Archive for October 2021

Ten Years: Opportunity or sentence

NEWS FLASH

11 October 2021

“Tertiary education institutions have been given ten years to address the differences in the levels of academic outcomes for Māori and Pacific students.”

Tertiary Education Commission

11 October 2021

Ten years is a very long time. Calculate the numbers of Māori and Pasifika students who face the provision of programmes that have been declared as failing in terms of equity and therefore access to a sound tertiary programme. Ten cohorts of students. Pukenga will have to respond to these challenges immediately and, I would have thought, well within the ten-year deadline.

Ten years is a very long time. And those who have been keen to see progress with these priority learner groups are disappointed that some excellent educators had not been met with widespread support and sustained focus over the past decades that are required action to change the pedagogical skillsets and frameworks were clearly failing.

Six times ten years is a much longer time and over that time I have seen the a stream of Māori educators bring their wisdom and guidance to this issue of equity and access in higher education education but it seems not to have been influential to the extent that is needed. Sir Mason Durie with his conceptual framework of Te Whare Tapa Wha and the role of taha tinana, taha hinengaro, taha wairua and taha whanau has over many years influenced those who he has reached out to. Russell Bishop brought his Te Kotahitanga Programme worked over a wide belt of tertiary teachers with his emphasis on effective and culturally responsive pedagogy. Ranginui Walker, Rose Pere, Manuka Henare,…….  a long list supplemented by many dozens of Māori teachers and lecturers who have worked hard, often without effective support, in their institutions. Seemingly the problem beats the process of change and that means that this time the changes must be understood and bedded firmly into everyone’s professional psyche, not just the few in each tertiary institution charged with “doing something about Māori and Pasifika outcomes”.

Interestingly, ten years ago saw the establishment of the first Tertiary High School which was the result of my observation that as much as tertiary institutions work honestly and with good intent the statistics of educational outcomes remained stubbornly resistant to change. The structure of schooling was not serving priority learners well with the persistently shaky transitions, unclear pathways, and half-hearted preparation for further education. This led to the situation in the 1970s and 1980s of+ an education system that was performing to a high standard, comparable to the best of overseas systems, at the top but a tough tussle of failure in the lower third of the students where the performance of our students was raising questions and troubled many in the community who were critical of the levels not being achieved. Disengagement was rife.

But change was made, dual enrolment was found to be possible, funding issues were overcome (using funding differently) and the education law of the land changed to make. These changes were not only made the tertiary high school model possible but also created an environment in which trade academies were possible. In the past decade the Tertiary High School has offered a stable and successful pathway to tertiary qualifications for approximately 1,500 students while trades academies, a collaborative effort between secondary schools and polytechnics, have reached out to 46,000 students who are engaged in secure pathways to secondary qualifications and subsequently tertiary qualifications and employment.

This time around change can and must must be made. Not the situation where, in Charles Payne’s view[1] the hiss and the roar, “So much Reform, So little change!”  Ōritetanga is a start which must now be spread and secured across the sector! 

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 Charles Payne (2010), SO MUCH REFORM, so little change, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge Ma.

Maths, it all adds up to a muddle

About a year ago I wrote a Letter to the Editor of the NZ Herald with a comment on the then announced membership of a Working Group that would prepare the report for the Royal Society Te Aparangi on the teaching and learning of Mathematics in our schools. I asked back then how a set of leaders in Mathematics Education could come to the kinds of conclusions that would bring about change for the better, when they have been the leaders that have taken mathematics to the state it is in.

A year later and a report appears, and my misgivings have not been confirmed and I apologise for that.   But this is not a report that can be ignored! 

The Chairman of the group that has produced this report, Pangarau Mathematics and Tuanga Statistics in Aotearoa New Zealand, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Gaven Martin, is reported to describe the teaching of mathematics as a “mess”. But it gets worse. Reports state that “gaps were widening between rich and poor”, that there is “nothing intrinsic in the curriculum that has led to this situation (but on the other hand there was “nothing challenging in our curriculum by international standard).” In short students should be doing better and indeed must do better. The report chair voiced a fear that there is not a political appetite to make the changes recommended.

Those recommendations that need to be addressed are:

  • Attending to students falling further behind in the curriculum. Does it take an experts group to suggest that this should happen? Why do we have schools?
  • Attend to the matter of teacher maths knowledge and how they teach maths.
  • Leadership from the Ministry of Education instead of just leaving teachers to fend for themselves! I kid you not.
  • And perhaps the scariest of all – “The way maths education is attended to can only increase inequity.”

I am appalled that not only can these opinions of an expert group have a ring of truth, but also that it is a damning condemnation of the state of a critical subject that no doubt children have an expectation they are preparing for life and their parents simply have the right to know that this is being done and being done well. Does this call for a wider review? If Maths – a “gatekeeper” subject – is like this, what assurances are there about other subjects? If it wouldn’t take time that we cannot afford, it is material for a Curriculum Review.

Other reports have said much the same thing about a variety of issues. But there simply seems to be a lack somewhere of willingness to tackle the issues. Or perhaps it is a case of what G.K. Chesterton talked about when he argued that “it isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”

The expert group that has written this report is to be congratulated and the leader, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Gaven Martin and his team are to be thanked for the frank and unpalatable conclusions. He is right: “It’s a goddamn mess, and things are not getting better. And the consequences are pretty horrific, so something has to be done!”

The least we should expect is a clear response from the Ministry of Education.