As a generalization, New Zealand is string in the generation of ideas while Australia has strengths in implementation
At the tertiary / postsecondary level there would be gains in synchronising the approach to student loans and allowances and to an Australasian approach to collecting those loans from students after they graduate.
International Education might well have a much stronger brand were it to be an Australasian brand rather than two separate brands both of which had their own issues.
Initial reactions to this brief sketch will probably be driven by nationalism and a belief that our separate national identities were so different that the outcome would be an inevitable loss of something precious, something we had each “fought for” and which was inviolate. But that is from a former age and the modern world is now a global world, a world made flat (to use Thomas Friedman’s term), a world in which communication across oceans is as easy as those across the street, where collaborative work (especially in education) is simple, a world in which our graduates see job opportunities and careers wherever they occur and not necessarily in the old home town.
There are other areas where co-operation if not amalgamation could be considered.
Qualifications frameworks could be synchronised (now there’s an idea that has languished) with fewer qualifications taught across our two countries. School leaving qualifications could be the same (that would be a hard one) and reporting regimes brought together (in a saga perhaps called National Standards meets Naplan.
Both our education systems share indicators that are similar when it comes to disengagement, success rates in schooling systems, access to early childhood education, completion rates in postsecondary education. We also both share similar levels of skill shortages(but in different areas), struggle to find a modern expression of apprenticeships that works, are heading towards producing too many degree graduates and too few middle level technicians.
If we share the problems and issues might not there be sense in working together towards solutions? But it would require a different kind of thinking.
Solutions could only emerge if the thinking could get beyond such searching questions as “Who invented the pavlova?” and “Was Crowded House an Australian band?” It would have to move beyond referring to or perhaps even caring about the under-arm bowling fiasco of 1981. It would have to forget the us and them mentality that goes both ways.
In short we would have to rediscover the ANZAC spirit but this time in the battle against ignorance and educational failure. WE would have to take a lesson from those sporting codes (soccer, basketball, rugby league and netball) which have found few issues in operating across national borders.
Of course our history would continue to be taught but would not we each benefit from understanding the history of our neighbour? Of course our literature would still be read but how much richer the choice if there was a developed knowledge of each other’s literature? Mathematics, science, large amounts of the business subjects, international languages, engineering and many technical areas all operate with ease in an international environment and indeed rely on an international context to exist.
It is worth thinking about but later – I have to dash off to renew my passport so that I can get into Australia!