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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!

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