Skip to content

Tag: tertiary strategy

Talk-ED: Our Canterbury Tales

Stuart Middleton
28 March 2011

Any parent with young children knows of that suspicion that all might not be well when the children go quiet and the sound of play, the squabble and just of general activity cannot be heard. It’s a bit like that in education in New Zealand at the moment.

I think it is very much to do with the post-earthquakes period where the successive and overwhelming tragedies of the shocks in Christchurch and the earthquake / tsunami double tragedy in Japan have been numbing to everyone to a degree relative to the personal impact. All this has happened relatively quickly on the heels of the Australian floods. It’s been a huge amount happening in a short span of time in our little slice of the world.

What happens is that for a time everything else, the old daily grizzles, the ongoing issues, the standard stand-offs, all seem rather unimportant. In fact, there is almost an element of bad taste when the media leave these tragedies behind and return to their same old themes – they all ring a little bit hollow.

Education was affected considerably. Some schools in Canterbury have been destroyed, many damaged and most disrupted. Rebuilding all of this is a huge task for government agencies and communities. In more normal circumstances a rebuild of this magnitude would have been an opportunity to have a think about the shape of compulsory education – are the schools in the right places, of the right configuration and articulating in the best way. Just as once the intermediate school emerged as a solution right for an issue of the day, so too might the junior high school, the senior / community college or some form of transfer institution and other innovations might have been appropriate. But the imperative will probably be to restore to each community that which was there before the events of September 2010 and February 2011.

It is reported in the media that the University of Canterbury has lost around 400 students who have not returned to the university and have not enrolled elsewhere. This is a serious disruption to the lives of those young people but they too have other things on their minds at this time. I wonder how many students from Christchurch have not returned but have enrolled elsewhere? Whatever the number the University of Canterbury has some remarkable issues to deal with as it gets back into business with some classes in marquees while buildings are checked and restored to a safe condition. Institutions take a real hit when something of this magnitude happens.

Other institutions are also coping with the huge return to something resembling normal activity. But in amongst it all some good responses have emerged. Primary students in some numbers have been absorbed into other schools that have capacity. For many this will be looked back on something of an adventure at a time when families were disrupted. The dual use of secondary school sites by different schools was new to this country – might this lead to something that could be used permanently as the senior secondary school becomes more flexible?

Acts of kindness have brought to the fore a generosity of spirit within education – institutions elsewhere hosting groups or programmes or even individual students. It is not as easy as it sounds to transplant an activity or a student into another setting and it requires great effort on both sides. It would be good if all this was being documented to remind us of what can be done and perhaps even without the impetus brought by tragic events.

But to return to where we started – the children do seem rather quiet.

Is this the longest period of time we have gone without an NCEA story, the usual tale of trivial importance treated by the media with an ersatz gravitas? Where were the annual start-of-year stories about the incredible pressure universities were under as enrolment numbers reached unprecedented levels?  Why no stories about the terrible cost of school uniforms, the outrageous demands for school donations and the increased traffic as schools and tertiary institutions got under way? Major pay settlements for secondary principals and secondary teachers passed us by with cursory treatment.

Why? Because those stories don’t matter. What matters is the fact that a majority of students in New Zealand go to school and other education institutions each day supported by their parents and caregivers, do what they are told and what they love doing and yet, due to the might of natural forces, they were unable to do so in unprecedented numbers. That was perhaps the education story of a hundred years.

But it didn’t take long before the media moved on or was it back? Page after page on school bullying and violence. It matters but somehow it seems to be simply bad taste when there must be stories about the recovery of schooling in Canterbury that deserve to be told.

Leave a Comment

Karaoke on campus

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol 14 No.41, October 23, 2009, p16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd

Singing together is very much a symptom of unity. Soldiers marching off to war, a congregation in a church, weddings and funerals, powhiri and poroporoaki, a party late at night and little children playing in a sandpit – all sing along in to various degrees of tunefulness.

We even have a saying – “we are all singing from the same song-sheet” – that means that there is agreement, perhaps even enthusiasm, there is purpose.

