The long low croon of the steady Trade Winds blowing*

Stuart Middleton

EdTalkNZ

13 November 2015

I am sure that there is a discernible breeze getting up among the education trees.

I have recently spent time with Iwi groups who are looking at the value of such developments as the MIT Tertiary High School in jump-starting an improvement in Māori educational achievement. Demand for places in trades academies is increasing markedly and schools are asking for trades courses to be delivered within their programmes and on their premises.

In Alberta, Canada, I made a presentation (via video) about the MIT Tertiary High School to a major government education conference and there is ongoing work taking place to look at the value of such a development in Alberta, a province which probably has been more successful in adapting and changing than the more vaunted Ontario.

In the weekend papers a story is told of a set of early childhood education centres in the UK that is using experience with real trades tools and activities and a setting (workbenches, real materials and so on) to develop quality motor skills and social skills among the preschoolers.

At the other end of the age range, the University Technical Colleges developed under the leadership of Lord Baker of Dorking, are taking high performing 15 year old students into a STEM oriented programme and having them complete a first university degree by age 18 years. Why that age range? Lord Baker says simply: “14 years is too early to start specializing and 19 years is too late to get on with a career.”

As these English speaking systems get on with trying to address disengagement and failure (just as we are) some principles emerge which should be the foundation for future actions in response to the achievement issues.

Early access to applied learning will open up a pathway for students who are jettisoned by the university-bound track that constrains the senior secondary school programme. We hear so much chatter about different learning styles, about De Bono and and his jolly hats, about reflecting students aspirations and on and on and on but we see no action in response.

Early access to applied learning through the trades ticks all the boxes – a range of different learning styles can be catered for and the highly demanded skills of team work, planning and discipline are able to be integral parts of the programme. But most of all, when students reach the senior secondary school age they are wondering about their futures beyond school and trades programmes give a line of sight to employment and careers. Education become purposeful rather than for no obvious reason.

The age range 14-19 years is critical if we are to address disengagement and failure. It is where disengagement occurs, it is where the failure become manifest, it is where students become dispirited as they realize that they are ill-equipped for the world ahead. They are lured into a future as a NEET because it seems to be the only option. But what might once might have seemed to be the rosy glow of Shanghri-La quickly turns out to be neither rosy nor rewarding.

If we are to canny sailors we should be responding to the breeze before it develops into a storm that defies containment and might well be beyond our capability.

* Trade Winds John Masefield

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