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Tag: connections

Pathways-ED: Would you like your eggs hard boiled?

Stuart Middleton
16 August 2012


There is currently renewed interest throughout the Anglophone education systems in the quality of careers advice, information, guidance and education. This is largely prompted by the slow dawning of a realisation that what we have been doing in the past might not cut it in the present nor be appropriate to the future.

I am off to be a member of a panel at a “summit” on just this topic. I take with me a little suspicion of events that style themselves as a “summit” when most of the time we find the foothill of ideas and issues quite challenging enough and our track record in scaling the heights only to discover it was the wrong mountain. Meanwhile we simply get better at climbing!

I am a member of a six person panel (plus chairperson) that has been allocated a total of 35 minutes. This seems at first glance a daunting task and it crosses my mind that in itself it might be a microcosm of the issues – too much in too little time, excellent resources (present company excluded) squandered, no immediate interaction with the audience, the urgency of afternoon tea pressing against the end of the time slot. It was, I thought, a little bit like school itself.

But snappy runners these days can scoot around a 1,500 metres race in less than four minutes, Madonna and Justin Timberlake “Only having four minutes to save the world” and many an instant meal is ready to eat in no more time than that.

So what do you say in four minutes that will contribute to the question: How do we improve economic performance through connecting education, business and industry?

I am tempted to adapt an old joke –  When Gandhi was asked what he thought about British civilisation he replied that he thought it would be a good idea! Yes, the connection between business and industry and education would be a good idea. But to achieve it requires some thought and attention by education.

For a start the connection can only be based on education success, real and appropriate qualifications, work ready graduates from all levels and pathways through the education system that lead to real destinations in real jobs in the reality that is employment, business and industry.

So, the corollary of this is that an educational failure, a disengaged student, a poorly educated or trained student is worse than no help to the mission of improved economic performance but instead is actively counter to it. Wealth generated by business and industry is diminished while it continues to be squandered through the unnecessary costs of educational failures and disengaged NEET youth.

What we have to understand is that getting educational success that is consistent with the economic performance mission is not about what secure, middle class adults do however well intentioned. It is about what happens in the heads of young people. It is about how education programmes impact on young people, and when!

If we look at education systems that are more successful than ours there stands out three key issues in this connection between education and career, education and economic performance.

First, awareness of the linkages between education/school, pathways and employment is well-developed by around age 12 or to put it another way the end of primary schooling.

Secondly, Senior secondary schooling is characterised not by sameness but by difference. Senior secondary schooling is differentiated by having a clear focus of one kind or another. The development of the general academic comprehensive high school has proven to be a failed experiment.

So, thirdly, there is earlier access to career and vocational education programmes leading to real qualifications recognised by business and industry.

These emphases lead to an educational output that sees young people gaining qualifications across a range of levels that match the needs of business and industry. Instead, in the Anglophone systems we produce relatively large numbers of degree qualified students and large numbers of students who are unemployable and who go on to prove this by being unemployed. In between there is a dearth of young people with middle level qualified technical skills.

In short, New Zealand moved away from what used to work – ability of youth to secure employment, on-the-job training, access to earn and learn opportunities, values placed on qualifications at all levels, an apprenticeship systems that other countries envied.

“Back to the future” is little more than one of those fatuous hopes, the world changes and there is no “back” to go forward to. But some of the solutions to getting our education system firing on all cylinders might well lie in the practices of the past. With the relative increase in resources available to us now, we can surely get it right again.

I think I could say all that in 3minutes 54.4 seconds – Peter Snell’s world record mile time set in 1962.



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Talk-ED: A double helping!

Stuart Middleton
20 March 2012


The Entree:    What’s not local about education and training?

Local Government Minister Nick Smith is wide of the mark when he calls for local government to get “out of education” and uses the example of “a council that sets a target of Level 2 NCEA”.  He goes on to say that local government has no business doing central government business. This is referring to the Auckland Council’s clear target for education and skills in the region.

He is right to say that local government should not be doing central government business but misses the point that local government has a role to play in seeing that central government does its business. There is no issue with the Level 2 NCEA goal – last Thursday Prime Minister John Key clearly set exactly the same goal for the government and his Ministers (see below).

