Sunday, May 25, 2014

What Counts in Education?

NZ is four months out from an election.  Vote Education is a big ticket item, and currently, we spend mega bucks on it.  We waste mega bucks on it as well - but thats another post for another day.

Getting the best 'bang for our education bucks' is critical.

Education, like Health, is one of the biggest 'sink holes' when it comes to funding.  Key questions about how we achieve this 21st Century System that should lead the way, needs to be discussed and debated. Election time is a good reminder that we need to discuss whats important in education, because at the end of the day, it is education that paves the future of our society.  Its critical we get it right.

Those who work at the 'chalkface' need more input, and because all public stakeholders have experienced the system for themselves at some stage of their lives, the thinking that they are 'experts at the system' because of this experience, can often times hinder progress - not advance it.

What would be helpful is if we had a wider public discourse on what are our key non negotiable’s are when it relates to public education and which areas need better support.  Even better would be if we could have some bipartisan agreement on what the non negotiable items are.

The quality of our education system - from the preschoolers to the university leavers - is such a critical element to ensure the success of our country.  Not just for now, but for the future.  Each and every one of us has a vested interest in ensuring that our children has the highest quality education that the country can afford to provide.

The emphasis we place on education sets the scene.  It tells our people that we value them and their input into our society and that the future of our country is important.  It tells the world that in NZ, education is the key to success.

This begs the question, how do we make this happen?

Pouring unlimited amounts of money into the gaping mouth is one solution.  Experience would suggest this may not be terribly smart - education has an insatiable appetite - and spending more money, while essential, needs to be spent appropriately.

So, how do we get more 'bang for our bucks'?

What are the priorities?

What does our education system need to achieve?

What skills, attributes, values and understandings do our children need when they leave school, in order to be successful and confident, in order to lead and inherit our country?

Let’s not forget that many good things already exist in our current system - centres, schools, teachers, principals and stakeholders are already doing some fantastic things.  Our world class curriculum gives a solid direction, the emphasis on leadership has been a positive step, and overall, our results, from an international perspective, have in the past been encouraging.  What do we need to learn from our past successes in order to cement success in our future?

I am sceptical (of which I have posted previously here and here) that IES is the answer.  National Standards has not proven to be the panacea it was touted to be, and sadly, our beautiful curriculum has taken a second place while we have been distracted by NS.

However, we must not become complacent either.  While we need to share best practice and celebrate the good, there are gaps, issues and an ever increasing 'tail' of underachievement.  Some areas, such as special needs funding, needs a major overhaul.  Property is problematic (the leaky buildings issue is so big it would take the mother of all lotteries to fund just a small percentage of it) and the policies that schools and providers must adhere to are shaky at best.  Behaviour management is a real issue for some providers, and the lack of continuity between Social Services and Education remains a big concern.  Why all schools do not have timely access to mental health services in todays world is just at odds with the needs we deal with on a daily basis.

Innovation is not always rewarded, and key decisions are more often than not made without any input from the major stakeholders.  Policy is instead being thrust upon the sector with no consultation or apparent informed decision making. One might suggest that the success of some innovations rest solely on the discretion of a few - and not always appropriately.

The education system is plagued by policy makers and analysts - not all of whom can claim experience in the system.  Latterly, those who are leading have come from sectors that are in complete contrast from Education.

The most important wondering I have is, who is best served to make decisions for the direction of our education system - policy makers with no experience or people on the front line, whose interest is seeped in what is best practice and right for students?

The system is further hampered by a multitude of organisations and community members who see the education system as the great panacea - the solver of all the ills of the world.  

Need to solve an obesity issue? Impose restrictions and policy onto schools and then change government and take it all away again.   Name an issue and someone will have suggested that schools should address it.  This sounds fine in theory but not all the issues inherent in our society should be the responsibility of schools.   Sometimes it is just not appropriate to continue to impose things on an already over burdened system.

The issue here is that although well meaning, each and everyone of us considers ourselves an expert because we have all been to school.  Unfortunately, while we may have an opinion, it is not necessarily an informed and educated one.  Sometimes our 'experts' (the people employed to educate our children) actually know what they are doing, and we should support them in this - not further hamper their work.

So, what do we need to do in order to ensure we do have a world class system? 

We are all stakeholders and we all have a vested interest in ensuring our talent remains in NZ.  After all, I for one want to ensure that the person that changes my bedpan when I am old, is the best educated person for the job.

As a community we need to start discussing what is important, supporting our educators, and ensuring our voices are heard.

This election, use it as an opportunity to ask yourself, what is important?

Is it important to keep our children in education, engaged and experiencing success?

Is inclusiveness important? If so, we need to make sure it is funded properly.

If safe classrooms are important, then we need to make sure schools have the funding to support the students, engage the staff and provide the programmes that make a difference.

What about equity?  Is this important?  All of our children, irrespective of socio economic advantage or disadvantage, deserve a world class system – and it can be created – we just need to think outside the beehive!    What do you think is important and non negotiable for our future?

This election, find out what the parties believe, ask a teacher what they think and why, and try to think beyond your own experience in school.

The world we live in is so different to the one we grew up in, and the the world our young people will inherit will be different again.  We need to ensure they are prepared for this, and I would ask you take that responsibility seriously.  It is simply NOT enough to just be literate and numerate.

I would finally ask you to do one thing - be a little sceptical of the manufactured crises you hear in the media.  Ask an educator - someone at the chalk face.  Don't believe we moan just for the sake of it - that old mythological chestnut is designed to garner votes.  Teachers stand up for children and they stand up for children because that is their lives work.

This election, ask yourself, what counts in education?

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