Friday, June 24, 2005
A decade or so ago, as part of ideology of ‘market forces’, the public service was transformed. The public service at the time was pictured to the public as being full of dull bureaucrats who were getting in the way of the need for quick and sensible decision making.
As a result of this public service transformation the Education Department was disbanded and some new lean and efficient new organizations were established; the Ministry and the Education Review Office. The key to the future was to lie with the new ‘self managing’ schools.
At the time it seemed by some as the rebirth of democracy. Schools were to be seen as belonging to the neighborhoods their students came from. Parents were invited to become members of school boards to run their own schools within national guidelines.
But the democratic dream of Tomorrows Schools has long since faded. The idea that schools could escape the limitations imposed by the bureaucrats and refocus on the needs of their students is, today, even more at risk
The first realization that democracy was not the true purpose came with the introduction of new centrally imposed standardized curriculums. These came with their associated impossible assessment and recording demands. To add stress to the confusion was the threat of an audit organization (ERO) whose task was, like some traveling inquisition, to visit to see the schools were doing things right. Schools, that briefly faced democratic reinvention, now were continually being bombarded with endless compliance requirements – often it seemed invented as new situations emerged.
Regional Education Boards, that once supported schools with a range of administrative and education services, had long since been disbanded meant that schools were now on their own. Rather than democratic schools, collaborating with each other, the new ‘ideology’ required competition and the survival of the fittest. Sharing was out.
Now, instead of a lean central ‘machine’ with schools able to make decision with their community, we now have BOTs, principals and teachers busy completing endless paper work to supply to the Ministry. It has come to the point that the focus on teaching and learning has almost been lost. Valuable teacher’s time and energy has being diverted from their core tasks – creating conditions for quality learning to take place; teachers are too busy reacting to continual imposed requirements
Schools and teachers have lost the opportunity to be seen as creative centres of educational excitement are now too often pale imitations of each other;and rather than quality, mediocrity is often the norm. The idea that schools could become centres of innovation has been replaced by ideas that come pre packaged, delivered by through contracts by people who often have little practical experience in what they are delivering. Even if they do the ‘weight’ of all the contracts and associated demands has created such an intensification of expectations that stress and poor health of teachers is the result.
What has happened the past decades can only be called educational malpractice.
We now ironically have more bureaucrats than ever but they are now best called ‘technocrats’, and few of them could match the wisdom and insights of those they replaced. Where once we were promised few central bureaucrats there are now more Ministry policy analysts than ever. Rather than developing capacity building, by passing true responsibity to the schools, we have soul destroying micro management. Rather than developing true professionalism teachers have been reduced to educational technocrats themselves, delivering and using idea others have thought out for them. As a result, rather than letting people make decisions, we have ‘low trust low risk’ environment.
And still students fall through the cracks.
The competitive model has all but destroyed the idea of schools working collaboratively with each other sharing ideas and encouraging teacher creativity which was once the norm. The central government, rather than liberating the energy of schools, has become even more hyper rational by increasing demands on schools to comply with the wishes of those in authority. ‘Top down thinking’, once the cause of all our problems, still remains under a new and more insidious form.
Those interested in education for democratic values need to take action. Schools need to be re-imagined as centres of community revival; as places focused on amplifying the talents of all their students. We need to reconnect school with their communities and each other and we need to focus on helping all students develop the values to enable them to make a full contribution as citizens. These are the values that have been missing the last decade or so.
Schools have had to survive an onslaught of technocratic changes that have made little difference except to demoralize teachers. In the process we have lost sight of the real purposes of education in a democratic country.
We need to get back to teaching and learning. We need leadership from our elected government, not endless dictates. We need an inclusive vision for our country that places education at the centre of communal revival. Schools, teachers, and their communities, need to be fully resourced and trusted to get on with the job. We know enough now that all students can learn if we had time to try things out and share what works with each other. We have some of the best teachers in the world but their resilience is getting thin.
We have had enough of ‘bureaucratic creep’ smothering the creativity and initiative of our schools.