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Tag: Pasifika

EDTalkNZ: Joining Some Dots

 Today’s guest writer is Karl Mutch, Manager, Team Solutions, at The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education.

When I was a young boy in the 1960s, a long time before computer games and even before space invaders, there used to be things called puzzle books which children would inevitably receive as Christmas or birthday presents. These books, usually an inch thick and printed on poor quality paper, were useful for amusing ourselves on a wet weekend or in the winter school holidays. They contained pictures you could colour in, quizzes, crosswords, lists of interesting facts and, my favourite, join the dots. Using a pencil, you would begin to join up the hundreds of apparently random dots on a page until some kind of shape emerged – if I remember correctly it was usually an elephant, a cute dog, a palm tree or a clown. The easier join the dot pages even had some of the picture already provided so you kind of knew what was coming. Even if you could anticipate the final image, there was something satisfying about completing the picture, joining up all the dots and seeing everything connected.

What would it look like if we could join up some of the dots to help connect schools more strongly with our communities? What would a truly community connected school look like, and feel like – for students, for teachers, for school leaders and for members of the community? What sort of picture might emerge?

A couple of months ago I sat in the main auditorium at the Telstra Clear Events Centre in Manukau with over 200 people who were asking a similar question. What was exciting about this was not just the name – Raise Pasifika Fono – but the fact that it was a rare attempt to connect the education dots across a large and diverse community – to improve outcomes for Pacific students. There were specialist groups – students, early childhood, primary and secondary teachers, principals, tertiary educators, government ministry people, business people, church representatives, some MPs, union representatives, health sector representatives, counsellors, local community members, parents and people from local government. At times, we talked within our specialist groups, at times we re-grouped to engage with a range of perspectives. For a moment, it felt like a whole community coming together to talk about education connections and how these might be aligned to benefit students.

Of course there are already numerous examples of schools, kura and communities working together to benefit students – iwi have created and are implementing education plans and exploring education partnerships; parents are involved in school reading and homework programmes; businesses and sports clubs provide mentoring, work experience or sponsorship. Local councils have community development programmes and community trusts fund a wide range of school-connected projects. There are youth workers in schools and programmes that connect schools with artists and scientists. Trades academies allow secondary schools to engage in new ways with employers and tertiary institutes. Somewhere amongst all of this is the potential for more coherence in how schools and communities connect – perhaps across a suburb, town or region – and I haven’t even touched on the potential of virtual communities to revolutionize the ways schools ‘connect’.

Government can play a role. There are increasing connections between iwi and the Ministry of Education through iwi education partnerships. This week, Child, Youth and Family has established a direct hotline for teachers to help encourage reporting of suspected child abuse. Although there are worries there may not be enough staff at CYF to follow up those concerns effectively, it is at least an example of a direct connection between schools and a government agency that could make a difference for children. Why wasn’t it done years ago? What other hotlines do we need?

How can local government increasingly play a role here? It could start by providing more infrastructure for agencies and organisations to make connections. This would ensure that agencies intersecting and participating in education would know who was playing what role or delivering which services. It would allow the community to access the information they need in a timely way. In Auckland, the Education Summit held earlier this year was an attempt to kick start that process.

I know that community means different things to different people, but exploring ways for schools to connect in increasingly innovative and coherent ways with their communities seems like a really important job. What sort of picture, what sort of vision, might emerge if we actually start joining up more of those dots?

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Talk-ED: No excuse for delaying changes

Stuart Middleton
1 August 2011

It has been the mid-year, between semester break for education institutions – even EdTalkNZ had a wee rest!. But it is not that educators get a break really and the conference season has been in full swing.

I get a sense that a mood for change is developing.

New Zealand has moved ahead of other English speaking countries in putting together the pieces of the educational jigsaw that will allow for new approaches to be made in tackling the issues of disengagement and the development of more effective pathways between secondary school and further and higher education.

Those jigsaw pieces are the development of a policy setting that allows for flexibility, the existence of a legislative framework, the solution of cross-sector funding arrangements and the development of new and innovative programmes.

Two conferences held in the break have driven home the points that the educational environment in New Zealand needs to change and that there is no longer any excuse not to change.

New Zealand and Australia share a pretty grim set of statistics of failure, of disengagement, and of poor performance by priority learner groups (i.e. indigenous groups, migrant groups, students with special needs). It is clear that continued tinkering with the current education system cannot lead to the changes which improve results nor can it result in changes that are achieved quickly enough to beat the speed of the demographic changes.

The first conference brought together a wide group of educators involved in working across the interface of secondary and tertiary – secondary/tertiary programmes, trades academies, service academies and mentoring schemes. It was exciting to learn of changes happening in small ways, to hear of results being that thrilled and offered new hope for many students.

It was even more exciting to see the energy that was being brought to the challenges of providing new and multiple pathways that reach out to students and led them into higher level programmes and qualifications. It was the view of one international speaker that something very special was happening.

The conference was put together by the Centre for Studies in Multiple Pathways at Manukau Institute of Technology, the site of New Zealand’s first Tertiary High School – a radical new programme that integrates the school qualifications (NCEA) with postsecondary career and technical qualifications. It has reported some encouraging results after its first year of operation especially in the performance of Maori and Pasifika students.

This was of particular interest to the second conference that brought together a wide range of educators engaged in different endeavours in the field of Maori education. Again the focus was on pathways and pipelines and the need to promote pro-active interventions in both if we are to lift the performance of Maori and Pasifika students – something we simply cannot afford not to do.

A project reported to the conference has seen the development of a web-based tool for Maori students to design and to identify pathways into programmers that already exist. We know that the provision of accurate and detailed information is central to intelligent career advice and guidance and this is a great start.

