28 June 2012
Is peace is breaking out in education?
The Minister of Education has announced the formation of a “Minister’s Forum” that will address the key goal confirmed last Monday in the Better Public Services goals: that by 2017, 85% of all 18 year olds in New Zealand will have NCEA Level 2 or its equivalent.
The Forum contains possibly the widest representation of education ever put together in one room. All major groups associated with pre-school, primary and secondary schools are there. So too are various governance groups such as trustees. There are some tertiary people also.
Chaired by the Minister, this group might be the best chance yet to effect the step change that will take achievement for all students up to levels that are competitive internationally and which will see increased contribution into the wealth of New Zealand.
The goal is that all 18 year olds will get there, not just a cosy percentage but a challenging one, And not only the Asian and European students but also Maori, Pasifika and other priority groups – it is 85% of each of these groups. No longer can our disparate performance be hidden in global percentages.
This is all good news. Yes the timeframe seems tight but the goal is beyond dispute. It represents something of true north for us to stroke some direction into the system. And what a great time of the year to set our eyes on a new star.
I say our eyes because a step change of this kind requires effort from everybody.
The foundations of education are constructed in family and early childhood education, well quality early childhood education. (A further Better Public Service goal calls for 98% participation in quality ECE). This then must lead to a primary schooling that focuses clearly and effectively on the foundational skills of education. We can no longer afford the luxury of having young people present themselves to the secondary school after 8 years of primary education still carrying weaknesses in basic skill areas, especially literacy and numeracy.
In an education system that is keen to boast that we are a “world class system” it makes no sense that students can slip through untouched by the teaching of these skills.
Then the secondary school takes over and faces several issues – keeping students in education and keeping them moving forward. Actually keeping students in education is also becoming a concern for senior primary levels. Progressions from secondary on to further education and training are also a challenge. Why are the transitions such an issue in our system?
The challenge for the secondary schools is on a number of educational fronts and seems to me to be clustered around the following:
- the development of pathways that clearly relate to further education, training or employment;
- a return to increased opportunities for some learners to respond to the challenges of learning in applied settings;
- closer co-operation between schools and tertiary providers both in the interests of increasing pathway options but also to re-introduce the rich opportunities for technical, career, and vocational education that once available to young people.
It seems to me that the 85% challenge will require us to bring new success into the educational lives of about 10,000 students, But the bigger challenge is that if the 85% target is to apply equitably to groups of priority learners, over 3,500 of this group must be Maori and over 1,000 Pasifika.
People from overseas, when I talk about such matters, are amused not by the gravity of the challenge but rather by its scale. With numbers such as those above, surely, they argue, you can get in there and “knock it off”. They come from systems in which the same issues have almost reach a scale of despairing numbers. In the US, a student drops out of High School every 9 minutes and 1.4 million a year are excluded.
World class? Of course we can be. Not just in measures of overall achievement (that after all is simply a league table!) but in our capacity to show that we recognise inequality of outcome and were prepared to do something about. To not achieve or get close to this target would be shameful.