Archive for July 2021

We’ve got the Apples but not the Teachers

The Government’s solution to the apparent teacher shortage is to increase their engagement in Covid-Roulette by opening the borders to 300 teachers from overseas. What has happened to the old system when the Ministry of Education knew, with some certainty, that the likely supply of teachers would be made up of three categories – teachers registered and on-the-job, teachers-in-training, and what I think was intriguingly called the “Pool of In-Active Teachers?”

Perhaps the numbers of students who drop-out or leave primary school but never appear o the roll of a secondary school or join the ranks of the NEETs has complicated the process of making predictions for the supply of teachers a bit of a guessing game. The fact that the MOE has five years to prepare for the number of students entering primary school and 10 years to work out the relative numbers moving on to secondary school. Either solving the strange disparity in population numbers and progression figures or simply shrugging shoulders as to this mystery and factoring it into their calculations should help.

Another issue -It seems that there are teachers experienced in the New Zealand education system who are available to teach but simply cannot get teaching positions and, we are told, even an interview! This seems a bit daft?

Now, some positive moves.

Teachers themselves could be their own worst enemy. Some think it smart to say: “I wouldn’t recommend to a student that they consider a teaching career.” Well, this can only make the recruitment of young people into the ranks of teaching more difficult and it will rebound on the lives the lives of those who make these statements.

New Zealand’s current position makes it imperative that we find people willing to teach in a wide range of settings. We cannot continue to ignore the great need to recruit and train hundreds of teachers who reflect the skills, languages and community connections of Maori and Pasifika and other groups of students who would respond to teachers who can relate to them, and ideally have fluency in the language of the students in their language kit-bag.

An example. It is a lazy and unacceptable to respond to a reluctance to learn Te Reo, for instance to state that there are no opportunities because there is a shortage of teachers. New Zealand could solve this simply by recruiting Maori to be specialist teachers.

It has been disastrous to place teacher training predominantly into the hands of the universities (New Zealand has not been the only country to head done this track). Teaching as a pathway must be available to young people. Access to programmes of teacher training must be developed so that teaching is easily accessible in regional settings. There could of course be a teacher training programme in every polytechnic and institute of technology. Pukenga could respond to a challenge in this area surely. Incidentally while mentioning Pukenga, they should be thinking of playing a role in preparing teachers to service the needs of the very successful Secondary Tertiary Programmes.

New Zealand has a very successful distance learning institution, Te Aho o te Kura Pounamu. There could be a role for this organisation in providing pathways to post Year-12 students wishing to head into teaching, or members of the communities in regional cities and towns for those wishing to return to the workforce as teachers. This could be done in conjunction with universities.

There are so many ways in which shortage of teachers can be addressed and solved. Migrants are likely to be part of the solution as indeed they have been at times in the past. It is one solution, but it will never be the solution. Teaching is an area where home-grown will prove must be seen central to a great solution.

At last NZ’s Dirty Big secret is out! The issue of Truancy and Absenteeism is to be dealt with.

At last the dirty secret that educations has by and large brushed over is to be brought into the open with a serious review of absenteeism in the school system. All power to their arm. This issue has been known but ignored, been open to remediation but no action that has been effective.

And mostly that is because no-one owned the issue. The hoary old reason, the plaintiff cry of “we have no resources” – seemed to be enough to quell the concern of the community. Well, the community that cared because sections of the community were complicit in taking their children out of school, preferring instead of sending students to school, to take holidays in the South Pacific, or to be able to galavant around the snowfields of the south.

I first wrote of this issue in the 1990s. Some might remember Education Review: The Back Page. And my effort to bring this to attention has continued through to this blog, EdTalkNZ to the present time. I was also also an early-alert agent of the question the growing phenomenon of NEETs (indeed I even launched a document in the early days that drew to attention the existence of this group that was relatively unknown back then. NEETs are the alumni of truants and those groups that do not go to school or are selective in turning up.

Back in 2010 I gave a presentation at the Eastern Institute of Technology which beat the drums I was beating then, and which was typical of the many presentations (at that time being on a mission to explain the Tertiary High School opening that year at Manukau Institute of Technology). 

20% of 16-year-old students were not at school when they turned 16-years old and became legally able to leave school – most of these students must have had parents / guardians who turned a blind eye however grudgingly.

30,000 truants from secondary school each day (this was in 2010 remember- the number of secondary and primary truants are getting up to the 80,000 mark). 

