Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Zeland General Election - Education D-Day?

Today is the general election in New Zealand. The current government, with its controversial education policy and attitude to the schooling sector, is still riding high in terms of it popularity - around 50%! They seem to have got it right with the general population (or generally anyone not involved in our schooling sector) in saying that our school system must do better and National Standards will help make that happen! As Ken Robinson said once - no one wants to lower standards - so why has this struck such a connection in our country? It seems that the sound bite and out of context remarks that our education minister has made on our 'poor' achievement rates (1 in 5 leaving school not able to read, write or do maths!) has given the government the 'mandate' they want while our successes are over shadowed.  Angel GurrĂ­a, OECD Secretary-General in his opening address in Washington on the 7 December 2010 stated that the new PISA identifies several countries as the strongest overall performers. These are Shanghai, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Finland, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.

The latest flyer from the New Zealand Principals Federation included this reflection from the President, Peter Simpson;

"Meanwhile our profession has become more alienated from its natural policy discussion forums. The environment becomes more competitive and more privatised which undermines the whole concept of public education and creates a culture of distrust rather than trust, openness and collaboration."

But I fear that the battle of perception has been lost and the reality is that the general population like the idea of national standards - they sound good!  People seem to not see the irony of recognising their own child as an individual and the uniqueness of their own development but then expecting their schooling to be reduced to a series of benchmarks - being achieved in a sequential and straight line fashion!

The ethos of our national curriculum is premised on the belief that every child is unique, learning does not progress in a straight line and every child will learn in their own way and at their own pace.  Assessment and monitoring of progress happens along the way and the individual child’s progress is reported and discussed with their parents regularly.

We are at a crossroads with one political party saying more openness and accountability for our primary and secondary schools will continue to improve standards.  The age of league tables and school ranking has arrived in New Zealand.  How ironic when the example of this practice overseas has achieved the opposite of its intention.  A narrowing of the curriculum and an increasing disconnection of the learners gives what sort of employable skills?

As NZPF President Peter Simpson stated, "Everywhere else in the world, National Standards and its sister policy National Testing, has failed. Early adopters are now rejecting such policies and they look to countries like ours with our world class curriculum to lead them out of their National Testing wilderness. The irony of this situation is overwhelming. What these countries are finding is that the kind of accountability that comes with such policies negatively changes the whole culture of the education environment. It engenders disconnect between the professionals, the Ministry and Minister."

This is the situation our education system and our schools finds itself in.   Today is akin to an Education D-Day!

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