Thursday, July 03, 2014

'Everyone has a right to an education they are best fitted for so as to develop the fullest extent of their powers'. Going back to principles that underpinned the First Labour Government

Traditional schools, even the most liberal, have their premises in a past industrial age

Industrial aged schools
The dream of mass education has turned, for far too many of our students into a nightmare. One size never fits all and to accommodate this dilemma schools have sorted, streamed, and grouped their students. This worked well when there were manual jobs for the academically unqualified but today such jobs are no longer available.

There is an obvious need now to transform schooling to fit the new post-industrial environment

The business philosopher Peter Drucker has written that the first country to develop a 21stC education system will win the future and ideas expressed in the numerous video presentations
Sir Ken Robinson
of creativity‘guru’ Sir Ken Robinson point the way
. New Zealand could well be such a winner if education were not just to be reformed (‘tinkered’ with) but transformed into personalised system able to realize the powers of all students.

So far the current Government ignores such visions preferring to standardise education around a narrow range of National Standards (leading to, after the elections, to national testing and league tables) with the consequence that creativity and innovation have been limited.

In the New Zealand Principal (March 2014) there is an inspirational article about New Zealand educational development from 1939 to present day contributed by Prof John Clark, Massey University School of Education.

It is his thesis that a fundamental principle of educational policy, developed in 1939, was abandoned in 1990 and that since then education policy has been held hostage to unprincipled pragmatism and that now the time has come for a re-asserting of a principle that has the ability to capture the imagination of all involved in schooling; a principle that provides a personalised education for all students and also the common good of our community as a whole.

In 1939, after years of social inequality caused by the Great Depression, the First Labour Government (1939-49) introduced a range of social reforms to bring social justice for all in s
Fourth Labour Govt 1939-49
ociety and not just for the advantaged elite

The Labour Manifesto’s education policy of the time made it clear what was expected in education and when elected Peter Fraser, Minister Of Education, asked the Director of Education Dr Beeby to rewrite the then Ministry of Education report to the new government to capture his ideas. Overnight Beeby wrote the following principle:

‘…that every person whatever his level of academic ability, whether rich or poor, whether he lives in the town or the country, has a right as a citizen to a free education of the kind best fitted and to the fullest extent of his power……(and that this ) will involve the reorientation of the education system.’

This orientation was in conflict with current principles of secondary selection of students and  the primary school emphasis on the 3Rs – an education that suited the well to do and academically able and penalised students from the poorest families. The new policy asked for:

Schools that are able to cater for the whole population must offer courses that are as rich and varied as are the needs and abilities of the children who enter them… be true equality of opportunity… to convert a school system constructed originally on the basis of selection and privilege to a truly democratic form..’

This this principle, if not fully put in place, lasted ironically until the Fourth Labour Government (1984-90) rejected it putting in its place the unbridled power of choice in the market which widened inequality and, since then, writes Prof Clark, ‘under successive governments we have witnessed the growth of economic inequality as the rich get richer and the poor became poorer matched by a corresponding increase in the inequality of school achievement along the lines of wealth and poverty’.

Dr Beeby

Time now for education, writes Prof Clark, to become principled again so that all government polices ‘pass the test of social justice and equality for all. Against this the policy of national standards is to be judged.’  It would seem we suffer in education not an ‘achievement gap’ but more an ‘opportunity gap’ created to a large extent by the effects of inequality. For all students to succeed it just can’t be left to teachers – the inequalities that determine failure need to be faced up to something the current government is loath to do.  School effects on student success, according to valid research would indicate the school effect being in the 10 to 30% range. High paid itinerant ‘super’ principals and teachers won’t solve this disparity.

Prof Clark believes the opposition Labour Party’s education policy has the making of a principle that once more captures the vision of the first Labour Government stating that Education ‘is a priority for us because a good education provides our children with a life time of opportunities….’.

This Clark believes is a start but ‘far more is required if the country is to regain what it has lost; a principle that benefits all rather than the few’. To succeed the Labour Party’ must return to its roots of equality for all’.

Equality of opportunity is not to aim for standardisation (the current emphasis is on conformity) but for all students to be helped to realise their innate powers – their unique gifts and talents. This requires personalised approach to education.

