14 May 2012
Education has surely moved into centre stage in a way that is spectacularly ahead of any time that I can remember.
In setting the Better Public Service Goals for the performance of government and the public service generally, the Government settled on a set of goals that are making a clear statement – Education has to perform! And it has to deliver by 2016.
Clustered under a set of five headings those goals are:
Reducing long-term welfare dependency
1. Reduce the number of people who have been on a working age benefit for more than 12 months
Supporting vulnerable children
2. Increase participation in early childhood education.
3. Increase infant immunisation rates and reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever
4. Reduce the number of assaults on children.
Boosting skills and employment
5. Increase the proportion of 18 year olds with NCEA level 2 or equivalent qualification.
6. Increase the proportion of 25-34 year olds with advanced trade qualifications, diplomas and degrees (at level 4 or above).
7. Reduce the rates of total crime, violent crime and youth crime.
8. Reduce reoffending.
Improving interaction with government
9. New Zealand businesses have a one-stop online shop for all government advice and support they need to run and grow their business.
10. New Zealanders can complete their transactions with the Government easily in a digital environment.
On first glance it might appear that No.5 and No.6 are the key education goals. NCEA Level 2 for 85% of all 18 year olds seems certainlynow to have been accepted as the goal in terms of school leaving qualifications. The target for trades qualifications is appropriate even if expressed in rather softer terms. Both are tough goals and I will come back to these at some later date!
But it is the other eight goals that excite me today.
Getting people off benefits can only be achieved by training, retraining and education. There are jobs out there but there is a dearth of people especially among the benefit dependent with the skills to get them. Education and especially trades education and training will be central to Goal No.1. Education that succeeds will create more jobs as the increased supply of a skilled labour force will drive and increase demand.
Early childhood education is the very foundation for success in education generally and subsequently in life. This is recognised in Goal No.2 while Goals No.3 and 4 would be more likely to be attained in a well-educated and knowledgeable community. Perhaps the role of education is more peripheral here but it is among the poorly educated and ill-trained and those without skills that these issues are at their greatest.
We know the statistics for crime, youth justice, incarceration and general evil doing track closely the statistics of educational failure and disengagement. Goals 7 and 8, while not a direct consequence of what we do in education are certainly able to be impacted on them positively by what we could do in education. It is the best investment if we are serious about crime and offending.
That leaves No.9 and No.10 which at first glance seem to be the least connected. But business performance is greatly helped by a well-educated workforce and management skills are enhanced by education. Capability to deal with the mechanics of business development and growth from a government point of view is susceptible to an improvement through education.
So overall the 10 goals are a very strong statement about education. They are also a very tough ask.
But if we improve levels of educational success and engagement, if we make inroads into the NEETs in New Zealand, if we can knock truancy on the head, if we can get all students to a secure point for moving on from school and then get them successfully through the next qualifications – then and only then will the Better Public Service goals be met.
Education has moved to centre stage, the lights have gone up and the show has begun!
Are we up to it?