Dipping recently into a 2019 copy of a N.Z. Listener I was interested in what events allegedly “shaped the nation” in terms of development, important people, events, and commentary. It was a light once over of a very wide range of topics – War, Health, Sport, Economy, Literature, Tragedy, Food, History, Crime, Icons, and Technology. I looked for Education which was absent from the cover but was thankful of the three snippets which made it into the later pages – three paragraphs which marked, in the writer’s view, the important developments and people who built our system.
1942. COMMON CORE CURRICULUM INTRODUCED
“While war raged in Europe and Asia, Prime Minister Peter Fraser still found time to oversea a radical reform of the country’s manifestly inequitable of the country’s education system during the 1940s. the schools leaving age was raised to 15 and a “generous and well-balanced” common curriculum introduced for the first three years of high school. He couldn’t have done it without visionary Education Department head Clarence Beeby who wrote that was “revolutionary, the first time any government in New Zealand had ever committed itself absolutely to the idea of full and free education for all.”
There is no doubt that Clarence Beeby (and George Hogben) were the educational leaders, the stars of thinking about education who contributed most in the pre-wars days.
February 1992. HIGHER EDUCATION
“The early 90s saw a run-on gowns and mortar boards. Universities bulged and polytechnics offered degrees as more New Zealanders than ever participated in tertiary education. With high unemployment in low-skill areas encouraging upskilling, and the loans scheme enabling borrowing to cover costs, student participation increased by a third to 200,000 between 1991 and 1993. Non-Pakeha students made inroads, comprising 30% of the student body by 1998, up from only 15% in 1990. Although the loans scheme enabled wider participation, borrowing reached $26.1 billion in 2018.”
The great increase in numbers that is described in this paragraph fails to mention that the increase was essentially a relatively low calibre increase in numbers that failed to significantly increase the quality of the outputs despite “Glory Days” of funding by volume!
“2000 -2019. NCEA
In its 17 years, the secondary schools’ assessment system has generated strong criticism in the Listener that it dumbed down aspects of our children’s education while needlessly stressing students and teachers with constant assessment. Both Labour and National governments were mulishly defensive in the face of evidence that the system was too easily “gamed” with the inclusion of credits for such things as picking up rubbish. The chorus for change has finally led to announcements of reform with higher-quality teaching of core skills such as numeracy and literacy and more robust assessments. There is still room to add non-core subjects and activities tailored to students’ vocational aspirations, but New Zealand is upgrading the quality of learning with the recognition that young Kiwis’ life opportunities are dependent on their abilities in key areas.”
It must be said that NCEA is the major development in the post-Beeby age – it is the standout development in assessment and has been the key to provide opportunities for young people. But still the grumbling goes on!!