The 2013 OECD Yearbook is a good read and it was interesting to note the piece by Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Special Advisor to the Secretary General. In it he makes a simple point:
Countries that are unable to mitigate the impact of socio-economic background on student performance during compulsory education are unlikely to solve that problem in Higher Education.
Schleicher is visiting New Zealand this week and it would be good to see if he expands on this comment because it is an issue that has high relevance in New Zealand. The OECD is high in its praise for the top of the New Zealand education system and generous in attributing this to the quality of the work done by teachers. But it is equally clear in its picture of New Zealand’s long tail of low achievement. It is clear also in its analysis of the ethnicities of that tail.
There are some good points to come out of this. His comment supports the structure of the Better Public Service Goals with its focus on Early Childhood Education, on the achievement of the “School Leaving Diploma” (NCEA Level 2) and finally engagement with Level 4+ qualifications. Each goal is necessary but not in itself sufficient for students to be successful.
And without success in compulsory education little will happen. (Why can’t we wrap ECE into the compulsory sector and be done with it!)
The significant number who disengage from learning before completion of compulsory education are destined to join the tail. We need therefore to stem that flow, to turn performance of the lower ends of the school student group around. Every other way of approaching the issues is harder and more expensive.
There is a view that everyone we know about second chance education tells us that the first chance would have been better. Dropping out of compulsory schooling, joining the NEETs and then trying to make a come- back as a student is the hardest route in education. Second chance is hard to start, difficult to maintain and a very big ask to complete.
If we can stem the flow (and it will take more than STEM) we can then turn our attention to re-engagement of the NEETs. How many are out there? It is hard to get an accurate picture of this – the categories of “NEET” and “Beneficiary” and “Unemployed” and so on overlap and make opaque the picture of what is really happening but if we accept that, with the exception of some beneficiaries, most of those included in these categories would benefit from a process that re-engages them into education and training, the numbers could be startlingly high.
And I think that we would be surprised at the proportion that would want to be re-engaged. It is little more than bourgeois to make the claim that most of them don’t want to work – there is no hard evidence that this is so. The feedback I receive from those working in the field is that there is interest when the options are put to people who have been sidelined but that access to programmes is not immediately possible, is not relevant, is not at the appropriate level, is not presented as a clear pathway to an understandable future and is not clearly a pathway where they can start immediately on crafting a new future.
That is a challenge for providers. Yes, we will argue that “first they have to ……” and that “they do not have the skills to enter this programme…” and “we can’t just start programmes when it suits them” and……
Having not succeeded with this group once does really put the onus on us to succeed the second time around. But like everything else in education, different results will require different ways of working. Time, course organisation, assessment and other structures will have to be re-thought as we meet these challenges.
Unlike love, education and training might not automatically be lovelier the second time around. Most strategic planning days start with the big picture. We have got some of the elements right – the BPS Goals, a workable qualifications framework, a curriculum that is flexible and a growing awareness that the situation demands our attention.
This last point is crucial. Denial is not a good basis for positive action.