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.

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