Tuesday, April 19, 2011
On the road again!
Last year I traveled with Doug Hislop the editor of Education Today to visit New Zealand's 'top schools'. Before the edition was published we were often asked how did we decide on the 'top schools'? Pretty simple really - we travelled as far North as we could to Cape Reinga and Spirits Bay and visited the top four schools geographically! It was a long and insightful trip and the resulting article was well received. As a result we decided to visit the isolated schools along the East Coast from past Opotiki to Tolaga Bay. What we found provided more than enough for a whole magazine.
All last week we visited as many schools as we could traversing the Te Whanau a Apanui and Ngati Porou Iwi areas.
It is aways interesting 'cold calling' on schools and no more so than in visiting the isolated schools that dot the coastline from Opotiki to Gisborne. I think we visited over eighteen schools and our intention is for all the schools we visited to provide their own thoughts about any issue they feel inclined to. Our job will be to tie then all together to develop a coherent article.
The schools we visited were naturally a little wary of unannounced visitors and we were also confused with photo copier salesmen and architects! Our approach was to show them our previous article on our Northland visit and then to ask them would they like to contribute their own thoughts for a similar article. We also made it clear we were an independent magazine and did not go along with the 'top down Wellington' approach to learning and that we were strongly biased towards community based schools - schools that worked out their own destiny within agreed guidelines. When the schools saw that we were supportive then the hospitality was as you would expect.
We both hadn't visited the area since the 1980s. Earlier in the 70s ( straight from working in the UK) I was involved with Maori Art Advisers who were working on carving for Te Kaha Marae. Doug had been teaching in Gisborne -and surfing so he also had contacts to explore. Last year I held a couple of courses in Whakatane and during our trip I appreciated, when visiting Te Kura Raukokore, how far teachers in such areas travel to attend courses.
As we travelled along the coastline not only did we appreciate the magnificent scenery but we also began to appreciate that there were some important stories to share about education that would be worth telling. That distant Ministry technocrats could ever appreciate the circumstances of the schools we visited is a faint hope -and for such people to provide 'answers' impossible. The schools we visited ,although all catering for Maori students, were all as different as they were similar.The idea that National Standards will provide the 'answer' to their students' achievement is simply an idea with no real relevance. Indeed such imposed standardisation, we both believe, will distort the type of education that best fits the potential of the students we observed.
Schools we visited were all reaching out, to a greater or lesser degree, to develop a holistic integrated education that is more in line with the learning of earlier pre European days. In this respect they could provide models for mainstream school to develop true connected learning communities.
What we learnt was: the strong belief for students to learn about the history of the people of each area; the need to appreciate the immediate environment; the importance to develop a positive sense of identity in every student; to value students 'voice'; and the welcoming and making use of local expertise.
One thought we had was that if only the earlier 'Native School', whose role was to help Maori students be assimilated into European culture , had evolved to value the language and culture of the students themselves. This is now the vision of the schools we visited. As a result of earlier misguided central government policy there is a missing generation of people who have lost the use of the own language. It was inspiring to meet up with one eighty year old kuia who was helping young students learn te reo.
In the schools we visited learning was a total experience , one that connected schools with their own communities.
The journey of the schools to reach the horizons they had set for themselves was on the way. For some it has not been easy and it was obvious progress had been hard won. And it was equally obvious that future success would come from the schools themselves and that growth would need to focus on each school helping themselves and not by a one size fits all solution. That has been tried and has failed.
From what we saw local expertise is there to assist those in need, it just might need to be supported in some way.
We are keen to return.
Ka kite ano