The new government has revealed the details of the coalition agreements between the three political parties who have formed our new government. I was excited to see these agreements signal support and confidence for those of us working in the education sector.
These are clear statements indicating a commitment to a thirty-year strategic plan for New Zealand education, restoring funding for gifted students, pilot counsellors in primary schools, restoring funding for computers in homes and free driver training for all secondary school students. But the one that was particularly significant to me and which indicated ongoing support for teachers and leaders was the restarting of the Te Kotahitanga teacher professional development initiative.
For those who don’t remember, or who are new to education, Te Kotahitanga was a research and development project that was initiated in 2001 with the goal of focusing on teaching pedagogy and practices that could raise the achievement of Maori students in years 9-10.
The programme included dozens of schools and hundreds of teachers, principals and school leaders, and laid the groundwork for many of the understandings that were developed into an updated version of the programme entitled Kia Eke Panuku (Building on Success), which came to an end in 2016.
That it is being brought back, alongside several targeted programmes, is an encouraging sign the new coalition government is committed to ensuring success for all New Zealand students on an individual level, whether that means additional resources, culturally tailored approaches or extension programmes. New Zealand’s young people are not a monolith, their needs vary, and our goal should be to help them, all of them, reach their potential. We continue to have one of the largest internal disparities in student academic achievement in the OECD and these new education policies are a step toward addressing the equity issues clearly apparent both within and across New Zealand schools.
This is a breath of fresh air after years spent operating in a political environment that seemed to regard diversity of needs as a burden rather than an opportunity. Too many of our young people are right-now missing out because of insufficient funding for the necessary specialists, aides, resources and access to teaching under a curriculum that engages and motivates them to learn and achieve.
With new technologies arriving at a seemingly ever-increasing rate and evidence that advances in artificial intelligence will continue to change the way we live and work, the challenges our young people are going to face in their lives are impossible to predict. But whatever the future brings our tamariki in their lifetime, they will need the ability to become life-long learners who are creative and adaptive with mental and physical resilience.
While nothing concrete, these agreements are a good sign of positive change in social policy and I find myself looking forward to this governments’ first steps in this area. Here’s hoping those steps will be the first in a long and positive journey that will benefit our students who are most in need of an education system that supports and advantages them.
Camilla Highfield is director of professional learning and development, the University of Auckland Faculty of Education and Social Work.