The role of local government with regard to this target is to advocate for central government to deliver on it. It might also have a role in facilitating collaboration and innovation across the region to support the goal. Such a goal, and this is clear to the Government and certainly the Prime Minister if not to Minister Smith, is at the heart of economic growth and development. When the Auckland Council and the central Government sit down to talk about such matters, it is exciting to think that they will share the same goal.

One party (central government) will be held to account in that discussion for delivering on it while the other party (local government) will be showing how it contributes to a region that is similarly committed to it and which contributes in appropriate ways to it. No local government has an appetite to do the government’s work!  But if unitary councils are to be taken seriously, central government has to see that its work is contributing to regional aspirations.

Minister Smith needs to get up to speed on education and training, its performance and its role.


The Main Course:  Whose will be done?  Education must respond.

The recent speech from Prime Minister John Key outlined some directions that will impact on education and training.

Education will have a key role to play in the reduction of numbers of people on a “working age benefit”. Many of this target group will through in some cases no fault of their own – life dealt a pretty rough hand – require additional training and education before they are able to work. The skills of employment may have moved beyond the level of competence that they were able to reach in previous employment or in their education (IT springs to mind).

This raises the issue of transition – just how are people assisted to move from benefit dependency to self-reliance in employment as a wage earner. It is not black and white, one minute you have a benefit, the next you are in sound employment. And certainly an interview in a WINZ office will not achieve it. Education institutions should get their thinking caps on.

It is interesting to see access to ECE placed into a “supporting vulnerable children” set of responses – increasing access, increased immunisation and reducing the rate of assaults on children. I hope the goal is to reduce assaults on children down to zero!  Again education is a key.

And it is also an explicit player in the goal to boost skills and employment. NCEA Level 2 (or an equivalent) will be a key marker of a platform from which 18 year olds can launch the pathways into the world of further education and training and of employment. This is sensible. It sets a clear target that should be attainable by all students without requiring them to continue along a track headed towards university when this is not the goal. But it is also a big ask for us to achieve!

Add to this the development of “Vocational Pathways” within NCEA and the promise they have to bring integrity and cohesion to the programmes of many students not heading towards university. We are starting to see shape in the senior levels of schooling with these proposals.

It therefore makes sense for the performance of 19-24 year olds to get some attention. The goal has been placed at an excellent level – advanced trade qualifications, diplomas and degrees (at Level 4 and above). 

Evidence supports this goal as one which will lead to employment, to a family sustaining income and to allowing a person to make a positive contribution to society. For it is a fact that a person qualified to at least this level is highly unlikely to be engaged in the dark arts of crime. It all ties together.

Get a well educated and knowledgeable community and you will get one which is less dependent of benefits, less likely to bash children, be more assertive about getting education for their children and looking after them and, of course, will be both employable and employed. So the challenge is there to all of us in the education community and we simply have to be up to it. With the clear connections now being made between education and social and economic development clearly and in measurable terms, we will have nowhere to go if we don’t perform on such measures. Certainly we cannot sit back and blame it on the government – this government or any government for that matter.

Finally, there must be at least a touch of interest in the creation of the “Super-Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.” Of course there are cost-cuttings and efficiency considerations in this expression of the latest attempt to clean up the Public Service. But there might also be quite a lot of good sense in seeing new connections and taking a multidisciplinary approach to public policy and oversight. The inclusion of Building and Housing also seems more like a continuation of a search for a safer pair of hands. But to group economic development, labour, science and innovation seems to create a potential for increased impact and progress in those areas.

Will the spotlight turn next to education? Bringing together the Ministry of Education, the Tertiary Education Commission, the Education Review Office and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority would at least be an interesting discussion and might well have legs. Perhaps the Careers Service could also be included. Have I left anyone out?

We talk a lot about connection and transition in education and how the lack of smooth transitions gets in the way of education success for too many and yet we all work within an education system that is built around a lack of connection.

Connections, transitions, lifting education access and outcomes – a lively setting for education is emerging.



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