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Month: December 2013

The learning shower from PISA


I  despair sometimes and yesterday was one of those days.

The latest PISA results were released and it wasn’t good news for New Zealand – our 15 year olds had slipped back and our performance poorer than in the previous PISA round in 2009. In addition to that we have been overtaken by a bunch of countries whose performance is on the rise. A combination of these two factors sees our international rating heading downwards.

Well that is how it is.

What I despair over is the response of the various sectors and the low quality of debate around it.

First, it was the grossest stupidity that we have seen for quite some time for various spokespeople to attempt to blame the current Minister of Education, Hon Hekia Parata, for the PISA decline.

The students in the PISA cohort have been in our education system for ten years before undertaking the assessment. The decline in the results didn’t happen in the last 2 years but are  the result of a declining trajectory of performance over all of those ten years. This is a very powerful argument for achievement tracking through systems such as National Standards and if not those particular ones then some better ones but the sector seems not able to suggest anything.

There has been evidence that we were slipping back in various system assessments made over the past ten years.

Finally, while the results over time are presented as a linear decline (or rise) the picture is actually more complex than this. Each result is an assessment of a ten year period of schooling for the cohort in each assessment. While the assessment itself is a slice in time, the result is actually a long time in the making. Early Childhood provision, basic skill teaching in the first ten years of schooling, the articulation between primary and secondary schooling are all factors in that result. It is a system issue!

Secondly, it was at worst duplicitous and at best only ignorant to suggest that this came as a great surprise. The media shock horror coverage of the issue simply is evidence of the babble that passes for public debate of educational issues.

Commentators have been warning of the direction the system was headed for some time. Regular readers of this blog and my earlier columns in Education Review will recall that I have frequently written about the demographic pressures on the system, about the indicators that were not promising and about the increasing disengagement from education – all of which have contributed to this result. I have frequently drawn attention to the ugliness of a system in which achievement results cut were mapped over equity outcomes.

Andreas Schleicher, in commenting on the New Zealand results, spoke of the pressure on our performance of our bipolar success in achievement and failure in equity. His comment “Coping with the socio-economic factors is the new normal.” reflects comments made by many and rejected by most over recent times. Sector spokespeople have been aggressive in denying that there was any issue basking instead in the glory of our “world class education system” that today seems a little less world class than we would not only like it to be but also need it to be.

Thirdly, we like to think that this is an assessment of the 15 year old cohort overall when in fact it is not. It is actually an assessment of the 15 year old cohort in schools. We know that 21% of 16 year olds are no longer in school but I don’t know just how many 15 year olds are not in school. But let’s be charitable, and indeed there is some justification in being so, and noting that the curve of numbers disengaging from schooling is exponential, claim that about 10% of 15 year olds are no longer in school. That’s just a guess (a benevolent guess). The point I am making is that if all of the 15 year olds were in school our results may even have been lower.

Disengagement from schooling remains a bigger challenge than the PISA results on their own. Our system will not be meeting its claimed objectives until it retains all students in school and gets better system performance in such measures as PISA. Those of us who work with disengaged students know that at the point of disengagement they typically have poor basic skills and, more importantly, have lost hope in education as a pathway to a rewarding future.

 The PISA results are a diagnosis. The underlying factors that produce them need to be the real target of our discussion and action. Having said that, the PISA results, the continuing ignoring of the demographics responsibilities that the education system faces and our disgraceful disengagement (the US would call it drop-out) rate all constitute what many have been calling a ‘wake-up call’.

But it is only a wakeup call for those who have been asleep. It is time for leaders of teacher unions and education peak bodies to start showing some acquaintance with reality. We have known this was coming down the track. We know what to do. The mantra of “trust us, we know what we are doing” just doesn’t cut it with the community any longer. Nor do the attacks on the Minister reflect any credit on us as a profession.

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a new mooc development but not as you know it jim!

I have to admit I didn’t notice. I knew nothing about it. Well, that is, not until the Times Higher Education (THE)31 October – 6 November p.8, brought it to my attention.

The THE has almost on a weekly basis this year written about MOOCs, the greatly over-rated offerings of “massive open on-line courses” that have emerged as universities across the world put their lecturers who stand up and talk in lecture theatres up in front of cameras and clip the ticket on a wider market.  The freebies are there to whet your appetite for this. The higher education sector can’t decide whether or not they are spooked by the MOOC or not. Better inside the tent than outside seems to be the call.

Well , the THE prints a small story headlined “Mooc rival puts accreditation “beef” on the menu.” Interesting I thought. Then I came across “the New Zealand-based organisation” and my heart beat quickened – I had to know more.

What appears to be happening is this. An organisation called Open Educational Resources Foundation, “domiciled” (Scoop, 25 October 2013) at the Otago Polytechnic is developing the “Open Educational Resources university” (note the lower case “u” in university, it is not in error, that is the correct name) which is bringing together a number of tertiary providers who will offer short web-based courses which will be taught on-line (so far sounds like a MOOC to me) and in a process that I am quite unclear about, the payment of a fee will enable students to have that learning assessed for crediting into a qualification.

The OERu (for that is their abbreviated brand) brings together a range of providers so I am guessing that it works something like this: I study for a number of short courses and then on successful completion I take them to a member provider who will assess whether they can be credited and whether I have enough credits for a qualification. Certainly that seems ahead of the Mooc movement. The cost to have this done for each unit might be about $NZ220 if the indication of a University of Southern Queensland estimate reported in the THE is correct.

But it is early days and no doubt the processes will become clearer over time.

In addition to the short web-based courses, the OERu will also offer mOOCs  which are very small courses for those who simply want to learn and extend. Now all this playing around with upper case and lower case letters probably has a purpose. Using OERu seemingly avoids issues around the use of the word “University” which is protected. But is the notion of protecting the word “University” now under threat in this open world of the internet?

While the promoters of the OERu are punctilious to a letter, others find it less easy to be so. The Scoop report of the launch noted that an event was held recently in Canada  “to formally launch the university to the world.” And the THE quite boldly and without subtlety calls it the “Open Education Resources University.” This raises an interesting question which no doubt the promoters of the idea are well aware of and have taken good advice on. Is it the start of questioning the protection of a small number of words in education?

This development needs I think to be placed alongside the MOOC movement. Trying to get qualifications through MOOCs is expensive and takes some time. Does this approach speed things up? Will it be more or less expensive. The OERu providers do not charge for their “MOOCs” and so the accrediting  institution’s charges for that process are all that will be required so it might end up a little cheaper.

That certainly is both the claim and the aspiration of the OERu and good on them. Is New Zealand once again leading the way?


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