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Month: September 2011

Pathway-ED: Now would you like to see my pictures?

Stuart Middleton
29  September 2011

At last I have returned from, Europe where I have been taking in the sights, warming in the sun and ogling at the marvels of old and gracious civilisation.

Northern Italy to be precise and it was a grand holiday.

Thanks to John Langley, Dave Guerin, Karl Mutch and Colleen Young, for their great contributions to EDTalkNZ while I was away. I am encouraged to take another holiday!

Some little reflections rather than the photographs.

  • So much of the education I received all that time ago prepared me to live in Europe far more adequately than it did prepare me for living in my home country. So it was a daily joy to make connection with something that had previously been brought to life by a teacher or a book in a different and more authentic setting. Of course learning in classrooms is authentic but in a different way. Marco Polo, Garibaldi,  Verdi, and a whole lot more famous figures were recollected in context
  • I thought I would be able to keep up with the RWC but I must report coverage is virtually non-existent. Even the Italian team seemed to receive scant attention. The English-speaking press focussed on reports about the European teams and the four Home Counties. The English-language International Herald Tribune (the international version of the New York Times gave it all one paragraph when the “government of New Zealand stepped in over elected Mayor Brown when etc etc…”
  • Travelling with only an iPad as the device of choice was a dream. Wi-Fi is easily and effectively available and the range of iApps for travellers is so excellent that finding information or places or times was a breeze. This is the first time I have been out of New Zealand with only an iPad.
  • Talking about the internet, one wonders if the travel industry isn’t pulling the wool over someone’s eyes when they talk-up the dangers of making bookings over the internet. Well, we did everything over the internet – travel bookings, hotel bookings, restaurant reviews and a whole plethora of information about places. Most useful were the interactive maps that identified where you were, where you wanted to go to and so on. Anyone with moderate internet skills would be most capable of doing the same and that includes I would guess most of the people we teach.
  • Using the internet would allow people to be free of those groups – the brolly followers – that disgorge from cruise ships and gather seemingly always in the baking sun to listen to all the information about what they are standing in front of and wish they could jolly well get inside and out of the sun.

Was there much talk of education on the trip? Well not by us. The newspapers occasionally covered items and again, being unable to read Italian with any accuracy, these were most easily found in English-language international news. It is interesting what gets covered in this way.

  • A full report was given of the marked increase in China of induced births as parents worked hard to deliver the infant into the world in such a timely manner before 1 August so that they were able to be delivered into school on 1 August so many appropriate years later at the earliest possible age. Thank goodness our little ones turn up when they are five – it is one of the treasures of education in New Zealand.
  • There was quite a lot of coverage of school testing of students in the USA and not all of it supportive. One article was a thoughtful consideration of the extent to which testing was distorted when while purporting to be the testing of an individual student was subsequently used to measure the effectiveness of schools, the quality of the curriculum and the skill of the teacher.
  • No wonder then that, as reported in another article, the testing services in the USA were reported to be increasingly uneasy about the amount of cheating that went on. No, not cheating by students, cheating by schools. It was reported that around half of the schools in Washington – it did not make clear whether this was state or DC –  had been found to have cheated by altering schools on the test. This is evidenced by the “erasure” of incorrect answers which are replaced by correct answers. Oh dear. I wondered whether there was a chance that a student had rethought an answer and had wisely changed their mind. Apparently this was ruled out!

Finally I have to say what a pleasure it was to stop on the train at Reggio Emilia, the town which gave expression to a philosophy of early childhood education thought up by Loris Malaguzzi after the Second World War, which changed thinking about how little ones could be developed and how they could take responsibility for their learning. I thought of all my early childhood colleagues at that moment. Apart from that it looked pretty much like any other town in the region – from anywhere great ideas can spring.

It’s good to be home. We could well be the privileged generation, able to afford to travel while there is still sufficient fuel to take us and where a huge part of the earth’s surface remains friendly and welcoming. It is something to be treasured.

