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Pathways – ED: Mending leaks or fingers in the dyke

Stuart Middleton
10 November 2011

At last some education features in the newspaper during the election after all but disappearing during the Rugby World Cup (along with pretty well everything else) and the early weeks of the election. And oh dear, it’s about leaky school buildings, this is certainly a major news item. But I was looking for some connection between and analysis about this news of the leaky buildings (well everyone had known about for a long time) and the “new” spending on schools buildings announced earlier.

The general community has huge issues with leaky homes, crowded out of the limelight currently by leaky ships, earthquakes and game shows such as the Rugby World Cup and the Election. The Education Community also has its leaky home problems estimated to cost about $1.2 billion but we know how these dramas unfold exponentially.

At the same time the great number of schools built in the 1950’s largely of untreated timber (they weren’t expected to have to last very long – just to get us through this baby bump after the War) are now surely at the end of their lives and rebuilding those schools will be a bigger challenge than the leaky ones.

So the inescapable conclusion is that capital expenditure on education will be a major ticket item for any government for a long time to come.

And I haven’t even mentioned tertiary education.

There is an incessant call, and rightly so, for young people to get postsecondary education. Schools are working hard and getting better at bringing students through to the gates to those postsecondary qualifications. But the increased numbers of students have to be accommodated. When the UK announced proudly that it would set a target of 40% of the population gaining a degree, a study showed that in the first instance the country could not afford to house such an increase in the postsecondary numbers nor would they be able to source sufficirent numbers of adequate teaching staff to teach them.

But perhaps there is an easier solution. Most early childhood centres, schools and tertiary institutions are owned by the crown and even though the respectives business models and regulatory relationships with the crown are different, perhaps it is time for some thinking to wrap around the extent to which demand for space could be solved by using vacant space within existing institutions. Rationalisation of schools, primary and secondary, might lead to a considerable amount of space becoming available for both early childhood education and perhaps even for postsecondary education. I know of one polytechnic that is making effective use of a disused primary school. With far less expenditure than might be needed for a new facility, adequate teaching facilities can be created in this way.

Why cannot early childhood programmes be offered out of empty classrooms in priory schools? Age is not a factor – children tend to live with people relatively close to their own age. What is significant about the fifth birthday that requires huge separation of the two groups?

Perhaps underutilised secondary space could be used for tertiary instruction or even a university class. Waikato University started life in a high school.

Let’s find some of that inventive thinking that got New Zealand through previous depressions and wars.

Of course, I can hear you reaching for your pens, keyboards and finger tips (this for the iPad users). There might be a fallacy in all this. The pressure of numbers is perhaps not in the same places as the pressure for space. In a clearly divided community such as we have, half the population lives together and has a low fertility rate while the other half lives together and have a high fertility rate. Education facilities under pressure for space are usually therefore cluster. That is where transport comes in.

The old principle that there are certain distances children can be expected to travel to schools is made a mockery of in communities where phalanxes of military style vehicles deliver children to the gate each morning and wait to ensure that the little ones have the strength to reach the building while in other communities children habitually walk!  One rule cannot be fair to all and perhaps in some communities, schools need to be closer to each other than in other communities.

The old notion of what a school is and where a school should be needs looking at. It is time to consider education centres that meet the needs of all three sectors, that utilise plant to the maximum, that see a flow of people entering for different purposes at different times. It shouldn’t be beyond our wit to devise ways of doing this without compromising safety and without meeting the specialised nature of the educational intervention that a student’s age and progress demands.

The structure of sectors needs rethinking. Does it make sense to build a senior secondary school that is not integrated with tertiary programmes? There is some exciting action planned in this area.

Perhaps it’s time to ask whether every leaky school building needs to be repaired, whether the number of schools we have should be retained, whether the sectors should be made to collaborate to bring about effective use of education buildings. Perhaps it time to ask if we should be structuring education differently. Perhaps it is time…

End note

You all know what muscle memory is – the fact that muscles can learn repetitive action and move ahead of the brain to undertake them. Each time I write “leaky” on the keyboard my fingers desperately seek out the keys for “education pipeline”. Perhaps it is also time…


Published inEducation

One Comment

  1. Phil Ker Phil Ker

    I agree with you Stuart re secondary and tertiary sharing resources. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Olds College in Southern Alberta, Canada. There the High School and Community College shared the same site and made use of each others facilities. Better still, the senior secondary students were treated like tertiary students and they loved it, and got better results.

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