Archive for March 2022

Finally the penny has dropped – lit’racy has gong to the drogs

It is a simple truth that you learn to read by reading. It is also a truth that you learn to write by reading. For decades both have been ignored in school to the extent that this most useful subject, most important skill, and most important mark of a good education has been unable to exert itself into the school curriculum in an adequate manner
In the 1970’s and into the 1980’s adults who should have known better preferred to waste tine that rightly belonged to learners with the Phonics v. Ready-to-Read Debates. We have always known that both were essential. Students who simply bark at the print are denied the fact that learners get meaning from print by bringing meaning to print etc. Rich experiences in the home and the school are the fuel that feeds these fires. Stand back and think about that and you will also catch a glimpse of why some learners learn more easily than others.
And the material which is put in front of learners need not always be flash and ghee whiz! I have a modest collection of School Journals, going well back, and believe me – some of the material put in front of students in all decades was very ordinary. But there was also fiction and non-fiction of high quality, written by New Zealand’s most respected writers that provided a diet that was requiring all kinds of genre, all levels of difficulty and so readers were able to built a set of gears that they could harness and bring into use for reading a healthy range of reading using the different gear that have been developed.
Like everyone else, I was fed a series of readers at school (dutifully carried home in our little reading folders) which in our house were read numerous times. Some of those readers were an English version called Janet and John, it was a copy from an American series called Alice and Jerry.
School Readers were sometimes the cause for debate and hot demands for action from the officials. One such was the Washday at the Pa controversy. A special edition reader was a photographic booklet by Ans Westra, one of our best photographers, that focused on life among the communities of the East Cape. The book was launched on the morning of a conference in Wellington and immediately drew fierce complaints from the conference delegates. Children should not see such stuff. Stuff which honestly was a sensitive portrayal of the realities of real life in those communities. All copies were burnt overnight. The reaction was more measured on another occasion when a Ready-to-Read journal had a story about a Pakeha family who had trooped out to the airport to wave Daddy goodbye as he headed to Wellington in the Viscount Aircraft to attend a meeting – oh so middle class! New Zealand had a tendency to ban material as Alister Taylor discovered when the The Little Red Schoolbook appeared in schools!!
My mother took the view that “The stuff the boys read. Well, what we understood would do us no hard and the stuff we didn’t understand would also do us no harm.” This was a pretty safe bet in a Presbyterian home!
Thank goodness reading and writing (and mathematics) is at long last to be centre stage. Many learners will have withstood the absence for too long through the drought of instruction in those critical skill areas.

New Curriculum : The Road Ahead

Back in the halcyon days of schooling in the 50’s and the sixties what the History we had was driven by the Second World War and such events as rationing, the Spanish ‘Flu (Grandad died) and our proud success in converting grass to food.
Then, in intermediate school and the high school, we never got past the central North Island with the blow-by-blow accounts of the development of the set of power stations on the Waikato River, a feat shadowed only by the main line railway which died somewhere in the King Country when the social studies teachers ran out of steam.
What is a significant and long awaited development in New Zealand Education is the recent launch of the New Zealand Aotearoa Curriculum Refresh – full of better than good expectation with its hint of change and not the usual confidence and patter that perhaps promised difference in what will be developed.
The promise is that this next four years will take us to a place that, frankly, we should have reached long ago. T S Eliot got it right:

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from…
And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

(Little Gidding)

The goals are clear:
(1) Honouring our mutual obligations to and through Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
(2) Creating a curriculum which is inclusive so that all ākonga see themselves and succeed in their learning.
(3) Making sure “The New Zealand Curriculum” is clear about the learning that matters.
(4) Making sure The New Zealand Curriculum is easy to use for teachers.)

I guess these four things need to be said but they are simply no-brainers. The first must address the shameful gaps of the past while the second is a faint hope if the picture they are asked to see themselves in lacks a strong frame. The clarity in expressing the learning students need to learn (something which has for too long escaped the complexity of educational process) is the key question. Ease of usability for teacher. I have doubts about this last one – if it means clarity, OK, if it means accessibility for Parents and caregivers, OK, if it means that students will learn, OK.
But if it means diluted curriculum then the scrutiny of who does the refresh must be rigorous? The collective educational community has brought the system to where it is now. What “refreshment” will be required for them before they start and as they go though the development process. How will teacher and all involved not only be refreshed but also be capable of refreshing their thinking and recognising the elements of the refreshed curriculum as it emerges.

That will be the tough part of all this. That is why Charles M. Payne persists with his mantra – So Much Reform – So Little Change!

One of Philanthropy’s Best Kept Secrets

There is in Auckland a wonderful opportunity for students who are about to leave school to apply for a scholarship that will provide a grant of $25,000 dollars towards the costs of their initial years of study at a university.
The unique feature is that the students who benefit from this great assistance will benefit from the grant with few strings attached other than an expectation that the student will apply themselves to succeed. They will have already proved that success is the given outcome through their demonstration throughout their school years. They will have achieved through over coming adversity, been outstanding scholars and shown superb leadership at their school and in the wider community.
The grant is not compromised by the institutions which often make what is styled as significant sums of money creating gasps from the students at prize giving but which are in effect grants through money in kind – accommodation, course costs, and so on.
The Sir George Elliot Charitable Trust was founded in 1956, the year of the death of Sir George Elliot who was a businessman with a stellar career in different parts of the country including several long stints as Chair of the Reserve Bank in Wellington. He was also the President of the Auckland Exhibition, a most successful event in 1913 thanks to his guiding hand.
The link with education had always been there. He was a stalwart supporter of St Kentigern and St Cuthbert’s donating substantial sums of to both schools and indeed the donation to St Kentigern, which was made anonymously, allowed the school to proceed with its establishment.
The Sir George Elliot Trust in 2000 set up the scholarship, $25,000 for three students who met the criteria – achievement through adversity, exemplary academic standards, and clear leadership in both their school and their community. Twenty-two years later the trust can be proud of the 70 students that have passed through the programme. Many are now in mid-career, and all are fulfilling the confidence that that the Trust members have in each of the successful awardees, confident in the quality of the scholars.
Seventy scholars have either been through or are still in the programme. As those who start the journey when school leavers build on the qualities recognised by the award and continue to demonstrate the capability to give effect to their early promise.
A rather nice touch is brought to the programme each year since its inception by the involvement of the Governor General of the day in sponsoring a function at Government House, Auckland. They are joined by the awardee’s Principals who receive a grant of $500 for the library to mark the contribution made to the awardees earlier education which brought them to the threshold of a Sir George Elliot Tertiary Scholarship and the opportunities that go with it.
Giving does not need to be surrounded by brash publicity.