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Tag: curriculum

Pathways-ED: Celebrating our NZC


written by Marilyn Gwilliam, Principal Papatoetoe Central School

“Help”, I said to our team at school last week.   “This month’s blog is due and I need your help!  What shall I write about?”  I said that I felt like celebrating, that I wanted to focus on the super things in our schools and as I anticipated (and hoped), their responses indeed came racing back across cyberspace.  They were mostly about our very special NZC.

A number of teachers lamented the fact that the NZC has gone off the radar somewhat.  They want to see it back, sitting right at the forefront of our work in schools.  I think I can hear widespread agreement out there. 

In 2007 we celebrated the NZC’s vision, principles, values and key competencies like never before and we had the time of our lives.  In the NZC we had something that we could really work with in our own communities.  Between 2007 and 2009, we saw possibly the most exciting and ‘go forward’ time in recent NZ educational history.  As one teacher commented, “the walls are literally coming down”, and our approaches have become more flexible, personalised and diverse.

Another teacher said that the NZC provides us with the opportunity to create all rounders and not book worms.  I thought this was a great way of looking at the breadth of our curriculum and the NZ approach to teaching and learning.  Many spoke about child centred learning, authentic learning, and the key competencies in the NZC.

I believe that NZ teachers have really embraced the key competencies and they derive huge professional satisfaction from actively teaching them.  There are many examples in our schools of students self managing, thinking creatively, participating and contributing in a variety of ways.  We only need to attend a school assembly to see our students confidently running the show to appreciate the value of a curriculum that encourages confident and actively involved young people.

In our primary schools one of the key social developmental tasks relates to friendships.  Quite often young children need help with making, being and keeping a friend and teachers do terrific work supporting them with developing their friendships.  Given the sometimes treacherous social media environment these days, support with maintaining friendships has become increasingly important and friendship seems to have a whole new meaning.

Reference was made to the variety of learning experiences that the NZC promotes, underpinned by 8 foundation principles.  Teachers can plan authentic experiences for their students located in their own diverse contexts and in acknowledgement of their cultural capital.  Our teachers spoke about students exploring for themselves and being able to talk about their own learning and what they need to do next to make progress. 

Many really appreciate the focus in the NZC on tailoring learning experiences to suit their students.  They maximise access to outdoor educational opportunities like local pools, marae, botanical gardens, museums and other learning contexts.  For many students, the first time they catch a train or a ferry provides the ultimate excitement!  It is very special to see parents, caregivers and increasingly grandparents on these trips and the connectedness that is tangible between a school and its community when they all set out on a day’s expedition together.

While the eight learning areas in the NZC are presented as distinct, we were encouraged in our own curriculum design, to make use of the natural connections that exist between them and many schools have developed their inquiry learning programmes around this premise.   The curriculum statements, we were told, should be the starting point for developing programmes of learning suited to students’ needs and interests.

So let’s resurrect the NZC.  Let’s be proud of what we do.  Let’s speak up about our successes, celebrate our diversity, and treasure the philosophy of our special curriculum.  Let’s re-visit with our teachers and our community its values and principles, review our approaches to the learning areas, and share our insights in relation to their impact on our students’ learning.

Let’s hear it for the NZC!


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Pathway-Ed: Making things and going places

Stuart Middleton
20 January 2011

There is a lot of talk these days about technology and its impact on our lives, the role that it plays in an information economy and, of course, the compelling reasons for its central place in a school and post-school programme. There is also a growing concern that VET is not occupying the central role that it should have in post-secondary education.

Amid the mad rush to get more and more students into degree programmes while ignoring the importance of middle level sub-degree qualifications, we might do well to stand back a little and wonder what is happening and whether it really is in our best interests.

It is not that long ago, twenty years and a little less, when secondary school industrial arts programmes introduced students to the basic skills of using tools, of understanding materials and of making things. I recall being Principal and one of the many highlights of the year was the display of work undertaken by the students in those programmes. We would be absolutely stunned by the quality of that work, produced by 15 and 16 year olds in the workshops of the school under the guidance of the “technical teachers”.

Furniture would have top quality marquetry work, elegant turned features and be quite outstandingly designed. I am not talking about the wobbly coffee table that I once made. This was furniture that reproduced the kind of stuff you can see on The Antiques Roadshow. In the metal area this quality school student work was paralleled by intricate machines and devices. These students were proud and excited by their achievements. Some of them, but certainly not all of them, perhaps found comparable achievement in other areas not yet forthcoming and certainly a few of them were gaining high level results while working in the new language environment of their new country. It was exciting; it was what I thought schools were invented to do. And it led to employment and apprenticeships and trade qualifications.

But that all changed and a focus on “Technology” in part led to an emasculation of the secondary schools in terms of its capability to do this kind of work. A new subject squeezed the old out of the way.
But have we caused permanent damage to the capability of schools in the name of a passing fad? One commentator, writing of Project Technology, a subject introduced into British schools, related a little story he had heard from the teacher in change of a project on which three schools had collaborated.

“The aim of the project was to build a boat that would clear weeds from a nearby stretch of canal. The public school had organised the project, the grammar school had made the cutting gear that was mounted on the boat, and the secondary modern school had built the boat. ‘How did it work out?’ we asked. ”The boat sank,’ he replied, ‘just like “Project Technology”.’

