Saturday, March 14, 2009

Early warning for NZ!

This was just a simple drawing of a pine cone but in the process an ominous figure emerged. Are there things we can learn from mistakes made in the UK? It seems we are doomed to follow their political lead when we should be focusing on the true purposes of education. At present our 'new' curriculum has given us an opportunity to be creative but talk of national standards are on the horizon - idea proposed by simplistic politicians and appealing populist minds.

A recent Guardian article gives us early warning! Thanks to those of you who sent it to me.

A Cambridge Review of Education has just been published after three years research. It presents a damming view of the UK primary curriculum which it suggests has failed generations of children. The review suggests a blueprint for a radical new kind of schooling.

The review blueprint looks remarkably like our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum. Our 'new' curriculum, thankfully, replaced one which bears a remarkable similarity to the UK one which was developed prior to our own 'old' one.

What is wrong with their curriculum?

There is an over emphasis on the skills of reading, writing and maths at the expense of other subjects.This, the review says, limits children's enjoyment of school and risks severely compromising their natural curiosity, imagination and love of learning.

The testing they have introduced, complete with 'league tables', has encouraged schools to focus on short term learning ( school survival?) at the expense of children's long term development. The most conspicuous causalities are arts and the humanities. Learning that requires time for talking, problem solving and exploring ideas is sacrificed, for what review calls, a 'memorization recall' style of learning.

Is this where our new Government is to take us?

The belief behind this narrow approach to schooling ( not learning) is that it is not possible for schools to focus on basic skills as well as covering full range of subjects. The review's lead author, Robin Alexander, of Cambridge University, believes this is faulty thinking and cites evidence that schools that blend literacy and numeracy into the wider teaching often get the best results. They are achieving this not withstanding the 'obstacle' of the current curriculum ( the one that looks like our 'old' one).

Our 'new' curriculum now gives such creative teachers 'permission' to be 'risk takers' but so far not may have left the security of past 'best practices'

This longstanding belief in the primacy of the so called 'basics' has been made worse by national literacy and numeracy strategies and the publishing of results

Even though in New Zealand, so far, we have avoided the failed concept of national testing literacy and numeracy have come to dominate nearly 50% of the classroom time that is occurring in the UK. UK national testing did at first improve achievement levels but are now trending down and, at the same time, students enjoyment and attitudes towards reading and maths are also falling.

It seems obvious that the politicisation of basic skills is simply the new governments scare agenda to improve so called standards. If implemented their agencies will 'micromanage' schools and this suggestion, ironically, by a party that believes in freedom and dislikes bureaucrats and regulations.

If we get national testing then the creative potential of the New Zealand Curriculum will not be realized.

The Cambridge Review is suggesting the introduction of a curriculum that aligns well with our 'new' curriculum. It want twelve aims for each pupil.They are: 'well being, engagement, empowerment, autonomy, encouraging respect and reciprocity, promoting interdependence, citizenship, celebrating culture, exploring, fostering skills, exciting imagination and enacting dialogue' and continues, 'their learning should should cover eight domains, including art and creativity, language, oracy and literacy, and science and technology to replace the current narrower subject areas'. Their current subject statements were what we had in New Zealand up until 2007. All the above aligns well with New Zealand's Curriculum's vision of 'confident life long learners', able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge' and, in the process, develop the 'key competences' required for continual learning.

Currently, it seems, we are leading the world - but for how long?

The Review's suggestion is for their national curriculum to cover only 70% of lessons and for the other 30% left to schools to decide.Our 'new' curriculum has gone well past this suggestion by encouraging school to develop curriculum to suit the needs of their students opening the way for personalised learning.

The Review wants to shift the responsibility for designing how children learn back from their government and its agencies back to schools. If were to introduce national in New Zealand testing it would stifle such responsibility and flexibility.

The review states that, as an antidote to the current 'utilitarian and philistine' and self centred age, there is a need to make an economic case for creativity in eduction but even more importantly it concludes that it is fundamental to children's happiness and well being, as well as raising job prospects in the future.

Certainly in New Zealand our best chance of survival is in realizing the gifts and talents of all students in school and in creating an environment where such gifts can be turned to individual and communal success.

The Review is timely for us in New Zealand for if we aren't careful we could lose the opportunity for creativity before we even had the chance to give it a go.


Anonymous said...

Just as we are starting to appreciate the creativity of the new curriculum all is threatened by populist politicians.

BookChook said...

Thank you for this great post!

In Australia, it seems to me that education revolves around quantification. If a numerical value can't be assigned to something (eg love of reading), it no longer has a place in the curriculum.

When are we going to get it right?

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks anon and Book Chook! Like you Book Chook I love Coffs Harbour. Did some work there last year!

So far we haven't gone down the quantification road too far yet in NZ - but it is coming.

We need to put up a fight for creative teaching!

BookChook said...

Count on me! I believe that creative and logical thinking are very important skills in both student and teacher.