The release of strategies in education is very much the development of the next song-sheet, it tells you what kind of party it’s going to be. And the Draft Tertiary Education Strategy 2010 – 2015 is no exception.

This strategy makes clear what tunes we will be singing (and more likely dancing to) in the half decade ahead. The tertiary sector is expected to get better at providing a more diverse community with skills that meet the needs of the economy and of the community. Research should make us a wealthier, stronger and better country with stronger and better institutions that innovate. Maori must be able to access success (with an emphasis on a good transition from school to tertiary education).

The focus of the strategy on more success for more young people is heartening. Getting younger people into higher level qualifications, getting Maori and Pasifika students into higher qualifications, getting increased success in transitions from school to tertiary and lifting the basic skill levels of adult learners becomes something of the chorus that develops through the document.

Of course it also comes back to note that the strategy also wants improved educational and financial performance of providers and, oh by the way, stronger research outcomes. These are a kind of “And so say all of us!”

Having said that clearly, the strategy then finds a number of different ways of saying it again and in different ways. This is song-writing at its best.

There is a revealing chart showing clearly that between 2001 and 2008 growth in tertiary education was very much at the certificate level with some knock on effect into diplomas. This should not be a surprise. It is the Myth of Increased Participation – a happy, happy jingle not accompanied by that other tune – Increased Outputs for the Academy. Increasing participation in tertiary was the sort of shouting/singing you hear in the rousing finale of primary singing festivals when tunefulness is less important than enthusiastic participation.

How tuneful it is to see the emphasis in this strategy on what that increased participation should result in and who should be there in the groups that achieve those higher qualifications.

The accompanying focus on links with schools and their performance and on the mechanics of connection between secondary and tertiary provides a clear key (in both meanings of the word) for tertiary education to practise its skills in working with a broader and more diverse group.

The system performance elements are interesting. The obligatory emphasis on quality assurance is important  and necessary but not in itself sufficient otherwise the tertiary system would have had better outputs a long time ago. More important is the repeated demand that student performance be a measure of success. The order in which it addresses this is a little back-to-front. Putting supporting and encouraging student performance before “providing incentives for providers to respond better to students and market signals” – a slightly dark song in the style of Mack the Knife – would have reflected better the dynamics of increasing success.

Linking funding to performance somewhere, sometime is probably inevitable but finding innovative and fair ways of doing this is better than simply threatening to do so. Linking funding much more clearly to the target groups in the strategy would be a good place to start.

The strategy hits its straps in the expectations section. “Expectations” is a very hard word for a songwriter to find a rhyme. So unless you write a Moonlight in Vermont style song without rhyme you run the risk of awkwardness. The strategy avoids this with the formulaic “core roles” followed by the stirring “Government expects” sections. Each sub-sector is given a clear steer as to its focus and these by-and –large work. But where is the connection?

Getting students into higher level qualifications requires connection between the sub-sectors. If you want to get good at the violin you don’t start with Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor. Someone has to teach Pussy Pussy Stop Stop. But you will never reach the soaring heights of the Mendelssohn on Saturday morning in the church hall with a Suzuki community group. Each sub-sector has its role and the connectedness of these is not developed well other than by implication in the strategy.

The trends section makes some good points about the challenges of the pattern of population in New Zealand. It is not the aging pattern that is the challenge – it is the increasing diversity. Put more harshly and stridently than tuneful strategy statements typically allow for, tertiary education has to do very much better with a very different group of students if any of the long term goals of the strategy are to be met.

Or put in an even more discordant way, the rather narrow band of the population from which tertiary education has traditionally drawn most of its success is getting thinner. The groups for which tertiary education has not yet developed a capability of taking through to higher level qualifications in significant numbers is getting larger. Tertiary education has to develop a new capability if the role of the sector in the economic transformation of New Zealand is to be realised.

If this is not achieved, New Zealand will increasingly be at the mercy of the global skill market. So too will Australia, the USA, the UK and Canada. As the countries that supply these skilled migrants increasing require them to work in their own economies, we could be reduced.

We could huddle in the lifeboat and song Abide with me but it is probably in our own interests to start to become a lusty chorus singing from a song-sheet along the lines of the one outlined in the strategy.

Leave a Comment