The Emperor’s New Lesson Plan

We know what succeeds but just can’t bring ourselves to do it!

New Zealand cannot continue to countenance the level of school failure that prevails in New Zealand. For years, we (i.e. the teaching profession, government officials, think tanks, parents and the employment sector) have known that the stubborn New Zealand statistics of failure are not good for  the community, families, the economy, business sector, the health system and the young  people themselves.

Bill Gates realised this, for each of the English education systems share the same sorry story. He concluded that:

“Once we used to say that school failure was not good for all those young people not succeeding and we must do something about it. Now we realise that we must do something about it because it is no good for us!”

The picture paints a sad and sorry story, a tale that has persisted for many years. 20+% of 16 year-old young people are not in school when the school legal leaving age is reached. The accumulation of NEETs (15-24-year-olds Not in Employment Education or Training) shows no sign of either diminishing of its own accord or responding to programmes to turn this around. There is talk from the education sector that absentees from school reach 76,000 each day – that is the equivalent of 2,533 empty classrooms!

Perhaps we should be reporting some of this along lines similar to the way that we have effectively made the community aware of the status and progress of the Covit-19 pandemic. Education failure is also of epidemic proportion, let’s go hard and go early!

How did this situation occur? Older members of the community will recall the situation 40 or so years ago when students often celebrated their 15th birthday by leaving school to get a job. My own high school presented me with a Fourth Form Certificate in Form 4 (Year 10) aimed at giving students something tangible – that at a time when about 15%studies for School Certificate. Students did not stay in secondary school unless they wanted School Certificate or University Entrance.

The young people who took vocational and trades subjects were imbued with the view that the purpose of education and training was to equip oneself for the world of employment. Scenarios that predicted that in just a few years we would not recognise current jobs, we would all be in the information age, and so on were simply figments of the hallucinations of the trendy. It was not true, it never happened. Even today occupations bear great similarities to how the picture looked 60 years ago.  Never mind, education kept up the mantra that “more schooling was better”. Technical subjects and the applied trades disappeared from school curricula and reappeared in the tertiary sector.

In 1960 around 20% of students stayed at secondary school for 5-years but by 1990 that proportion had grown to 65% accompanied by increasing levels of failure.

The message is clear: more does not mean better.

But there have been developments which are bringing considerable success to students – all is not lost in fulfilling the aspirations of young people and opportunities are being presented to them to proceed to careers. This is being achieved through high levels of collaboration between secondary and tertiary education sectors.

 2011 New Zealand saw the first Tertiary High School introduced at Manukau Institute of Technology. Students who had disengaged from school at around Year 10 (age 14-15 years) and if the truth be told,  well and truly withdrawn from school and learning were offered a chance to come into the Tertiary High School programme. Right from the start they were identified as tertiary students and studied a range of subjects – Level 1 and 2 NCEA and Tertiary Trades programmes (four in the first two years) and a range of programmes and activities to grow their confidence, their social skills and their line of sight to employment. The brilliance of the NCEA qualification was that it enables these flexible programmes to happen easily. From NCEA Level 3 for those proceeding to degree study. Others continued heading towards a career in the trades continuing to other entry levels for the trades.

This programme was radical and required the government of the day to make enabling changes to the NZ Education Act. The creation of the category of programmes characterised as Secondary / Tertiary Programmes and the changes to the Education Act allowed for a further development – the creation of Trades Academies in secondary schools. This development sees students selecting to attend a tertiary institution for one day-a-week for a Level 2 NCEA trade programme or two days-a-week for a NCEA Level 3 programme.

There are twenty-six providers offering these programmes. The largest is the Manukau Institute of Technology where success rates in were 87% for Maori students and 90% for Pasifika students. Evidence shows that progression rates into higher studies and/or employment are very high.

Having in place programmes that meet the needs of the student groups noted above, Manukau Institute of Technology is now implementing, in collaboration with three other Tertiary Institutions, a programme of research into effective ways of increasing levels of Learner Success at all levels. Work is proceeding on a detailed survey of the issues students face in the journey into tertiary study, the issues they face during their period of study and effective and early interventions to keep the students’ study momentum building all the way through the programme. This will take a holistic view of the student.

This work will build on the very successful programme developed at Georgia State University (GSU) which through careful and detailed analysis of the needs of students resulted in moving the GSU Priority Learner Groups (Hispanic and African American students) from being the least successful in terms of results to being the highest performing groups in the University.

Manukau Institute of Technology shares the aspirations to see the same shifts. There are answers to issues of performance to be found, developed and implemented – if only eyes were open to them and having seen the prospect of increased student success were prepared to go after it.

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