Meanwhile our countries are developing a shortage of just the sort of people that once made the furniture and the models at school – those who populate the middle ranks of engineering, construction, design, and all those technological occupations that require middle level know-how rather than only degree level know-why, that require middle level qualifications rather than degree level qualifications, that require the practical and the skilled ready to work and get the results.

Many of the processes that result in the mismatch between what educational institutions produce and what the community and the economy needs, result from curriculum processes and the relative lack of attention we pay to the downstream effects of them. What is taught in those institutions actually defines the usefulness of them and the role the institutions will play in the community.

So we really need to have a clear view of what kinds of educated people and workers we need and then see that curriculum at all levels will result in those desired proportions of skills and knowledge and aspirations and dispositions. Once we have decided what those curriculum spaces should look like, we need to change them only when the reasons for change are compelling and not in response to a passing fashion such as might have happened in the case of industrial arts.

That doughty old English warrior, Harold Rosen, knew this when long ago and speaking then of English as a curriculum study he warned that we “….. must not behave as though the contested space [in the curriculum] was solely a matter of persuasion, the sheer force of better ideas….. Spaces do not simply exist in the system, they have to be won, defended and extended.” In short, we need to defend the things that are important.

In the area of trades training and preparation for them in schools, this is something that we have not done.

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Missed Connections

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.18, 15 May 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

 “Only connect!”  is the running message in E M Forster’s novel Howards End and it is an exhortation to bring together the disparate parts of life so as to get balance and, in the long term, a better result. There is a message here for us in education. If we were to seek increased opportunity to increase connection with, between and for students the benefits to students would be immense.

“Only connect!”  One of the key roles that Early Childhood Education plays is to provide a benign and empowering introduction to the education system for parent and child. Opportunities for many in those sections of the community that are likely to benefit most in this way continue to elude us. We miss an opportunity here to get connection with parts of our community that education serves less well.

“Only connect!”  Then there is the question of the sectors that I raised a couple of weeks ago. By breaking education up into these disparate and partitioned pieces we place the onus for achieving connection on the students and his or her parent rather than presenting a smooth and easy road along which they can travel. Students (and their parents) have a lot of other things to concentrate on without also having to be responsible for navigation. They need to concentrate on getting there, having the right preparation and support, making sound choices, staying the distance and achieving success without becoming distracted by a map that seems to bear little resemblance to their lives.

“Only connect!”  And within the sectors there are issues related to the changing of classes and teachers and the different demands of different levels. We know why we do things this way or at least we can rationalise it all but how easy is it for our community to grasp? Does something that seems to them to be simple – learning new and different things – require us to approach it in such a complex and at times convoluted manner?

“Only connect!”  the education world in general has now realised that a major issue exists at the end of secondary education (whenever that comes for a student) where the interface between schools and whatever is to follow is arguably the most difficult set of rapids for students and those who care for them to attempt.

The water rushes them ahead at this point, around, over and sometimes into the rocks of pathway choices, subject choices, career and vocational choices, and choices of institutions and providers. The work that is happening in some schools now to slow down the waters by starting the processes of decision making much earlier holds much promise and should be supported, Similarly the return to a more orderly education system at this level through a network of provision in which universities behave like universities and polytechnics behave like polytechnics will also help.

But perhaps the key connections will be the ones which education professionals make with each other. If education were an ecosystem then survival would depend on our becoming smart at seeing the symbiotic relationship between the parts rather than our simply relishing our spot in the food chain.

The rapacious decade of the 1990’s where students were there to be fought for, in which we all ate each others’ lunches, in which big was beautiful and bigger was more beautiful  took us nowhere and will increasingly be seen as time lost. This was time when we could have been tooling up an education system for what lies ahead rather than shoring up the system to make the most of what has always been.

The growth of our education system has been accidental rather than planned – there was no educational Mt Sinai from which tablets of stone were delivered to us saying this is how it shall be now and for evermore. Despite the tone of various reports over the years, attempts to change the system were attempts to bring some order to a system not built to a plan. The ark of the educational covenant when it is found will be found to be empty.

What was planned was that communities such as ours (and Australia, US, UK and Canada) would have universal primary (elementary, basic) education and a few would proceed to the conventional higher education academy for which a pipeline, secondary education, was required to deliver those few. At the end of primary education pathways would take students into the world of work or into the fee paying secondary schools that led on and up to the academy.

The growth of other options was slow as the British tradition of seeing anything other than a literary education as being inferior, influenced decisions. But other options did emerge and became an imperative after the Second World War when the group of five launched on a track of universal five year secondary education for a variety of reasons. Even the structures within which was tackled were rather haphazard. Junior high schools came but went nowhere, intermediate schools became a quick fix for population growth issues, single sex schools went out of fashion. We are now seeing the emergence of junior and secondary high schools again. All of this by and large took place and takes place without much discussion – it is a series of little bangs rather than intelligent design!

But the most random aspect of education and what could well become the most important lost opportunity for connection is the curriculum. Successive reviews have seen the curriculum feed on itself rather than the needs of the community and the economy. I can’t remember a review that has had the courage to conduct a real stock take of where we are and what we need, not even the orgy of consultation that characterised the Wellington (as in Merv) and Lockwood Smith reviews.

The current NZ Curriculum is a mighty fine document that schools can get their teeth into but will it promote connection? In other words is it an internal document for an in-house discussion or is it the document that will look outwards and tackle the issue of connection? It does mention that a target is to develop learners to be connected but to what?

“Only connect!”  – that is a challenge.

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