The MIT Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways in partnership with Ako Aotearoa has just finished its fourth annual National Symposium in Wellington. Over 200 educators gathered to continue their journey along Te Ara Whakamana, considering possible pathways, transitions and bridges from secondary education into tertiary education.
Flashback to Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2011 when the first gathering was held at MIT and 120 people got together to ask tentative questions related to the “new” policy setting of the “Youth Guarantee”, the approach to the new proposals for a more orderly view of NCEA credit that the Industry Training Federation had developed and called “Vocational Pathways”. The first secondary / tertiary programme in New Zealand, the MIT Tertiary High School, was up and running into its second year, and various academy programmes had started up.
MIT has established the Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways to be a centre of excellence for discussion, development and advocacy of the ideas that would allow students to find new and different ways of moving seamlessly through secondary and on into tertiary education and training.
In particular, the initiatives were aimed at addressing the dysfunctional approaches to senior secondary schooling that saw too many students fail to achieve educational outcomes of which we could be proud and, to not put too fine a point on it, which were acceptable to a high-performing economy. And this in addition to the numbers of students that were dropping out of school prior to approaching the threshold for secondary education.
So the 2014 Symposium was a very different affair. Policy is in place, there was very little discussion and grizzling (as there had been back in 2011) about funding other than its lack of flexibility and reports were made on a wide range of successful new ways of working that were bringing success to some of those who had previously failed or perhaps more correctly, been failed.
An inspirational session came at the end of the second day when a team from Christchurch reported on developments that have arisen from the disruption and damage of the earthquakes. Working differently had become not only possible but also necessary – the old approaches would no longer be adequate nor would they have the urgency that was now needed. Key messages I took out of the session were:
- It is possible to do something about what seem to be intractable problems. They took the dirty statistic of NEETs in Canterbury and by elimination reduced the numbers to produce a list of names. “From numbers to names to action” has been a call for action by Minister Hekia Parata for some time. The Key benefit of such an approach is that it gets the scale of an issue out into the light and able to be tackled.
- They showed that you manage transitions by doing something about them. Organizing the employment sector (manufacturing in this case) was a first step and then connecting that sector to those coming out of training programmes plugged the gaps.
- There is a high level of connected activity, one party addresses the issue of another party by adjusting the way they work. It is collaboration in practice.
- An idea that intrigued was the development of a Destinations passport that gave students a mechanism for systematically noting the ways in which they had developed the so-called soft skills that employers sought. No need to wait for schools to act, allow the students to use their real lives!
- There is a strong focus on evidence-based activity.
Trevor McIntyre leads much of this work and he issued a challenge to those present. What is your earthquake? Certainly there are many things that need a good shake up.
Steve Jobs always claimed that “the journey is the reward.” There is a group of educators in New Zealand that grows larger steadily that is on a journey to a place where students have access to equitable outcomes. Dr. Peter Coolbear, director of Ako Aotearoa, invited the symposium to consider the impact of the changes that were being discussed. In the four years since the symposium started, 14,000 students have engaged in a pathway that is different from a conventional track through the conventional school.
I noted, in bringing the deliberations to a close, that a wide-spread adoption of a “multiple pathways” approach (“linked learning” it is being called in the US) could well be the means by which we address the issues of the bipolar education system and see equity matching achievement in our school system’s performance.
Momentum is building.