National standards have had the effect of returning us to the emphasis prior to 1939 on the 3Rs with the poor continuing to be penalised.

Future education must, writes Clark, ‘reconcile the conflicting interests of the freedom of the individual to pursue their own legitimate interests with the responsibility of the community through
the state to seek the common good of all by providing for their general welfare as citizens of a caring society.’ ‘This’, he continues, ‘places education as an end which all else serves as a means. Nothing can be greater than education our children to become good people who, as good citizens, live in a good society. All other policies – economic, health, security and he like – serve as a means of achieving this ultimate ends’.

Achieving this balance of freedom and common good needs to replace the current ideology of self-interest with minimal government involvement through the’ invisible hand’ of the market, will be hard to achieve. This was also  the challenge faced up to in 1939 by the First Labour Government following the market crash on 1929.

All involved to achieve this new balance must be aligned with the challenge- politicians, policy makers, teachers, parents and employers. A free education for all is required to ensure all students realise their innate potential; an education that provides the opportunities to realize this for all students, needs to underpin a future Labour led coalition.

‘The biggest problem in New Zealand today’, writes Clark, ‘is the growing inequality of school achievement’ National Standards is the
current government’s answer to the problem of underachievement but Clark believes that they have yet to demonstrate success.

 National Standards place great faith on within school factors ignoring out of school factors such as ‘poverty, poor health, inadequate family resources, dysfunctional families, and social ills….and the inability of parents … to support their children in successful learning.’ This is not even to consider the effects of standards narrowing the curriculum and in the process reducing students’ opportunities to succeed in other areas of the curriculum.

‘In short’ Clark writes, ‘if schools are not the cause of the problem then neither are they the solution to it. The way out is to rethink the matter: the causes of inequality which flows through all our social fabric with such devastating effect on individuals and at such huge cost to the community at large.’

Something other than National Standards is required’. The recent concept of appointing ‘super teachers and principals also ignores the effects of out of school factors and would, if
Narrowing effect of standards.
implemented, reinforce the conformist approaches currently in place.

What is required, according to Clark, is a passionate reforming Minister of Educations and a Director of Education driven by a deep need to change as was the situation in 1939.

Such a reforming Minister would need to look beyond the expertise of the current Ministry of Education as Peter Fraser did in 1939 and would need also to look beyond the school where the real causes of inequality lie. Clark writes that such a Minister, ‘must look outward to be advised by those within and without the system, for the problem and its solution span widely across the economic, health and welfare spheres which are interlocked in complex and mutually Then, and only then, will the Minister of Education and the Government be fully appraised of the severity of the problem and the enormity of the solution.’  Success will be measured by the ability of the Government to’ convey its principle and polices in ways which are of benefit to one and to all.’
A time for new ideas.
interactive ways’ and, he continues, those providing advice ‘must have a shared commitment to halt and reverse the huge social gap which has this country in its grip.

Clark concludes by drawing attention to the two opposing ideologies on offer.

The National Government holds that the wealth of the nation belongs solely to individuals who have the freedom to acquire and utilize their resources as they see fit and if returned inequality will continue to grow ( we wait for wealth to ‘trickle down’), privatisation of public services such as schools  will spread and environmental sustainability will be given lip service.

‘On the other hand if we are of the view that the nation’s wealth is
A clear choice
just that, the wealth of the nation for which each one of us is a custodian acting in the best interest of all will lead us to adopting principles and approving polices which work not only for the individual but also, more importantly, for the common good of all.
Prof John Clark

As Lester Flockton writes, in the same magazine, it is a choice between the ‘current, neo liberal ( free market, profiteering, competitive, capitalist) direction of education policy in our country’,  creating a country of winners and losers, or a government ‘committed to social justice ‘ that values the talents and contributions of all.

A simple choice if we think hard about it.

( I may have misinterpreted Prof Clark’s idea – check out his article in the March 2014 Principals Magazine)

1 comment:

The Giggling Pony said...

Thank you very much for this article. It is timely as there is no longer a choice to be complacent in the face of the changes being forced on education in New Zealand. I take the point to be that simply resisting is also pointless. We need to take on the mantle of leaders and become champions of the principals of democracy and social justice in education.