Monday, June 09, 2008

Reaching the future down.Yeah right!

Who reaches
A future down for us from the high shelf
Of spiritual daring?

Landfall in Unknown Sea
Allen Curnow

Karen Sewell, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Eduction, introduces her thoughts to Ministry staff in their June newsletter with Allen Curnow's quote above.

The future may be unknown , she writes, but education is critical to ensuring our young people have the knowledge, skills and values to succeed. The Ministry's role is to provide leadership to develop an education system that will equip all New Zealanders for the 12stC.

This is the overarching outcome in this years Ministry's Statement of Intent.

A quick read of this bland document soon puts to rest any vision of 'reaching a future down of spiritual daring'.

After saying 'we' are making steady progress in all areas of learning from early childhood to tertiary level she then goes on to say that the system is still under performing for many Maori Pacifica children.

How 'steady progress' equates with, 'Too many young people are leaving school early with low or no qualifications.Forty percent leave school with less than Level 2 NCEA qualifications', is beyond me. 'Around 20000 15 to 19 year old are not engaged in learning or work', she continues.

We sure are in need of some 'spiritual daring' but little is to be seen.

'In previous years', she says, 'we have focused strongly on the "drivers" of presence, engagement and achievement. While these are still critical we must now direct our resources at critical points in the education system.' 'This means rigorous reporting against targets so we will know how far we have come and how far we have to go.'

Once again that doesn't sound like 'spiritual daring' to me; more like a continuation of the 90s technocratic obsession with efficiency. Lots of time will be sent by schools gathering data, making graphs, and reporting against 'targets', while all about the system keeps steadily failing. The Ministry's Statement of Intent is a political accountability document that subverts the fine aspirations of its own New Zealand Curriculum.

Certainly children need strong 'foundation skills' and 'key competencies' and the 'system must focus on the needs of children' but does this have to be a reactionary fallback to literacy and numeracy?

The most vital 'foundation skill' to be kept alive at all costs is enjoyment of learning.

Engagement is still the big concern. The issue is, how to make learning more engaging? The Ministry seem to want to do this without admitting is might be the antiquated secondary schools, desined for the wrong century, that might be the real problem.

Changing such schools will require real 'spiritual daring'.

Teacher are going to 'trained' to deliver 'best practices' which will certainly take any 'spiritual daring' away from those teachers who 'reach to the high shelf' of creativity. This 'new' literacy and numeracy crusade will be 'personalised', she says, to assist learners. It is a shame that Ms. Sewell hasn't the courage, or daring, to focus on personalising the whole system?

In the UK, the following of such 'targets' has improved children literacy and maths achievement but at the cost of enjoyment and, as well, results are plateauing as teachers lose enthusiasm. As for 'achievement targets' two issues come to mind - the 'narrowing' of the curriculum caused by the targets selected, and the idea that it is often not the targets you hit in life that count, but the ones you miss because you weren't looking!

Placing the focus on an education system on developing every child's, talents, passions and dreams ought to be 'target' for 'spiritual daring'. And this, is turn, might well be the key to retaining student's engagement?

Ms Sewell would have better advised to stay away from poetic thoughts and stick to her technocratic 'best practices', 'evidence based research', outcomes and targets.

'The future is a foreign country they will do things differently there'. There are no targets to report against on the way. What is needed is the wit and imagination to be daring; to have the courage to transform our school system as required.

Curnow's quote was used more appropriately by Peter Biggs, then Chair of Creative New Zealand, when addressing a New Zealand Primary Principals Conference in 2002.

His theme was we need to 'live life like an artist' and to embrace the vision of New Zealand as 'daring, pioneering, creative country'; one that 'celebrates the entrepreneurs of the imagination'.

To do this, he said, we need our schools to 'inspire learning', to tap the talents and gifts of all students so they can see themselves as 'adventurers'; 'people who burn ,people who challenge, people who believe nothing is impossible'.

Now that is reaching for a 'future for us from the high shelf'


Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tena koe Bruce

It is customary in education today for the exponents of that discipline to look for metaphors, lines from poetic works, to provide the spark for the erudite messages of their ilk. Our leading educators hold up these fragments of literature like the flame to the lantern.

In bygone days it was customary to attend to the lantern first. With the wick trimmed or replaced, the glass carefully cleaned and the fuel adequately replenished, there was assured the function for which the whole assemblage was designed.

One could then say let there be light, knowing that there was likelihood of that provision.

My guess is that we have forgotten how to trim the wick; the glass has been replaced with new self-cleaning surfaces that often don't clean too efficiently; the fuel is of poorer quality for it's been watered down.

Yet the lantern is expected to provide the light more efficiently, illuminating corners that have never been lit.

We need to attend to all these things as we did before, change the metaphors if we must, but get a new type of lantern.

Ka kite

Bruce Hammonds said...

Really enjoyed your comment but I had to think about it!
Spiritual daring - to light up new areas, requires a new source of inspiration for the future.The old lantern is almost out caught, as it is, in the winds of change.