31 August 2011
I’ve got a committee – oh what a pity!
I have heard of all kinds of silliness that cluster around committees but I think New Zealand took the cake the other day when a committee representing key education groups assembled in New Zealand over the weekend. And the lofty purpose of this committee?
To draw up a list of education matters that no government should attempt to get involved with and which must be left entirely to the education professionals of the land.
In case you are not sure what this means let me put it simply and in a number of ways. On certain matters in education the professionals want to tell the government to butt out, to leave it to them, to mind their own business Above all the message is: LEAVE IT TO US! WE KNOW WHAT WE‘RE DOING!
Let us put to one side the small matter of democratically elected governments and their right to govern. Let us ignore the fact that the government bank-rolls education. Let us forget for the sake of the argument that those who work in education are generally public servants employed ultimately by the state.
Now I have no idea just who was in this group and who they spoke for other than themselves and I have yet to see the list they came up with never mind that, the very idea of it is arrogant, flawed and an abrogation of professionalism
If governments represent the people then it is the people who are the parents and caregivers, the people who are employers, the people who pay the taxes not only for education salaries but also for the social cost of failure. It is also the people who are school students, tertiary students, second chance learners. Governments have every right to engage with educational matters and with the consequences of education operations.
Well, you might ask, why a government wants to be involved. Well there is a series of links between education, skills, employment and economic growth. Without the effective outcomes of a well-functioning education system, economic growth is not a possibility. Nor is a socially cohesive society or a healthy community. I would have thought that education is Numero Uno when it comes to government concerns and if it isn’t, we should be asking why.
If it were not for government involvement it is unlikely that universal education to primary levels, then to secondary levels and finally to postsecondary levels would not have been achieved. Would all schools regardless of the socio-economic status of its catchment get a fair go if it were not for the intervention of the government in the allocation of resources? Would we have moved towards qualifications reform without the involvement of the government? Would our curriculum reflect some of the key concerns such as biculturalism were it not for governments?
So rather than think that a List of Things We Know Best will protect the professionalism of teaching, it would surely be better to aspire to the key markers of a profession many of which have been achieved over periods of time by others such as the medical profession, the legal profession. And what are those markers?
A profession is an essential and valued service in which professionals dispense that service to high ethical standards, with a concern for others and to the best of their ability. A profession is self-regulating has degree of control over admission to the profession and over the sanctions and processes by which recalcitrant members are hauled into line. Above all, professions have appropriately high standards for the effective delivery of the service whether it be quality health care, rigorous defence and prosecution, sound engineering standards and execution or high levels of educational success.
How much better it might have been to spend the weekend on addressing the question of the extent to which education as a profession measures up rather than telling others to keep their noses out of it.