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EDTalkNZ: Joining Some Dots

 Today’s guest writer is Karl Mutch, Manager, Team Solutions, at The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education.

When I was a young boy in the 1960s, a long time before computer games and even before space invaders, there used to be things called puzzle books which children would inevitably receive as Christmas or birthday presents. These books, usually an inch thick and printed on poor quality paper, were useful for amusing ourselves on a wet weekend or in the winter school holidays. They contained pictures you could colour in, quizzes, crosswords, lists of interesting facts and, my favourite, join the dots. Using a pencil, you would begin to join up the hundreds of apparently random dots on a page until some kind of shape emerged – if I remember correctly it was usually an elephant, a cute dog, a palm tree or a clown. The easier join the dot pages even had some of the picture already provided so you kind of knew what was coming. Even if you could anticipate the final image, there was something satisfying about completing the picture, joining up all the dots and seeing everything connected.

What would it look like if we could join up some of the dots to help connect schools more strongly with our communities? What would a truly community connected school look like, and feel like – for students, for teachers, for school leaders and for members of the community? What sort of picture might emerge?

A couple of months ago I sat in the main auditorium at the Telstra Clear Events Centre in Manukau with over 200 people who were asking a similar question. What was exciting about this was not just the name – Raise Pasifika Fono – but the fact that it was a rare attempt to connect the education dots across a large and diverse community – to improve outcomes for Pacific students. There were specialist groups – students, early childhood, primary and secondary teachers, principals, tertiary educators, government ministry people, business people, church representatives, some MPs, union representatives, health sector representatives, counsellors, local community members, parents and people from local government. At times, we talked within our specialist groups, at times we re-grouped to engage with a range of perspectives. For a moment, it felt like a whole community coming together to talk about education connections and how these might be aligned to benefit students.

Of course there are already numerous examples of schools, kura and communities working together to benefit students – iwi have created and are implementing education plans and exploring education partnerships; parents are involved in school reading and homework programmes; businesses and sports clubs provide mentoring, work experience or sponsorship. Local councils have community development programmes and community trusts fund a wide range of school-connected projects. There are youth workers in schools and programmes that connect schools with artists and scientists. Trades academies allow secondary schools to engage in new ways with employers and tertiary institutes. Somewhere amongst all of this is the potential for more coherence in how schools and communities connect – perhaps across a suburb, town or region – and I haven’t even touched on the potential of virtual communities to revolutionize the ways schools ‘connect’.

Government can play a role. There are increasing connections between iwi and the Ministry of Education through iwi education partnerships. This week, Child, Youth and Family has established a direct hotline for teachers to help encourage reporting of suspected child abuse. Although there are worries there may not be enough staff at CYF to follow up those concerns effectively, it is at least an example of a direct connection between schools and a government agency that could make a difference for children. Why wasn’t it done years ago? What other hotlines do we need?

How can local government increasingly play a role here? It could start by providing more infrastructure for agencies and organisations to make connections. This would ensure that agencies intersecting and participating in education would know who was playing what role or delivering which services. It would allow the community to access the information they need in a timely way. In Auckland, the Education Summit held earlier this year was an attempt to kick start that process.

I know that community means different things to different people, but exploring ways for schools to connect in increasingly innovative and coherent ways with their communities seems like a really important job. What sort of picture, what sort of vision, might emerge if we actually start joining up more of those dots?

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EDTalkNZ: Glancing at OECD Statistics


Dave Guerin, CEO/Education Strategist for Education Directions, is today’s guest writer.

The OECD’s Education at a Glance publication kicks off a global rush each year to find the statistics that best prove your previous beliefs. Last week’s release was no exception.

In a perfect educational world, we would all have a deep understanding of our own and other educational systems. In reality, even those who are sector leaders or journalists are often too busy (or can’t be bothered) to go beyond the surface of things. So when a shiny set of comparative statistics comes out, it is far too easy to cherry-pick a few to make your case about how the world should be.