What has been exciting is that both conferences were evidence of action that encourages us to believe that there is a hope developing that by working differently we really can get different results. As the title of a major report released by the NZ Institute in the past fortnight said – we need “more ladders” and “fewer snakes”.

What educators are realising is that action is possible and no longer, well at least in New Zealand, is there any excuse for inaction. It is no longer a case of “us” and “them”. You know the scenario – “We want to change but they won’t let us!”  “The regulations are so restrictive!” “It’s the curriculum that isn’t appropriate!” “Secondary should be …..!” “Tertiary should be …..” “If only others would do this, that and the other thing!” Same old, same old, boring , boring!

I pointed out to the conferences that while the education pipeline may be badly leaking, quite a number of students are getting through it with great success. Long may that continue. But now is the time for us to once and for all fix those leaks.

Bill Gates summed it up: “We used to say that we needed to do something about all those young people who were failing because it is hurting them. Now we say we need to do something about all those young people who are failing because it is hurting us!”


For those interested the material presented at the two conferences mentioned above is available at and at

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More than neighbours

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.27, 10 July 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

It is understandable to see why some commentators were inclined to dismiss the Prime Minister’s recent trip to South Pacific Island nations as a bit of a junket – a trip with a couple of footy blokes, a chance to dance, to dispense some aid, to question some aid. Such commentary is possible because like so many people in New Zealand, they are dislocated from the future of this country and from the demographic revision that is happening.

New Zealand is already the largest South Pacific Island nation and it had better become comfortable with this. We are irrevocably stitched into the fabric of the South Pacific – a sort of jagged fence line (as a poet put it) that marks the Southern Boundary

Sixty years of migration have established a community of interest that brings the five Polynesian countries of the South Pacific – Niue, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Kiribati – into a tightly bound relationship with each other and with New Zealand. Not only are the populations of those Pacific nations now spread across their originating home lands and the suburbs of New Zealand, the situation is not static as communities and families travel back and forth. More recently. Levels of interaction between New Zealand and Fiji has seen dramatic growth in the Fijian component of our community – we will soon need a mature take on that!

This raises questions about the nature of our future relationship – us with them, New Zealand with the other nations.

In 1883 Richard John Seddon suggested that “… we [in New Zealand] might send our governors and legislators to all the distant islands of the Pacific, to unite them by our common education, by our common form of government, by one class of habits. We could found as great an Empire as the world has seen…” Let’s put aside the notion of “empire” and forget about the “one class of habits”. But we could do worse than to consider a federation of education systems throughout our little Pacific wedge.

A common education system that allowed free movement between the education providers of each country might well be the biggest aid contribution that a country the size of New Zealand could contribute to a world where poor nations are confined to poverty while developed nations cling to their developed privilege. And it makes sense. The future of both New Zealand and the South Pacific island nations requires a common market of skilled and educated people.

The growth of Pacific populations in New Zealand is a defining feature of the demographic landscape of our future. About three hundred thousand New Zealanders are of Pacific descent and 60% have been born in New Zealand. But the median age of the Pacific population is about 21 years of age compared to 35 years for the rest of us! Pacific will be very dominant as a community group in the future.

But ….. it is not all good news.

One in three Pacific people over the age of 15 have no formal qualifications. Mix this ingredient with those population growth patterns and there is an urgent call to action for educators. Especially in areas such as Manukau where predictions are that well over half of the population will be of Pacific origin within 30 years.

So what has this to do with Hon John Key’s trip to the Pacific?

Sometimes charity begins at home. Perhaps the best (but not only) help that can be delivered to Pacific nations is to ensure that Pacific residents in New Zealand are well educated, employed and productive. Forget wrapping all this up in the flash terms such as economic transformation and economic and social prosperity, what it means is educated, qualified and working.

Investing in Pacific education in New Zealand might be an excellent option for a government looking to invest in the future of the Pacific. If New Zealand based Pacific communities could earn more, they could contribute increased money through the transmission of funds back to the islands of their parents and relatives. Other New Zealanders might well struggle to understand this willingness to give concrete expression to the love of family and the obligation to community that all this implies. It most certainly is a very special part of the Pacific and our contribution to it as a country might be to see that it happens in ways that enhance the dignity of all parties.

But if we are not to participate in the economic repression of both our New Zealand Pacific community and the respective communities of the South Pacific, we need to turn a few things around.

Pacific students are the most persistent ethnic group in our education system – this  means that they stick at education. But they leave with the lowest qualifications. It is therefore not their willingness to participate; rather it is the system’s ability to deliver. I have worked throughout the Pacific at different times, usually as a consultant helping this education system or that with curriculum development and institutional strengthening. I look back nab think about the irony of this – is there such a thing as an ugly New Zealander?

So what can be done? Well, the answer is the same as it has been for other groups identified as under achieving overall. Institutions have to have about them something that signals that they are comfortable places for students of difference to be. This might be a teaching staff more balanced in its ethnicity, or programmes designed to cater both in their content and method for the key differences that different groups bring with them. It might be an iconic building or art or other physical features that suggest that the spaces we live in tell us something about ourselves.

Above all it is about what is in our heads. Basil Bernstein said many times that the culture of the child cannot enter the classroom if it has not first entered the mind of the teacher. Similarly we could say that the culture of the community cannot enter an institution if it has not entered into the consciousness of the institution – its governance, its leadership and, most importantly, its teachers.

If Hon. John Key’s trip had brought home to him the importance of what happens here in New Zealand is of critical importance to the nations of the South Pacific, it will have been a journey that has taken him to a good place.

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