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Month: August 2022

Romantic reflections

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.


“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!!

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Writing Between the Lines

Last week’s posting about getting students back to school attracted quite a lot of comment for which I am grateful. There are some other issues that should be brought to wider notice and so I shall embark on a visit to The Things That Matter.

A well-meaning commentator popped up on the Television Three Project Programme about the Teaching of Writing which claimed that most students were being taught to learn to write in a flowing hand. I must say that my excursions into the realm of schools leave me with a burning understanding that some but only some youngsters receive tuition in the fine art of handwriting.

I can describe grotesque attempts of young children to actually hold a ball point pen which is both very difficult and does not engender the growth of a ease with hand-writing.

Only occasionally do I take recourse to describe how I was taught in the olden days to hand-write, (this was 1951-ish). We were each assign a smallish blackboard and we learnt to write stand at these said black boards. Emphasis was placed on our achieving rows of upper case “O’s” until we could produce a succession of fields of kiwifruit all ready, at the same size, etc to fuel our writing. This was followed by the addition of a flick of the chalk which would be required to start joining the letters together. The proscribed shape of the alphabet followed and so on.  Chalk led to pencil. And pencils were replaced by fountain pens at the start of Standard 5. And the handling of ink produced a few rather messy moments.

This journey was not entirely about scratching messages and so on, but it was about linking the process of thinking with the with the process of expression and of developing a cache of words that would increasingly develop to be available -the ammunition of the written word.

The business of literacy suffers from the students not receiving an adequate writing programme. Writing and Reading are the soulmates of literacy. You learn to read by writing, and to write by reading. Writing and Reading will not and should not replace each other for young readers. Using the facility with electronic keyboards should have as a precursor, basic facility with reading and writing language. 

And it is not soppy to want students to read and write.

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