Expect the mantra of “We need more money in Education,” to gather momentum and volume as we get closer to the election. I am not going to argue the rights and wrongs of that any more. I want to argue not that it is wrong to want more money in Education but that it is reprehensible to simply continue to spend the money in the same ways without applying the blowtorch to the issues which continue to pull down productivity, fail to address the achievement of equitable outcomes and which leave so many behind.
I shall mention just a couple of issues.
The performance of the system in securing equitable outcomes for Māori and Pacific students should be at the top of any list for the direction of education regardless of the political make-up of the next government. At the heart of this issue is the continued denial of the importance of languages – Te Reo Māori for all Aotearoa New Zealand students with special provision for Māori students and the teaching of Pacific Languages to all who would wish to learn them but especially for Pacific students.
There is good reason to make our schooling language rich. Bilingual brains are better brains – there is no argument about that and it is time we committed ourselves to achieving it. Te Reo Māori and the languages of the Pacific have for different reasons privileged places in our society.
On the one hand the revitalisation of Māori as a valued official language of Aotearoa New Zealand demands that it be taught across our schools. On the other hand, we are now in the fourth or perhaps fifth generation of migration from the Pacific and if we are not to sit and watch the loss of language competence among young Pasifika students then action is urgently required now to support the communities. We must surely learn from our history and ensure we do inflict on Pasifika the same long and difficult journey faced by Māori with regard to securing their language.
The next big change has to be the introduction into our system of greater flexibility.
In the early 1990s we were promised that time served would be dead – it has never been more alive. There are two institutions in society where you serve time and in one of them you get time off for good behaviour!
It has to be made possible for students to complete a qualification at a pace that is optimal for them. It is surely possible to do this if programmes reflect the principles of new pedagogy and students have access to assessment when they are ready. The future painted by NZQA is one of assessment being able to be accessed on line, any time, any where and for anyone. What is the point of this if students are only allowed to tackle the assessment during the historical “exam seasons”? In schools the rigid tying of Year 11 to NCEA L1, Year 12 to NCEA L2, and Year 13 to NCEA L3 must surely be challenged. Why does a degree have to take three years?
Similarly, the earlier availability of courses and subjects leading to career and technical qualifications should be made a priority. Some countries do this by creating schools that have a clearly different focus from each other, New Zealand should be able to do this by creating far more choice within schools.
That raises the issue of the traditional educational sectors – traditional in the sense that it is what has grown by happenstance and becomes turf that once won is defended. This could be looked at and questioned. It might have had some logic looking backwards but how appropriate is it moving forwards? What is it about the development of young people that it is appropriate to shift them across sector boundaries on the basis of a Christmas Holiday? If the answer to this was to be that it reflects the different purposes of each stage in an education system – preparation for schooling, basic elementary skills of learning, facing the challenges of learning within the framework of disciplines and subjects, and finally equipping oneself for employment and the opportunity to contribute towards productivity and wealth of families, communities and the nation – I would be prepared to think that perhaps the sectors do work.
But I see no evidence that sectors accept a responsibility for seeing that students are variously and at different times in their journey exhibiting clear signs of being prepared, versed in the basic skills, thriving on the disciplines and then moving to a clear focus on employment in any kind of way that clearly supports the rigid grasp that sectors hold over students. No sector accepts responsibility for preparing all the students they have for the next stage. Many years ago a Treasury Official came to me with a question: “Who is responsible for educational failure in New Zealand?” I could only answer honestly and say: “Nobody!”
Yes, it would be great to see more money flowing in, targeted at getting the educational system performing to different targets in different ways that reflect some of the commitments made to equity by the education system in various iterations over the past 140 years. But I suspect the demands for more do not have that in mind.