Archive for February 2021

Sporting Opportunities emerge out of disruption.

Covid-19 has been a disruptive, nasty business which has impacted across the community and hit sport particularly.

From the All Blacks down to school sport we have seen disruption, uncertainty and a rather blind pathway taken by administrators to restore regular sport. This has too much had the look of “same old, same old” with bizarre sums of money coming into the picture to be used to shore up sports activities which do not in all seriousness +look like a new and refreshed plan.

One specific area which I have not understood for a few years has been the unwillingness to consider the development of sports programmes emulating the College Sport programme of the USA. This programme across many sports has major impact on the community and is a serious pathway for the development of young sportspersons.

New Zealand could consider a Kiwi College Sports Programme which would pathway from the high school sports activities through to a college programme in the universities and the major ITPs (Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics) in New Zealand. Initially there would be about ten or twelve licences issued across three conferences for a “season” that that was appropriately fitted in to the sporting years.

The advantages of such a proposal (which of course would challenge the old brigade of administrators) are obvious.

The suite of sports in such a programme could be the major sports – Rugby, League, Netball, Football, and Weightlifting for example – with growth of other sports being possible.

There would be equitable focus on both men’s and women’s sports (as in the US).

The key aims are development of high-level skills that would enhance the entry into the professional sports that follow would be a high priority and would gain from having an intake of people with just such a set rather than simply displaying some flair that blossoms in school sport but is not capable of sustaining a professional career.

The programmes would have a educational programme alongside – as happens in the US despite the tar that is brushed across the US College Sports programme which see only Sporting Jocks paid sums of money the bolster the reputation of institutions. This is not the case and the sports activities go alongside the academic requirements which must be sustained to remain in that programme.

Inevitably not all aspiring sports people make the grade and delaying the focus on sport until maturity increases would avoid the habit of discarding this group, characterised by shattered dreams and no future path to follow – a situation not unheard of in New Zealand secondary schools. In sport as in most activity, working to “get back to normal” after post-Covid does not mean returning to the same, opportunities follow from disruption must emerge.

Looking Back to the Future: Coping with an epidemic

It was 5.30 am when the taxi arrived to collect me for a trip to Auckland Domestic for the first flight to Wellington for a meeting. This particular driver lives close by to me so he is pleased to have this early morning fare.

“And where are we going to this morning?” he asks.

“Wellington,” I reply and in answer to what takes me there I inform him that I am headed to a meeting of the Board of Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu. 

“That’s the NZ Correspondence School,” I explain thinking that I am being helpful. And with that a conversation lasting the length of the distance to the airport is kicked off.

“Back in 1947 I was a pupil of the Correspondence School,” he tells me.

“Where did you live?” I asked helpfully suggesting some options including a lighthouse, sheep station and a couple of other remote locations that typically were the staple diet of the Correspondence School.

“No, none of those. I lived at home in Auckland and at the time every school child in New Zealand was enrolled with the Correspondence School. It was the time of the poliomyelitis epidemic at its height in 1947 – 1948. Our school finished early for the year in 1947 and was closed along with all the primary schools at the beginning of 1948 to be opened when the Government felt it was safe.”

Poliomyelitis was also known as “infantile paralysis” as it predominantly struck the younger members of the community. The closing of the primary schools meant that only primary students had to work differently. The closures did not affect the older students (secondary) or adults.

At this point the cab driver became quite animated.

“Our mother was supposed to supervise us and I guess she did a good job. We were not always willing students because we were aware of what could happen when our teachers received those green canvas envelopes to mark our work. But mother was astute in managing her class of the three of us! Our envelopes were delivered to our house by our teacher, I think she did this for all our class – I was in Standard 5.”

I asked about the teachers and how they coped.

“That was the thing that we thought was amusing,” came back the retort. “All the teachers had to go to their school each day and sit at their desk during school hours, marking the work that had been handed in – and there were reports that Department of Education officials were occasionally assigned to make visits to see that this was being enforced.”

In time schools were opened when vaccines were available and finally the Sabin Oral vaccines made universally available and this kick polio to touch thank goodness.

Some interesting parallels between 1947 and 2020 emerge. Seventy-three years between the Polio epidemic and the Covit pandemic would see procedures that bore similarities the one to the other. Materials were distributed – green canvas envelopes on the one hand and multicoloured material from the cloud on the others. Teachers played a central role at all levels with students at different levels.

For both the 1947 Polio and the 2020 Covit epidemics the New Zealand Correspondence School (renamed Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu by 2020) was able to meet the curriculum needs of the school system. In the case of 1947 the Correspondence School was able to increase the range of materials and with it a strenuous programme of 40 radio classes each week. In 2020 Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu was equipped to support the Ministry of Education with the provision of programmes of learning for all levels of the school system.

(Stuart Middleton is a member of the Board of Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu.)

Curriculum – it ought to be simpler!

The curriculum is starting to carry the load of responsibility for the sliding performance of New Zealand’s school students. Language and Literacy, Mathematics and Numeracy, Reading (presented as if it were a separate and disconnected subject) have each taken hits recently.

Calmness is called for. New Zealand has always had a bipolar system of education with a proportion of learners up at the top of the international comparisons – students who could compete with the Scandinavian and Singapore and Shanghai students. But there was also the group that just did not respond to schooling as successfully. There were many and varied reasons for this but essentially they were the ones left behind. There are still top students able to compete and still struggling students who can not.

