Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Flawed Sausage Making Process - an Educational Tale


What does Dr Yong Zhao, sausages and a flawed education standards system have in common?
More than you would think.

Several weeks ago I was invited to a breakfast meeting, hosted by NZEI (teachers Union).  The quest speaker was Dr Yong Zhao. He is an international speaker well known for his educational work.  His main area of focus is on globalisation and technology in Education.

I have heard Dr Yong several times - here and offshore.  Despite having heard him on a number of occasions - I still find his words encouraging and for the most part, common sense.  

He spoke about globalisation, asked who would be our new middle class, and discussed the importance of entrepreneurial skills.   He indicated that schools needed to shift the paradigm and how nurturing the creative abilities of students is important for our future.

He made some interesting analogies about how education is much like being a 'saugage maker' - and it is purely because NZ has had more  'accidents' in our sausage making process that we have managed to preserve the entrepreneurial skills that our students need to be successful.   This has ensured that our education system has been rich, and good at producing creative people.  He did say however that our current government were more focused on making sausages that adhered to a strict process - and if that continued we would lose the qualities that have been fundamental in our system - that in essence - National Standards was a mistake.  

Then he finished by saying the following - in relation to National Standards, and it is one of the best I have heard.  It puts it all into perspective.

"We should have NZ parents held accountable for their children's height.  If they don't grow 3cm every term, then the Government should take over the raising of the child.."

Imagine if our country did that - how flawed would that be in its thinking? 

Now, this is where I would like to point out the recent article in the Herald "Doubts on school system exposed'.  (cue the big I told you so moment)

The profession has been expressing concerns and doubts about National Standards since they were thought up.  I do however want to make it very clear that the profession is NOT against excellent assessment practices, reporting to parents and good accountability processes.  The majority of schools had this in place already and with some minor tweaking and appropriate support systems put in place at the time for those schools who were struggling, then it would have been a 'hey presto - school improvement' moment.  But instead the Government decided to go down the National Standards route.  

It would seem that now our concerns are vindicated.  

The Governments advisory group make mention that some of the concerns around National Standards are valid,  and there is a possibility that the standards used to measure students are wrong.  Yes - that is what I typed - wrong!  Furthermore, the article goes on to say...

"Recommendations from the Ministry of Education's National Standards Aggregate Results Advisory Group reveal doubts about whether annual reporting of schools' results is needed. "An alternative to yearly national standards reporting, such as reporting on national standards at years 2, 4, 6 and 8, should be investigated," the group states in a June 28 report."

I can see why the Greens had to ask for it under the official Information Act.   What is unfortunate is that it was not released to the public straight away.  I am sure it makes for interesting reading.   

To sum up - Dr Yong Zhao has it correct.   Creativity, entrepreneurial skills and helping our students with their strengths is far more useful to society than forcing them to be 'sausages in a flawed sausage factory process'.   The real question is - how do we get those who make these decisions listen to the research and to reason?  

The full article from the herald is here -

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