School stand-downs were running at 4,000 a year (in 2010).

4,500 students were leaving primary school but failing to enter a secondary school (in 2010).

80% of youth appearing in the Youth Court have left or are absent from school (in 2010).

48% pf school leavers going to a tertiary provider successfully completed a postsecondary qualification (2010). This issue has been replaced by the pattern that 50% of secondary school leavers in the Southern Auckland area leave school not intending (or perhaps not knowing) where they will go in the next year (in 2019).

Meanwhile by 2010 the number of NEETs had grown to something between 17,000 and 25,000. Why the huge range? New Zealand was grappling with getting clear definition – who should or who should not be included in this category – youths seeking a job for instance?

My point is – those statistics are from 12 years ago. And the statistics of today have finally drawn the Government to say enough is enough. NZ has deluded itself with thinking that we have a great schooling system – what we have is a bipolar system where one half does well and the other half does not. 

It is abundantly clear that the issues can be addressed but only if there is some courage in understanding the reasons why the system has broken down. Hard solutions will be needed. and hard solutions can be found. Answers lie in the Ministry having the courage to stop the rort that allows students to stay at home – the parents must be hauled into line but only if the outcome of the review leads to a system in which students are motivated by an appropriate curriculum, taught well, one which has purpose. Parents also need to see a purposeful future for the children.

Secondary Tertiary Programmes show that students can be motivated if they see the promise of a future. Ask one of the 45,000 students who have found purpose in programmes that give a glimpse of the future.

But breaking news, its official folks – 40 %of New Zealand’s school students are playing hookey!

Words, Words, Words! Sorry….Sir!

“Words, Words, Words, 

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below

Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

Shakespeare was his usual perceptive self when giving these lines to Hamlet and Polonius. Hamlet is When asked  about his reading matter his answer reflects a despair at knowing that his words mean little. And so might our words have less impact while our motives are well meaning.

When I became a principal there were times when I was called on to resolve an issue between school children – antagonisms, scraps, actions that hurt others, things said that sting. I started off in thinking that quite often in these circumstances an apology was an appropriate ending to such discussions. But I quickly learnt that an apology can simply be an easy way out, a proxy for a sound conclusion. It might be this for both the aggressor and for me but the aggrieved remained aggrieved. It was much better to focus on acknowledging what has happened in order to agree on how behaviour or understand will remediate what needs changing and agreeing to do just that.

I wonder whether New Zealand is drifting in a cult of “sorry”-ness, the habit of making an apology as an easy way out. A quick and seemingly tidy way to conclude an issue especially when you see that apology oiled with phrases such as “we need to move on” and other mock-heroic gestures.

Increasingly I see a line-up of events where huge damage has eventuated demanding a response that goes far beyond an apology.

I was working in South Auckland at the height of the Dawn Raids, a brutal and unforgivable period of intrusion, hurt and damage, – actual, pecuniary, of mana, of hurt to families – all this simply because citizens who were doing no harm failed to have the correct papers. We have seen such actions in the regimes of other countries. They were dark and threatening days! Is saying “sorry” adequate?

The events at Mt Alice Psychiatric Hospital, recently in the media, got worse as they were unfolded. Seemingly “sorry” was used to lessen the hurt of the actions that to any ordinary person seemed unbelievably cruel if not barbaric and to draw the matters to a close. Is saying sorry to be the last word or to draw the matters to a close?

Now I am not putting “remorse” into the same category as “sorry” or two – the courts make effective use of the concept of remorse and act to recognise remorse when it shows. That is ensuring that the offender has genuinely reflected on the harm caused and often the sentencing process makes rulings reflecting the view that being “sorry” is not enough. Victims often comment on the fact that remorse has not been shown by the offending party.

In short, sometimes saying “sorry” is simply not enough and the response needs to go further in recognising this.  A list could also include Pike River, Whaakari/White Island, and the transgressions of government ministries, departments and agencies which seem to trot out their CEOs to make apologies at the drop of a hat. 

I have deliberately not included the Treaty of Waitangi process which seems to me to have got it right. An apology with the full might of the current Government and accompanied by recompense for the hurt, the impact on lives and addresses of iwi to get on with resources to build new and better futures. An honest attempt is made to right wrongs. There are lessons in this when saying sorry is a meaningful process with high levels of engagement between the aggrieved and the perpetrator sorrowful events.