Tag Archive for seamlessness

Talk-ED: Is it Time for a Report on Education in the 22nd Century?


Out for the constitutional walk one afternoon recently I looked up the road and saw a silhouette that seemed familiar. One which I had seen many times in the 1980s and through the 1990s, one which was something of a cartoonists, delight.  It was the former Minister of Education (and other things) and Speaker of the House, Hon Dr Lockwood Smith.  I crossed the road to say hello.

The 1980s had been characterised by  the second of the reform trio – administration, curriculum and qualifications – while the 1990s were to belong to the third, qualifications reform.  Lockwood Smith was to feature prominently in both the tail-end of the curriculum reforms and the front end of the qualifications reforms.

I stopped to chat with him and among other things I reminded him of his commitment to seamless education. His smile, already broad, increased and clearly he saw this particular theme as one of considerable foresight which saw a different future for many students.

He was right. The key policy document that carried this message was developed and promulgated under his watch.  Education for the 21st Century (MOE, Wellington, 1993) sought to paint a picture of a seamless education system – one which flowed from the home right through to post secondary qualifications and entry into the workforce.

The key description of this seamless education system is premised on the fact that the curriculum and qualification reforms which resulted in the New Zealand Curriculum and the National Qualification Framework, had created the context in which seamlessness was possible.

Individuals, the document tells us “…will be able to undertake education in more than one setting at the same time and have their achievements recognised through the Qualifications Framework regardless of where they work or where they are enrolled.”  It would be a future in which students in senior secondary school, the report suggests, “could combine regular school courses with polytechnic or university courses and workplace training provided by local industries.”

This was in 1993!

The policy document wanted schools, tertiary institutions and private providers to exploit the greater scope they would have to  “enter into arrangements with each other or local industries.”  Not only that but secondary schools would have the an opportunity to offer courses which have previously been available only at polytechnics or universities. It was an opportunity that was offered but not taken up. It would be another 20 years before there started to develop a tentative start to such a proposal.

This policy was well owned by the then Minister, Lockwood Smith, who the document describes as “currently working with the education community to design a way of resourcing this seamless education system to allow these education opportunities to flourish, and to build an education system for the twenty-first century.”

The opportunities offered by Education for the 21st Century were simple and well within our reach in 1993 when they were proposed.  It is only since the implementation of the Youth Guarantee policy that movement towards the goals of the report have become discernible.

The diagram that was progressively built, through the first twenty or so pages of the document is in itself interesting – I like to think of it as an early model for some of the thinking that is now looking at the development of multiple pathways with its clear links between parts of the system.

While the lines that demarcate the different levels of education are still there and clear and straight and and less diffuse than I might like them to be, the attempt to create relationships between the parts is what might be thought of as an early prototype of the more connected system that we know is so critical if students are to succeed.

Missing is the role played by industry training but these were early days in the shift towards ITOs and new training schemes. It was at that time slowly dawning on people that industry  training needed to be revived.

In addition to the general philosophic material, the document also proposed a way forward for funding – the five emphases were access to Parents as First Teachers programme, increased access to information technology, opportunities for second language learning in forms 1-4 [sic], establishment of kura kaupapa Maori and increased participation in tertiary education and training. It would be interesting to see what our five emphases might be today.

I recollect that it was around the time of this report’s release in 1993 that the battle over qualification reform really started up and became a great distraction. Again a thoughtful contribution to the qualitative improvement of education for many young people became less important than that protection of territory.

I wished Lockwood well for his forthcoming tour of duty as High Commissioner in London and he thanked me for crossing the road to say hello. I then carried on my merry way reflecting on the opportunity lost back in 1993.







Pathway-ED: Smoothing the educational paths rather than plugging the gaps

Stuart Middleton
7 July 2011

In the world of DIY there are products along the lines of NO GAPS which allow you to deal with gaps as they appear or even in new work to maintain those continuous lines and surfaces that lead to a quality finish. 

Continuity of progress is central to students achieving a good result and a gap in the educational journey is disruptive, counter-productive and in some cases the cause of failure and disengagement. The cumulative gaps lead to loads that many students simply cannot endure.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is cognitive: as Vygotsky described it, there is a “zone of proximal development”, a point at which students can with help learn. It occurs just on the edge, the fringe, of previous learning not at some spot that is removed from it or distant to it. Therefore the connection to previous learning is critical. Seamlessness in educational journeys is all.

Many students fail early in their further and higher education for this reason alone. There is a disconnection between their previous learning and what they are now encountering. This might be one of generally inadequate academic preparation or it might be a disciple deficiency. Or it might be the result of poor teaching either before or after the transition from school to post-school. As an educational issue it is serious, is often ignored and is generally seen as the fault of the student.

So getting a “no gaps” mentality into the educational system will require a far greater effort on the part of further and higher education and pose some challenges to the high school sector.

Of course, some higher education institutions simply keep raising the requirements for entry into courses and eventually will have made entry too difficult for such a number of students with the result that they will have taken themselves to a place where students entering courses are prepared to cope with whatever they are thrown. This also enables them to dispense with the support mechanisms required by higher maintenance students. It will depress their numbers and results with under-represented groups but there will be other institutions to pick up that responsibility.

Funding formulae for further and higher education that does not adequately reflect the efforts required to see that there are NO GAPS are simply not adequate. Similarly in high schools there has to be recognition that social class, the way we distribute ethnicity throughout a city and the challenges of low or no income groups make the provision of education in some schools a far greater responsibility and a far harder task than in some other schools. To fund school equally is to fund them unequally.

But gaps are not only the result of inadequate academic preparation or misplaced accuracy in assessing the needs of students, there is also the designer gap as in the “gap year”. Origninally this was the domain of the soft upper classes in the UK who were generally succeeding and were not troubled at all by a gap in the journey. But it has become a notion that not only has spread but which is admired and condoned. “My son / daughter is taking time out / finding their feet / deciding what to do….” and so on are official gaps and the evidence is ambivalent as to how this aids progress.

The final arguments for NO GAPS approach  hinge around clear evidence that if a student proceeds through school and into a postsecondary qualification without a gap they are highly likely to also undertake and complete a further qualification at a level in advance of the first qualification completed after leaving school. The road to advanced qualifications is perhaps one characterised by NO GAPS.

It could be that a “lifelong learner” is the result of this smooth and uninterrupted journey from the novitiate of the early years through to the advanced state of being a self-sufficient learner at a later age and a higher stage. The American Dream of a college degree for all has become the nightmare that it is because this smooth passage through educational stages is seriously disrupted. A great confusion of gaps characterises the community college where qualifications are significantly marked by remediation.

Most do-it-yourself exponents will tell you that those NO GAPS products have limits and their success relies on a solid structure each side of the gap and there are limits to the gaps they can close. My Dad was always saying of a extension he made to our house many years ago that should an earthquake occur we were would in trouble – “all the putty will fall out!” he would say.

Too many students face this threat when the seismic transitions they are asked to make give them a good shake-up. You can’t fill large educational gaps through some quick fix.