Every child deserves the very best chance to succeed in their schooling, and every parent has a right to know how they are coming along. Unfortunately many of the current government policies designed to ensure that happens are actually doing the opposite.
An obsession with measurement and assessment is narrowing what kids learn, discouraging schools from focussing on many of the valuable personal qualities we need school leavers to have developed, and very importantly, it’s taking the fun out of school.
Like most people, many of my views on education are informed by my own experiences at school. We all remember the teachers who inspired as, and we will never forget those who bored us to tears.
The truly memorable teachers were the ones who made learning fun. They took things we were interested in and used them to engage us. I recall one of my intermediate school teachers who was passionate about environmental issues.
He used our interest in the environment to draw together lessons that included maths, science, reading and writing, but also very importantly, some of the broader competencies we were going to need to succeed in life such as teamwork, problem solving, and creativity.
He was one of the best teachers that I ever had because he made learning fun and made the classroom a place that we all wanted to be.
Every one of the kids in that class was good at something, and we were encouraged to build on that. Did we all learn exactly the same thing at exactly the same time? No, of course we didn’t. We’re human beings, we are all built differently, have different viewpoints on the world, and mature and grow differently.
Great teachers like the one that I have just mentioned recognise that and roll with it. They engage kids by playing to their strengths, while constantly working to help them through their points of weakness. Today’s approach to education is driving people like that out of the profession.
Instead of recognising and rewarding teachers who genuinely inspire, the current standardised approach encourages teachers to narrow their focus to ensuring the kids complete specified assessments and specified times. But that isn’t how human beings grow.
Would we line children up against the wall at the start of the year and measure their height, and then repeat the exercise at the end of the year and conclude that the kids who hadn’t grown as much weren’t succeeding? Of course we wouldn’t.
Nobody is arguing that we shouldn’t be focused on making sure every child is progressing with their learning. Nor are they arguing that there isn’t room for improvement within our schools and teaching practices. There certainly is.
But what those who are informed and engaged in the education debate are saying is, hang on a minute, let’s make sure that the policies that are intended to lift student achievement will actually do those things.
Not one teacher I have spoken to sets out to be a bad teacher, almost every one of them is constantly looking at how they can do better for the kids in their class. So let’s start from there.
Providing quality, ongoing professional development and support for our teachers is far more important than obsessing about standardised results, which incidentally are neither national nor standard.
Ensuring that the kids who are genuinely struggling get the specialist support that they need is also a must. Far too many kids with special needs aren’t getting the help that is so essential, and most teachers can already tell you which areas kids need more help with, they just can’t get them the extra help that they need.
I’m passionate about quality public education in New Zealand. If I have the honour of serving as Minister of Education after this year’s election, my focus will be on jettisoning the obsession with measurement and accountability and returning attention to what really matters – quality teaching and learning.