I had been invited to address a group of Paul Harris Fellows at a Rotary function in Tauranga. Paul Harris Fellows are men and women who have made a great contribution to the community one way or another – the invitation to speak about education had been deliciously vague with regard to subject matter.
I started by expressing my great respect for Paul Harris Fellows and reflected with some pride that I had once been a Rotarian (but not a P. H. Fellow) and noted that once in a “Rotary Quiz” I had been able to successfully name the three fellows who met with Paul Harris back in the 1920s to establish the Rotary Movement. It surprises us the stuff that once learnt sticks in the mind.
I had the previous Monday been at a dinner which I was delighted to have heard a speech from Golpalkrishna Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. It brought to mind the old anecdote that when asked what he thought about British Civilisation, Mahatma Gandhi said that he thought it would be a good idea. I confess that I thought the same way about education.
Education has not been getting a good press lately – student / teacher ratios, school closures and restructuring in Christchurch, the teachers payroll and the scumbags who prey on young people. You would think that all of us in education were going to hell in a hand-basket.
But a lot is going well. The PISA results tell us that there are students doing very well, in New Zealand and we can hang the tag “world class” on that section of the community (however more later, on the tarnish on the reputation which denies us the right to label the education system “world class”.)
Many students are going to university successfully and undertaking education and training in other settings such as polytechnics, PTEs and Wananga. More importantly many students are loving school and doing well, relishing the opportunities for learning and other activity such as music, cultural activity, sports and suchlike. And toddlers who get to early childhood education are generally responding positively
Some years ago there were some features of the system that have since been in decline. Esteem for education and those who work in it has diminished and the community no longer gives the unconditional support for schools that once they did. There is less willingness to provide health and welfare intervention, provide dental care, provide food (well, except milk anyway) – the attitude has been one that sees such efforts now “silo-ed” into the budgets of different government sectors. Above all there were many options in terms of student pathways. The clear signals the system gave young people about the route to employment and opportunities were there – apprenticeships, work, earning and learning opportunities.
I then turned my attention to the aspects that were going to have to work more effectively.
- Connecting the dots – the old ECE / NCEA Level 2 / Postsecondary qualification connection.
- Achieving equity in outcomes – this is what strips us of our “world class” aspirations and it is not possible to get the medal when you come first and last in the same race.
- Addressing disengagement – I didn’t focus on the old litany of miserable statistics (21% gone by 16 years, 30,000 truants every day, etc oh dear!)
- Developing pathways – one track general academic secondary schools have done their dash internationally in terms of meeting the needs of all the community – we need many different options and ways of getting through successfully into employment and continued education and training. Differentiated secondary schooling is the marker of successful education systems overseas.
- Earlier access to vocational education is also such a marker. It makes no sense to delay exposure to and options in vocational and technical education when the result for so many young ones in our unitarian schools is simply to fail.
- So there is a need to fix the senior secondary school (one size has never fitted all the needs that young people in the community have).
In short, I concluded that we had to re-discover success for all and get back to the commitments of the past to try to do just that rather than continue to be in denial as some sections of the of the community (both generally and in education) on these matters. I suggested that a good place to start might be the Peter Fraser statement:
The government’s objective, broadly expressed, is that all persons, whatever their level of ability, whether they live in town or country, have a right as citizens to a free education of the kind for which they are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their powers.”
I then quoted the next but seldom quoted next paragraph in the statement.
“Schools that are to cater for the whole population must offer courses that are as rich and varied as are the needs and abilities of the children who enter them.”
They were kind enough to say that they had enjoyed it and the questions flowed and showed a commitment to education that we are not harnessing and which we ignore to our own detriment.