In New Zealand, the story about the OECD figures was that our public tertiary education fees were the seventh highest in the world. That does seem to be true but if you go to the relevant section of the 2011 Education at a Glance, you will find that:

  • only 23 countries were listed in the chart on p.258, so we’re 7/23;
  • the note to the chart says “This chart does not take into account grants, subsidies or loans that partially or fully offset the student’s tuition fees.”;
  • another chart on p.256 shows that New Zealand is fourth highest in the world (4/18) for the proportion of students benefitting from public loans, scholarships or grants;
  • a chart on p.269 shows that we spend the highest proportion of tertiary education spending of any of the nations listed on student loans (1/19);  and
  • text on p.257 states that NZ has one of the highest rates of access in the world.

My reading of all that is that we have high fees, but these are offset by near universal access to student loans, which are in turn subsidised greatly to reduce their real cost, meaning that access to tertiary education remains very open. In short, the real price of New Zealand tertiary education is low enough to let lots of people study.

My research might seem like a lot of trouble, but it only took 20 minutes on a rainy afternoon to write this whole piece. Of course, if you can’t be bothered with that, you could take the approach of Universities UK. In a two paragraph media release, UUK didn’t even bother citing a statistic – they just inserted the OECD’s name into their narrative about the need of higher spending.

Dave Guerin

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EDTalkNZ: What constitutes student success?

Colleen Young, Administrator of the Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways is today’s guest writer.

Years ago, when attending teacher professional development sessions, the topic of student outcomes was rarely discussed. During the late 1970s and through to the mid 1980s, the majority of students either progressed to tertiary educational institutions, went straight into an apprenticeship, or found low-skilled work. 

These days, while New Zealand continues to educate our youth with the “one-size-fits-all” education system, and while there continues to be an increasing number of students remaining in our senior secondary school with no intention of progressing to university, more questions need to be asked around the notion of student success.  For example, we know that every student requires a certain standard of numeracy and literacy to be able to work in the current and future workplace.  We know that critical thinking and problem solving skills are paramount learning tools which assist students in becoming successful in their future. We know that the creation of multiple learning pathways makes sense for a large group of students who will not attend our universities – so what are we doing to encourage this group of students to improve their success?  Does student success have to be all about passing the three sciences, English and maths?

I would argue that it doesn’t.  Student success can be, and should be, determined by student interests and what is best for the student, so they can progress to each next step until they reach a successful career outcome suited to them.  Once a student has an opportunity to “try before he/she buys” student success ought to follow. In other words, when a student finds a course that they can be passionate about, usually they are more engaged in the learning process and success follows. But how does one know what they want to do if they have no idea what that task feels like to do, how long it takes and where the task leads to further down the track? 

The School of Secondary Tertiary Studies (Tertiary High School) is one such form of schooling which allows its students to try different courses at the Manukau Institute of Technology, while also studying for their senior schooling NCEA Levels 1, 2 or 3 at the same time.  Effectively that means that if a student doesn’t like fabrication after six weeks, they can try catering and hospitality or early childhood and so on.  Some of them may even be fortunate enough to like several courses and they end up having to make a choice! The point is that instead of students doing bits and pieces of tertiary courses while still at secondary school, it makes more sense to enable students to try different courses of interest to them whilst demonstrating the need for numeracy and literacy for any future career they may take. I should point out that some secondary schools are already actively doing this.  However, for students to become successful citizens, it is also important for schools to provide accurate and useful careers advice, student social support and extra academic support if required.  

It is commendable to see the Ministry of Education continuing to promote and implement the Youth Guarantee Scheme alongside Trades Academies and Service Academies in New Zealand. For youth searching for alternative educational pathways other than university, these new courses provide a range of opportunities for students at risk of disengaging and dropping out of school.  

Let’s continue to create rigorous and challenging pathways that re-engage our youth, challenge the “status quo” for senior secondary school students who do not wish to go to university and watch our student failure rates fall. Students want to succeed.  Therefore, it is up to us as politicians, educators and policy makers in New Zealand to listen to the students needs, make decisions to reallocate funding streams at the senior schooling level to provide greater student choice,  so all students now, and in the future will learn what it feels like to experience student success.

