Monday, January 16, 2006

Fancy this - Mr Fancy!

'Our Secondary Schools Don't Work Anymore' by David Hood.

Let's stop pretending they do! Posted by Picasa

Howard Fancy Secretary of Education – New Zealand’s top Education technocrat ( ex Treasury!)

As part of a PRO 'spin' on how well we are doing in education Howard Fancy referred to the pride we all feel when New Zealanders do well – such people as Peter Jackson and Michael Campbell.

Somehow that links with how well we are doing in education but I wonder how such people attributed their success to their time at school? The link between entrepreneurial success and school is at best tenuous except, for academic type careers. It would be great to ask such entrepreurial people how they would 're-shape' the system to develop the talents of all students.

Fancy, in his article, is at pains to point out recent successes we have had in education but fails to mention that we still fail about 20% of all students. For such students school continues to be compulsory miss-education!

There is mention of the ‘achievement gap’ which relates in the main to the children whose backgrounds do not match the traditional school structures – Maori and Pacifika students. Fancy suggests ‘we’ need to develop and support new ways of teaching to help students into learning and that we need a shift away from the ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Well he is in the best position to ensure that this happens but he needs to get rid of all the bureaucratic nonsense that gets in the way of creative schools, and he needs to look closely at this technocratic desire to ensure standardization across schools of results. This is an idea more suited to the factory mentality of the past century and one that eats up too much energy in trying to comply too. We need and environment of minimum standardization and maximum diversity and creativity.

The philosophy of the International Baccalaureate is worth considering. I am sure with Ministry approval to modify the NCEA it could be a means to personalize learning

Although Fancy says, ‘we cannot imagine what is in store for the next generation’ we can be pretty certain the antiquated specialized structures of our secondary school do not help. The Ministry could lead the way by encouraging a variety of innovative approaches.

If, as he says, 'we want a more flexible school curriculum that can be adapted to the different abilities and learning needs of students' he needs to reframe the National Certificate of Achievement ( NCEA) so that it focuses on developing each students personal mix of talents, interests and abilities. Every student needs a personal learning tutor to help negotiate an individual pathway and access to whatever specialties teachers may have he or she needs.

He is right to say that secondary school are giving students a more diversified learning options but it is too little too late and difficult to achieve in structures still orientated to traditional transmission of learning. It is not possible to tinker our way into the future, not when we are failing 20% of all our students.

He does want students to leave with a ‘love of learning and the confidence to manage themselves’, equipped with, ‘high level thinking skills’, in particular, ‘problem solving and creative and information skills and the practical skills to apply them’. And, he says, 'secondary schools need to transform themselves and quickly'. If he really believes this than it is urgent for the Ministry to research what exactly is holding schools back – and maybe he will find that the Ministry compliance requirements and NCEA confusion are the blocks to change!

Fancy has some fine words to say about recent innovations but it is all too easy to ‘cherry pick’ a few ‘add on’ ideas and ignore the real issues of transformation.

Commendable ideas he mentions in his article are the ‘Extending High Standards Across School Initiative’. This however has a ideological fault in that it requires ‘winner’ schools to help the less fortunate. It would have been more enlightened, educational, and democratic to simply encourage clusters of school to develop their own means of improving by calling upon expertise within their groups.

He mentions also the ‘Young Enterprise Scheme’ as a move in the right direction, a scheme where students are taught business enterprise skills, and also the ‘Gateway’ and ‘Star’ Projects which aim at helping students move into employment and, of course, the various ICT ventures.

As good as they might be they are they are just trying to prop up a failing system. A system with it’s genesis in a 19thCentury mass education mentality. The underlying cultures of our secondary schools are archaic in organizational terms and are essentially cultures of accountability and control. They resemble classical bureaucracies with their lack of flexibility and adaptability – vital future qualities for all organizations and citizens. Such schools will become increasingly dysfunctional unless there is a fundamental reorientation.

What we need, as we enter the first decades of an age on imagination and creativity, is a system able to personalize education so as to release the talents, passions and dreams of all students. We now have the technology to be able to do this.

Personalization of education is something worth fighting for!

Too much of what we have seen so far is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.


Anonymous said...

I think you are right.There are a lot of good things being tried in our secondary schools but basically the system reflects a past era.

I am not sure schools, nor parents, want to really change as well - what do you think?

I guess the Ministry ought to be more proactive about encouraging diversity and creativity.

Is this what you are saying?

Anonymous said...

'I am always ready to learn, but I do not always like to be taught.' (Winston Churchill)

I imagine many secondary school students could relate to this quote which is incidently the 'Thought For Today' in the local paper.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Great quote. Mark Twain said he never let schooling interfere with his education.

It is a bit like the kid who said he taught his dog how to whistle. When asked by his mate to make him whistle he replied, 'I taught him to whistle - I didn't say he learnt it!

Schools are designed for teaching not learning! For transmission not knowledge creation.

And about school change it is over to those who care enough to create new possibilities to challenge current mindsets. You can't believe in what you don't know about which is why the 'status quo' is aways so powerful.

Anonymous said...

Too many teachers teaching dogs to whistle - some clever conformist students learn to do it, others try as hard as they can, can't, and many simply do not want to whistle to the teacher's tune; they have better things to do. In the mean time our masters in the big kennel in the sky have developed endless criteria for teacher's to assess student's skill in this task.

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting our education system has gone to the dogs? (joke).

Bruce Hammonds said...

It's no joke for some students.

Anonymous said...

It is no joke for lots of teachers.