Thursday, October 26, 2006

Draft NZCF: a giant yawn or creative potential?

  Posted by Picasa I have recently been involved with schools coming to terms with the ‘new’ Draft New Zealand Curriculum. I know Ministry ‘people’ like to refer to as ‘revised’ but it is a long way away from the ‘mindset’ behind the original NZCF and its Curriculum Statements with their almost incoherent strands, levels and endless learning objectives.

There is some pretence in the guide to the draft that it is natural progression from the Education Review of the late 80s. This of course is rubbish as the current curriculums they are now trying to distance themselves from is an artifact of accountability based ‘market forces’ ideology. It had little to do with true education – more about proving school were achieving whatever ‘targets’ were set. The full ‘market forces’ model can be seen in the UK with their ‘league tables’ – the NZ version is just a local ‘modification’.

No one of course will own up to this, nor accept the blame for wasting the valuable time and energy of New Zealand teachers on this now irrelevant curriculum; it is now ironic that the current model is now all some teachers know. It is even more ironic that teachers are now feeling grateful to the Ministry for the new draft but for those with longer memories it is ‘back to the future’.

Back to the draft.

I sense a collective sigh of relief from teachers to see the end of all the previous ‘crap’!

Who could argue with the drafts Vision, Principles and Values? This is all playing ‘catch up’ with innovative schools for the Ministry. Nothing original.

The Key Competencies would all seem rather obvious and worthwhile but I hear there are thoughts about requiring schools to assess their students against them! If so, the idea is dead in the water. When teachers develop ‘complex contexts’ to challenge their students their students ought to call on such competencies as and when needed. If they are expected to be assessed as ‘atomized’ items the Ministry technocrats have learnt little and would show a return to their true colours.

As I see it the ‘competencies’ (an uncomfortable ‘managerial’ word) are what creative teachers have always kept in their mind – it has been ‘part of their identity.’ Creative teachers have always wanted to ensure their students’ feel an ‘agency’ for their own learning as they help them to develop their own ‘voice’ and ‘learning identity’. Such teachers have always believed it was the total culture, or climate, of the room that was the vital issue; today this is called a ‘learning community’.

Reading the Key Competency page one wonders if they could have squeezed in any more educational ‘buzz words’.

The final key competency paragraph states that, ‘students should be active seekers, users, and creators of knowledge’. Knowledge ‘creators’ not knowledge ‘consumers’ of teacher preplanned ‘intentions’ as present teaching all too often is. This will be a real challenge for many teachers – particularly those who seem to think that students should ‘learn how to learn’, using ‘Higher Order Thinking’, with little regard to the depth of understanding of knowledge the students are ‘creating’. In my opinion to many classrooms are full of examples of ‘shallow thinking’ – ‘higher order thinking for thin learning.’ Creative teachers of the past would be appalled – I am.

What is missing in this draft is a real focus that education should develop the passions, dreams and talents of all students because it is these that will provide them with ‘clues’ for their future careers and, in the process, provide the motivation for using the ‘key competencies’. And it is creative talent that NZ will need to thrive in the future!

As for the ‘essence statements’ of the Learning Areas they could have been even more reduced to ‘essences’. They would seem a sop to the secondary mindsets that still hold the power in the educational echelon. But at least all those endless strands, level and objectives have gone – reduced to a kind of last minute appendix (and about as useful).

It is great to see that the ‘art of teaching’ (pedagogy) has been ‘resuscitated’ even if, once again, in a dense ‘buzz words’ approach. I would have liked to see ‘co-constructivist teaching model’ made more obvious but this might have clashed with secondary approaches whose pedagogy is as ‘slim’ as primary teachers’ knowledge is ‘fragile’.

It is great also that school now have the freedom to ‘design’ (not ‘deliver’) curriculums that reflect the particular needs of their students – and encourage teachers to in turn encourage their students to call on content from the various learning areas as they require. How this fits in with the ‘appendix’ is problematic – as true creative learning is ‘generative’ and ‘open-ended’.

The draft doesn’t even mention the phrase ‘personalized learning’. The Minister talks about it a lot – he just hasn’t got it through to his technocrats who are focusing on their ‘key competencies! It is all about relationships and mutual respect.

Personalized learning is what it should all be about – the 19th dream of mass education has all but destroyed the life force of too many students and teachers.

All in all about 6 out of 10 – but as the previous NZCF failed to even score this is a high mark.

What is missing (other than the phrase ‘love of learning’ which was included in the March Draft) is some honesty about: the state of school failure that we seem to accept in our current education system (failing up to 20% of all students – 50% of Maori boys). What is missing is the difficulty schools are having with a growing number of disruptive students who can’t recognize their ‘dream’ in our Eurocentric Industrial Aged ‘one size fits all system’. The draft fails to mention the ‘gap’ between primary and secondary ‘mindsets’ that creates too many ‘failing’ students. And it would be honest to admit that too many teachers still hold on to ‘deficit theories’ ( particularly in secondary schools) about their students who fail to see that they, and their antiquated schools, that are the problem.

We have along way to go yet to develop a school system that equips ‘all students for life long learning in a world where continual change is the norm’.

‘We know enough now that no students need fail if we were to change our minds (and our schools) first’. As Peter Drucker, the business philosopher has written, ‘no country as yet had developed a 21st Century Education System’. The first to do so, he says, will inherit the future.

It is about time we faced reality and started a real revolution?


Anonymous said...

I think you are right - the draft is a bit of a 'ho hum' affair but at least it moves away from the nonsense we have had to put up with these past years. Lets hope they don't turn the competencies into a new nightmare!

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by your 'shallow learning' comment?

Bruce said...

I guess I am refering to primary school teachers who implement a range of 'thinking programmes' (Costa, Bloom, de Bono, Mind-mapping, Learning Styles, Graphic Organisers etc) with the thought that 'learning how to learn' is more important than in-depth understanding.

Not that there is anything wrong with such programmes but they should be used to encourage students to 'dig deeply' into issues and, in the process, call upon whatever traditional subject matter they need.

Primary classrooms should celebrate the depth of student research and expression not the just the variety of thinking processes that have been used.

Anonymous said...

If the Ministry doesn't follow up this curriculum , when finalised, with ideas about assessing competencies and objectives ( some of which make litte sense ) then it will be a postive move.

We all wait in anticipation.It is what happened last time - perhaps they have learnt from their experience?

Bruce said...

One highly respected Auckland principal I have worked with recently, after visiting schools throughout NZ on study leave, calls the problem of 'thin learning' , 'classrooms with no cognitive grunt'!

What I believe has happened is that teachers' energy and time ( their two greatest resources) have been 'consumed', 'captured by those pushing 'literacy and numeracy sects' - a return to a kind of 'three Rs' 'Victorian' curriculum.

Not good enough for te 21stC - they are at best 'foundation skills' - students need a full range of 'critical literacies'.

Anonymous said...

I think your comment , 'a collective sigh of relief' sums it all up.