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Talk-ED: Pathways through the Pacific

Stuart Middleton
16 July 2012


Like many others I too have had a bit of a holiday. Well, more of a change of routine.

First I was pleased to host Gary Hoachlander, CE of ConnectEd in San Francisco. He is developing approaches to “linked learning” in which themes are driving programmes. It is similar to the our Vocational Pathways but more sophisticated in that the focus is clearly on professional and industrial sectors with significant sector-related content and work experience. But like our Vocational Pathways such pathways remain flexible. The New Zealanders who heard Gary speak were impressed with this glimpse of secondary education in the future, well now really.

The notion of “multiple pathways” is really catching on. As a concept it is rather simple. That is because the object of education is relatively simple – to take a young person from a state of being someone who does not know and cannot do the many things valued by society to a state of high competence in knowledge (of literature, values, philosophy, science, mathematics, and so on) and skills (of employment, citizenship, parenthood, and personal growth).

Having said that the simplistic view that there is only one way in which this can be achieved is increasingly challenged. The notion that all young people will thrive on a similar diet of education for fifteen or even twenty years defies the evidence that suggests that as education has become increasingly homogenous in the past thirty or so years it has become increasingly obvious that this one-way approach suits only some.

Systems all around the world are worried about the levels of drop out.  A Forum in Wellington two weeks ago on Multiple Pathways was told that 50% of 9th graders (our year ten) in major US cities drop out. Our own New Zealand evidence suggests that perhaps between the ages of 15 and 24 as much as up to 30% of people are dropping out of education and training leaving them without a level of skill and knowledge that will see them secure in their futures.

I was up in the Pacific during the week and each island nation I visited wanted to know more about Multiple Pathways. Across a wide range of settings, secondary schooling is not sustaining the interest and engagement of students. To be fair to secondary schools, this is not a recent phenomenon because it never has, or to put it more accurately , it has never been expected to. Until relatively recently (the mid to late 1970s, students had access to “multiple pathways” – opportunities both inside and outside of the school.

Offering technical and commercial courses in essence did what vocational pathways will seek to do but were a little more aggressive in the connection to employment. Leaving school at age 15 early and officially, to enter employment and generally with it opportunity for work-based training as well as education through night classes and technical institutes.

Technical and commercial and agricultural subjects were available in some schools, students left at age fifteen to continue in apprenticeships and other trade training options such as night school, cadetships, workplace learning and so on.

The Pacific nations are now facing the issues we face – how can they get students to stay in school, to achieve useful qualification to acceptable levels and then make a useful contribution to their island nation.

And the same principles apply there as they do here in New Zealand.

Some students simply need an earlier exposure to trades and applied education in order to both maintain momentum and to develop a purposeful attitude towards learning. Even in those small economies the links between schooling and what is possible after schooling finishes is critical. Some will proceed to further education and training, some will enter employment and others will return to the informal economy. The scale is different but the challengers of all this are as great.

But one thing is clear. Education systems that developed the comprehensive academic high school model as the staple diet of education and training are now faced with change. This includes the big anglophone systems and those that have followed them or have been encouraged to do so.

We live therefore in interesting times but we are not on our own.


Published inEducation

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