Last time I made contact with you I noted a few “game-changers” and promised to follow this up with some “show -stoppers”. These are things that cannot be put aside – they have the capacity to make or break and the choices are ours to make.
Show-Stopper #1 Access to early childhood education
Not surprisingly I have placed the first game-changer at the top of my list of show stoppers. If we don’t solve the issue of access to early childhood education places urgently we will get onto the greasy slide downwards where the backlog of educational failure starts to swamp the system.
Parts of the US are already there with some communities in California spending huge amounts to get students through the system so that they can go on to community colleges where they focus on remediation course because they have learned so little at school and then leave community colleges after 15 years of schooling still unprepared for employment and/or further education and training.
I had water a leak that investigation showed was down near my gate where the pipe entered the property. It was no good trying to fix the leak inside the house where we were cosy and warm. Nor was there any point is tackling it at the outside tap where the light was good. It was only solved when the leak was fixed at the gate. Our education pipeline will continue to leak badly until we address the leak near the gateway to education.
Show-Stopper #2 Teaching of Basic Skills
When I visit the US there are three New Zealanders that people have heard of – Sir Edmund Hillary, Dame Marie Clay and Sylvia Ashton-Warner . Two of these are teachers and both focused on reading and language as the foundation of all learning and indeed in the case of Ashton-Warner, the development of identity. New Zealand was seen as a leader in teaching reading. We were better at teaching reading to monolingual youngsters than to the rest but nevertheless, we knew how to do it.
Why then do so many students fail to get a basic grounding in the real foundation skills? Have we lost focus? Do we now lack the skills? Have we become too clever for our own good in turning our backs on basic skills taught with pretty rudimentary materials, School Journals and Janet and John . Schools are better equipped, libraries are better stocked and new helping technologies are available to an extent that has never before been the case. Why then does anyone fail?
One key area of failure is the continuing inability to grapple with the issues of students who bring another language into the classroom. It goes well beyond mere words. A colleague in London concluded a paper he had written on this topic with the sentence – “At the end of the day, Sharma walks home to India.” As Russell Bishop says – Culture Counts.
Show-Stopper #3 Re-discovering a sense of a national system
I have before said that what is colloquially described as Tomorrow’s Schools should be looked at closely. But the lens that we use when doing this needs to be one that enables us to see a national system of education in which the sum is greater than the parts. Currently, the sum is somewhat less than the parts as overall performance continues to disappoint. The Minister was right to signal that it is time to look at the decile ratings applied to schools – they have become a damaging dog of a thing. Worse than failing to bring about the improvements in performance and were that were claimed for the ratings, they might well have contributed to the frustrations.
And we must recapture the notion of a national system of education, not just schooling. It will require parity of esteem between all parts of the one system, each making a critical but distinctive contribution. I do love the feel of Finland’s approach – similar qualifications for all levels, one teachers organisation (ECE to tertiary) and a national commitment to a national system.
And that might be the solution to the next show-stopper.
Show-Stopper #4 Increasing the public esteem of education and those who work in it.
In Finland teaching is the most highly esteemed profession. Can we achieve that in New Zealand? Of course we can simply by….
- exhibiting increased characteristics of a profession – teachers council that leads the profession, an education commission to lead thinking and development, effective professional standards, greater quality controls over entry to the profession, and a requirement for ongoing professional improvement;
- matching promise with delivery of positive outcomes;
- developing closer relationships with communities, with parents and families, with business and industry, with other levels within education, with the professions and so on;
- and I am sure you can think of others.
But first we must want to be a professional and want to be one profession.
Goodness me, I have run out of space and I haven’t mentioned a couple of other huge show-stoppers. They will keep for another day.