Colleen Young

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Talk-ED: Learning, especially from others

Stuart Middleton
12 September 2011

I have been wondering about the differences between education systems that seem to be successful and those that struggle with the issues that dog us at this end of the world. Those issues of disengagement and concerning levels of educational failure and persistently lacklustre levels of success at postsecondary levels just don’t seem to respond to efforts made to address them. While huge effort is made it is hard to escape the conclusion of the recent New Zealand Institute Report (More Ladders, Fewer Snakes) that the trends of improvement are not yet apparent.

We make it hard for ourselves by being unable to yet report on cohort success and continue to be able only to wind back the education success odometer as if it were a second-hand car to produce a percentage figure that doesn’t tell us what is happening. This habit can hide improvements just as easily as it can mask declines.

It can not be a coincidence that the set of countries that share these issues to a remarkable level of similarity – a level that defies chance – and which consists of New Zealand, Australia, Canada the United Kingdom and the United States of America all have a similar unitary education system in which comprehensive high schools provide programmes that are very much the same for all students and are premised on the conventional academic track to university. Developments over the past thirty years have cemented this in place very firmly.

This has led to a situation where the secondary school is now seen as the key site for change and where notions such as multiple pathways are called for.

By contrast, the dual systems of Europe and Scandinavia multiple pathways are available to students with flexible options in the senior secondary school which are well-connected to the tertiary sector. Students are able to move across pathways as aspirations and aptitudes become clearer.

The unitary systems are characterised by the focus on one general education offered to age 19 in comprehensive secondary schools which have continued the traditional focus of universal primary education and the elitist provision of higher education in a new combination of a general academic programme for all. Trades have disappeared from secondary schools with their being located very predominantly in the tertiary sector. This was the result of a range of factors but the experiment with the new subject of “Technology” must raise education eyebrows.

There has been a bifurcation of these unitary secondary school systems into one group that is favoured (high decile in New Zealand, private in Australia) and those viewed less positively (low decile in NZ and state in Australia). Across both systems disengagement has increased and effective connections with postsecondary education and training has decreased.  This has overshadowed the good work that is happening in schools.

Meanwhile in the dual systems there are clearer differentiated curriculum offerings in the senior secondary school with a clearer vocational focus in some. There is also a concerted attempt to maintain the growth of general education (language, mathematics, digital skills) to a higher level. Work experience is frequently built into school programmes in a connected manner. But most importantly, there are effective systems for tracking students and monitoring them. It is far less optional, attending and applying, than is the case in New Zealand.

Take Finland as an example. It set about reorienting its education system in the latter part of the last century after serious financial shocks from the collapse of Western Russia. About one third of students pursue vocational pathways, success in international measures of attainment is at the top and they have less than 5% (and diminishing) levels of disengagement.

If Finland can do it, surely New Zealand and Australia can.

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EDTalkNZ: Teaching – Science or Magic

Today Dr John Langley contributes a blog to EDTalkNZ.  Dr Langley is Chief Executive of Cognition and a former Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland.

Over the years there has always been debate and discussion about what teaching actually is?  Is it a craft to be viewed much as we would view something like pottery?  Is it an art to be viewed as we would view painting or poetry?  Or is it a science to be viewed in the same manner as things such as medicine and engineering?

While it is no doubt true that there are elements of all three in any effective teacher, at some point we, as a profession, must come to some agreement on what belief system forms the basis for how we understand learning occurs, what that means for teaching and, therefore, how we go about the daily job of practising our profession.

At present this is by no means clear.  For instance, there are still many teachers and principals who balk at the notion of collecting certain types of data.  Some argue that the most important things in education cannot be measured and that to do so is a slippery slope towards some kind of unacceptably clinical approach that would somehow de-humanise those we teach.