 It seems to me that what has happened is the comparative sizes of each of these groups. And the coming out in the open of what exactly is happening. I spent quite a lot of time and energy in drawing attention to what the real situation was during the 1990’s and the next couple of decades but New Zealand sailed along preferring to ignore the warning signs until perhaps 15 – 20 years ago when those disengaging from schooling education were starting to increase in numbers and could no longer be conveniently ignored. We picked up from overseas the term NEETs but without understanding the dynamics of it. We have continued to ignore the fact that 20% of students had left school before the legal age of 16 years had come around.  The community could seemingly ignore the statistics related to daily absenteeism, youth unemployment, and scholastic performance.

And when the discussion of all this reached open air the responses has generally been a touch of tinkering rather than a deep calm and informed response.

The recent educations reviews and the recent concern over the curriculum areas that have had a downward trajectory for some time shows an education system that is resistance to advice and seems not to value the involvement of the wide community who are the stakeholders and who simply require the system to be performing, simply that.

Take the concerns over a n area of the curriculum. Shall we call if Subject Q. The same old scenario develops. We have a problem with the teaching and learning of Subject Q in schools. How is this to be fixed? Immediately the education community looks inwardly and seeks solutions from those within it who have had responsibility for Subject Q. We do not see value in consulting the stakeholders that have a burning interest in in. They will in time be presented with the homegrown solution.

This could be any curriculum area – surely a better process would be to ask questions “Who has greatest need of a community of highly performing Subject Quians? How much of Subject Q are required by people at what level, and in other academic areas such as the sciences, the arts. Where is the line to be drawn for the level of competence a community sound in Subject Q ought to have.

So the search for improvement in the teaching of mathematics (or any subject for that matter) should start not with the mathematicians but with the wider communities of the professions – the engineers, the medical experts, the architects, the educational curriculum experts in all areas, and so on.

This would enable a sensible scale of importance to be placed on how much, what and at what level elements of the subject mathematics do students need to have? This brings us to the real issue. Maths is like other school subjects currently – students keep on studying a subject until the fall by the wayside because they generally do not know why they are learning it. They need to have purpose in their work and certainly by Year 10 and 11 the vocational pathways that might interest them should be opening. When students have purpose in their learning and a line of sight to a future learning occurs.

The End is Where You Start

It’s the last day in January, tomorrow is the first day in February and there is no escaping the certainties that in the immediate future schooling will start for another year. Some of those starting will be new to schooling (although the access to Early Childhood Education has galloped ahead at some pace to include many more little ones than it used to) but a fair majority will be continuing the 13-years-of-expectations of schooling.

I am driven by what I see, to wonder about that the progression through school and the issue of the “confidence course” of transitions.   We need to pause and take stock of what transitions mean for the organization of schooling and, indeed, the impact on what should be a guarantee of student success that is implied by the notion of compulsory education.

Too many of those starting schooling over the next week or so will present themselves as keen and starry-eyed students only over time to have the light in their eyes fizzle out.

There are big transitions – changing institutions and ways of working such as happens when primary routines give to intermediate before secondary cuts in to take students to the most important transitions of all – vocational, technical, applied education that lead to employment.

There are many actual and potential smaller transitions both obvious and hidden within these – changing teachers, changing friends, coping with the demand of simply growing, grappling with subjects which march on to higher levels of difficulty, and so on.

The big transitions will usually be approached on a cohort basis and managed by teachers, the smaller ones are mostly left for students and their care-givers to cope with on their own.

I have characterized schooling that is often anything but a smooth ride resembling the seamless process that it ought to be much less often that it ought to.  I am talking about learning here. Each student at whatever level needs to be catered for in a manner that sees a seamless progression in terms of learning across or through those big transitions. I am not thinking of the regimented nature of curriculum which has the look of smooth transitions and happiness, but which can only leave, trailing in its wake, groups of students characterized by difference. If there is not a seamless and smooth transition year-to-year, let alone between one day and the next, one year and the next, then students will likely be left to work things out for themselves without the help of the instruction manual.

One of the features that works to destroy effective transitions is the high-level segmentation of learning into sectors which does not reflect the ways students learn but rather the ways in which the various sectors have developed over a hundred years or so. The result is that having won territory and having created different ways of working with the exclusive rights of ownership to a portion of a set of ages, creates a scenario of territory to be defended.

The result is that time-served is well and truly alive in New Zealand which ensures that for some the curriculum will more too slowly, for others too quickly. Put this into a setting where subjects can usually only be accessed in a single school and often with little scope for high-level specialization as a musician, an artist, in sports using digital skills, performing arts, high level cultural skills and so on.

Of course, there are exceptions such as Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu (The NZ Correspondence School), the Manukau Institute of Technology Tertiary High School, the development in some schools of tertiary trades programmes and other instances where some exciting work is being done – pathways provided, and transitions managed. Interestingly the colourful exceptions to the beige standard education of the system seem to be more available to those students that schools exclude.)

Schools will open for another year of business. Covid-10 could play a part, but schools have shown and ability to engineer schooling through such times. What remains are the big issues of tackling the still expanding growth of NEETs, higher levels and consistence in school attendance, flexibility of programmes and their availability, greater use of the skills of the community and…….  greater use of seamless pathways and managed transitions with perhaps, increased willingness to deploy managed engagement! Best wishes and good luck for 2021!