Out for the constitutional walk one afternoon recently I looked up the road and saw a silhouette that seemed familiar. One which I had seen many times in the 1980s and through the 1990s, one which was something of a cartoonists, delight. It was the former Minister of Education (and other things) and Speaker of the House, Hon Dr Lockwood Smith. I crossed the road to say hello.
The 1980s had been characterised by the second of the reform trio – administration, curriculum and qualifications – while the 1990s were to belong to the third, qualifications reform. Lockwood Smith was to feature prominently in both the tail-end of the curriculum reforms and the front end of the qualifications reforms.
I stopped to chat with him and among other things I reminded him of his commitment to seamless education. His smile, already broad, increased and clearly he saw this particular theme as one of considerable foresight which saw a different future for many students.
He was right. The key policy document that carried this message was developed and promulgated under his watch. Education for the 21st Century (MOE, Wellington, 1993) sought to paint a picture of a seamless education system – one which flowed from the home right through to post secondary qualifications and entry into the workforce.
The key description of this seamless education system is premised on the fact that the curriculum and qualification reforms which resulted in the New Zealand Curriculum and the National Qualification Framework, had created the context in which seamlessness was possible.
Individuals, the document tells us “…will be able to undertake education in more than one setting at the same time and have their achievements recognised through the Qualifications Framework regardless of where they work or where they are enrolled.” It would be a future in which students in senior secondary school, the report suggests, “could combine regular school courses with polytechnic or university courses and workplace training provided by local industries.”
This was in 1993!
The policy document wanted schools, tertiary institutions and private providers to exploit the greater scope they would have to “enter into arrangements with each other or local industries.” Not only that but secondary schools would have the an opportunity to offer courses which have previously been available only at polytechnics or universities. It was an opportunity that was offered but not taken up. It would be another 20 years before there started to develop a tentative start to such a proposal.
This policy was well owned by the then Minister, Lockwood Smith, who the document describes as “currently working with the education community to design a way of resourcing this seamless education system to allow these education opportunities to flourish, and to build an education system for the twenty-first century.”
The opportunities offered by Education for the 21st Century were simple and well within our reach in 1993 when they were proposed. It is only since the implementation of the Youth Guarantee policy that movement towards the goals of the report have become discernible.
The diagram that was progressively built, through the first twenty or so pages of the document is in itself interesting – I like to think of it as an early model for some of the thinking that is now looking at the development of multiple pathways with its clear links between parts of the system.
While the lines that demarcate the different levels of education are still there and clear and straight and and less diffuse than I might like them to be, the attempt to create relationships between the parts is what might be thought of as an early prototype of the more connected system that we know is so critical if students are to succeed.
Missing is the role played by industry training but these were early days in the shift towards ITOs and new training schemes. It was at that time slowly dawning on people that industry training needed to be revived.
In addition to the general philosophic material, the document also proposed a way forward for funding – the five emphases were access to Parents as First Teachers programme, increased access to information technology, opportunities for second language learning in forms 1-4 [sic], establishment of kura kaupapa Maori and increased participation in tertiary education and training. It would be interesting to see what our five emphases might be today.
I recollect that it was around the time of this report’s release in 1993 that the battle over qualification reform really started up and became a great distraction. Again a thoughtful contribution to the qualitative improvement of education for many young people became less important than that protection of territory.
I wished Lockwood well for his forthcoming tour of duty as High Commissioner in London and he thanked me for crossing the road to say hello. I then carried on my merry way reflecting on the opportunity lost back in 1993.