I would argue the opposite.  We know how people learn.  We know the variables that impact on learning.  We know how teachers cause learning.  We can measure both learning and behaviour accurately and reliably.  Why then would we not use the best information that we can gather, not only to determine where children are in their learning but even more importantly to inform the obvious question, “What do I do next?”. 

That is the way in which all other professions operate.  They have agreed on what data must be gathered, how it should be gathered, how to report it and how it should be interpreted and acted upon.  Unless this occurs within the teaching profession we run the very great risk of wanting to be professionally independent but not being prepared to be accountable for what that independence means.

Put another way, it is not enough to say, “Leave us alone and trust us because we know what we’re doing”.  Those days have long gone in all other walks of life and rightly so.  Other professionals are required to be open, transparent and very much accountable for what they do.  Not primarily accountable to external monitoring agencies, although they exist, but to those in whose interest they work.  In the case of teachers it is not only the Ministry of Education or ERO, but the children, young people, families and communities in which they work.

At first blush there seem to be at least two barriers to progress here.  The first is a mistaken belief in how to address social justice.  The second is a lack of clarity about what should drive educational policy and practice.

We all know that there are enormous social and economic differences within our society as there are in most societies.  Education can and must play a major part in reducing these differences.  This will not happen by engaging in a tortuous and ongoing series of sociological explanations that we all “get”, but by understanding what teachers must do to improve the achievement of all children regardless of circumstance.  All children can learn and the best service we can give those who are disadvantaged is to understand what effective teaching is and do it properly.  That simply cannot happen without the use of effective data and sound evidence of best practice to guide us.  This is not something which is anecdotal and ‘folksy’ but which is well-grounded in scientific evidence about how people learn and what we do to cause that.

The second barrier relates to what underpins education policy and practice.  All education policy and practice should be determined by consideration of four factors.  They are:

  • What is success and what does it look like?
  • What works in achieving that success?
  • How do we know?
  • What next?

If we are unable to answer these four questions then any policy development , resourcing and subsequent practice is at the very least flawed and will most likely end up as so many have – on a scrapheap somewhere or, even worse, continuing to be used even if the impact is minimal.  Our disadvantaged children and young people will not benefit if that is so.

Teaching sits on a cusp at present in New Zealand.  We, as professionals in the sector, must decide on and be clear about what paradigm should drive our knowledge and practice and use it well.  In my view that paradigm must be science so that our practice can be clear, systematic, transparent and effective.  If we do not adopt an evidence-based approach, what is left?  Majority opinion? 

Our children and young people deserve better than that.

Dr John Langley

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Talk-ED: It all seems to work!

Stuart Middleton
5 September 2011

An interesting report[1] recently released by NCVER in Australia paints a picture for us of impact of work on school and postsecondary outcomes. This is timely with the general concern that so many students and especially those from lower socio-economic stressed areas, have to work to keep themselves and their families moving forward or perhaps even just standing still.

It is popularly thought that it has a negative effect on their educational progress.

This is a new worry really because in a previous generation after-school work was common and a welcome source of that little bit extra. But those jobs have increasingly been taken over by adults who cobble together a living through a collection of casual work.

What did the researchers find out?

That typically, students work 11-12 hours each week and females work a little more than males. The impact of this becomes slightly negative when the hours worked become greater but females manage the balance better than males. The most positive impact is that work while at school will lead to a better outcome in terms of finding fulltime employment after schooling has been completed.

This is in some ways not surprising but it does raise the question of what school systems do to assist with the sound management of a balance between work and schooling. School timetables can be relentless in their requirements and do not seem to be flexible in so many ways. Ought it to be possible for students to be able to undertake some work in a coherent manner without added pressure either to be at school so much and perhaps even being given credit for the work that they are doing?

This is simply “work experience” I hear some say. Well yes it is and there is a consistent drive on currently to see that increased work experience, becomes part of the senior school years. So perhaps the addition to work experience within a programme of work experience that students have the initiative to get outside of the programme could be given as much credit.

The skills of employment are learned by practising them in real settings with real employers and real customers – they do not lend themselves so well to classrooms although some of them can be simulated and certainly others can be practised – punctuality for instance.

I admire greatly the commitment in the USA to service education in education institutions. The way in which where possible students are employed creates a feeling of acknowledgement of the interface between education and employment that the faculty have successfully negotiated but which still faces the students. When I was a secondary Principal the school employed a number of students and I regretted that they did not receive formal credit for it but they were early days of qualifications frameworks and suchlike.

School to work is yet another transition that is hard and occurs too often at a point in time. The US makes very effective use of internships (often unpaid) and cadetships to provide work across transition points in education. Industry projects characterise some courses and of course the earn / learn options are becoming increasingly common. But they are generally a feature of postsecondary education and training. What about secondary education?

All the evidence increasingly points to the importance of work and career orientation for young people during their secondary schooling. Perhaps we should be negotiating agreements with local employees for work opportunities like we used to have – the after school job, the weekend job, the casual job.

Rather than get all tied up about youth rates and suchlike, let’s place value on the experience that it brings to young people, not to mention the positive impact on outcomes when it is balanced and in proportion.

Alison Anlezelark and Patrick Lim (2011) Does combining school and work affect school and post school outcomes?,  Adelaide, National centre for Vocational Education Research.

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Pathway-ED: Education is none of your business!

Stuart Middleton
31 August 2011

I’ve got a committee – oh what a pity!

I have heard of all kinds of silliness that cluster around committees but I think New Zealand took the cake the other day when a committee representing key education groups assembled in New Zealand over the weekend. And the lofty purpose of this committee?

To draw up a list of education matters that no government should attempt to get involved with and which must be left entirely to the education professionals of the land.

In case you are not sure what this means let me put it simply and in a number of ways. On certain matters in education the professionals want to tell the government to butt out, to leave it to them, to mind their own business Above all the message is:  LEAVE IT TO US! WE KNOW WHAT WE‘RE DOING!

Let us put to one side the small matter of democratically elected governments and their right to govern. Let us ignore the fact that the government bank-rolls education. Let us forget for the sake of the argument that those who work in education are generally public servants employed ultimately by the state.

Now I have no idea just who was in this group and who they spoke for other than themselves and I have yet to see the list they came up with never mind that, the very idea of it is arrogant, flawed and an abrogation of professionalism

If governments represent the people then it is the people who are the parents and caregivers, the people who are employers, the people who pay the taxes not only for education salaries but also for the social cost of failure. It is also the people who are school students, tertiary students, second chance learners. Governments have every right to engage with educational matters and with the consequences of education operations.

Well, you might ask, why a government wants to be involved. Well there is a series of links between education, skills, employment and economic growth. Without the effective outcomes of a well-functioning education system, economic growth is not a possibility. Nor is a socially cohesive society or a healthy community. I would have thought that education is Numero Uno when it comes to government concerns and if it isn’t, we should be asking why.

If it were not for government involvement it is unlikely that universal education to primary levels, then to secondary levels and finally to postsecondary levels would not have been achieved. Would all schools regardless of the socio-economic status of its catchment get a fair go if it were not for the intervention of the government in the allocation of resources? Would we have moved towards qualifications reform without the involvement of the government? Would our curriculum reflect some of the key concerns such as biculturalism were it not for governments?

So rather than think that a List of Things We Know Best will protect the professionalism of teaching, it would surely be better to aspire to the key markers of a profession many of which have been achieved over periods of time by others such as the medical profession, the legal profession. And what are those markers?

A profession is an essential and valued service in which professionals dispense that service to high ethical standards, with a concern for others and to the best of their ability. A profession is self-regulating has degree of control over admission to the profession and over the sanctions and processes by which recalcitrant members are hauled into line. Above all, professions have appropriately high standards for the effective delivery of the service whether it be quality health care, rigorous defence and prosecution, sound engineering standards and execution or high levels of educational success.

How much better it might have been to spend the weekend on addressing the question of the extent to which education as a profession measures up rather than telling others to keep their noses out of it.

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