Wednesday, May 20, 2015

New Zealand Schools – the Rhetoric and the Reality - and a creative future

It was a coincidence to receive copies of two exciting books on the future of education last week; one by Sir Ken Robinson (Creative Schools) and the other by David Hood. Both have the same message - that schools need to dramatically change, David Hood’s book focusses on the New Zealand’s education system.

This is David’s second book, written 17 years after his earlier book ‘Our Secondary Schools Don’t Work Anymore’. Both  books have been written to provoke debate about our current secondary school system.

David is well placed to comment on secondary education as he was the chief executive of the N Z Qualifications Authority, has had a long career as a principal, in the Department of Education and the Education Review Office and, more recently, as an educational consultant.

Peter Fraser
David in his introduction writes we are ‘still a long way from achieving the vision articulated by Peter Fraser Minster of Education in1935 for an education ‘of the kind and length to which his powers best fits him’.

David writes from the strong belief in the power of education to make difference for all students but feels that our schools lack relevance and purpose for to many students. He writes that the ‘ secondary schools …have changed very little in the past century’. It is a model ‘designed for a world that no longer exists’.

Today what is needed, Hood writes, is a system that frees schools, teachers and students to be ‘more creative and innovative’.

Although written about secondary schools it is well worth a read by primary teachers.

Hood quotes  business ‘guru’ Peter Drucker  that ‘the best way to predict the future is to create it’ and that ‘the first country to develop a 21st century education system will win the future’.

Secondary schools in contrast reflect a past age with ‘subjects with no connections….rigid and inflexible timetables…rules that emphasize obedience rather than responsibility’; a system that has become ‘fossilized and ritualistic’, and largely ‘mono cultural’.

There is however, Hood writes, ‘an increasing mood for change as more and more people realise that the factory model school, designed in the early 20th century, is no longer relevant in the 21st'. It is now time, says Hood for some radical rethinking about the whole purpose of education; our role as educators is to prepare students for their futures, not our present.

Excellent read
Hood provides excellent references about future needs   of students and the key basic skills required for living and working in the 21st century -  the ‘C’ words: Communications Cooperation, Critical Thinking, Creativity and Compassion.

The future demands a system premised on personalisation and creativity rather than current standardisation and conformity. With this in mind Hood is supportive of the principles, values and the emphasis on keycompetencies, of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.

Excellent 'first half'.
Unfortunately ‘the higher one goes up in the secondary system the bigger the mismatch between the rhetoric and the practice’

The vision of the much applauded  NZC is lost and there is little opportunity ’for students to engage in their own inquiry, research and discovery, never mind pursue their own interest’ and to work in teams to produce ‘personal products of value’. 

The potential of the new curriculum framework, with its principles, values and competencies, is spoilt by decisions to stick with the traditional disconnected subject-based curriculum.’

For secondary schools, writes Hood, ‘the first half of the New Zealand Curriculum was warmly received when it was released in 2007. The problem is with the second half where it focusses more and more on subjects. The solution is simple the curriculum should end at the descriptors of what each learning area is about.’

Change is difficult in the system for two reasons. One is that our system is designed to sort and separate students and secondly it is a system designed for the average student. One size does not fit
Time for new thinking

Good students to do well, ‘knuckle down, don’t misbehave, don’t complain, don’t challenge, and don’t rock the boat’. In other words 'be disciplined'. Being compliant, Hood writes, doesn't mean being engaged. Those that don’t fit become ‘at risk’ or bored’.

The answer lies, says Dr Yong Zhao ,‘is respecting children as human being and supporting, not suppressing, their passion, curiosity and talent.’

 Hood writes, ‘keeping doing the same thing  and you will keep getting the same results’ and he is dismissive of the current Governments flagship policy of recruiting ‘best’ principals and teacher to lift student achievement which he sees as ‘tweaking the status quo’.

The factory metaphor for schooling
Instead we need a new paradigm for the 21st C – one that goes beyond what schools were established to achieve a 100 years ago.

For those interested in the historical development of New Zealand schools will find informative chapters  to inform them, including the lack of success of current reforms.  There is also an informative critique of international tests  well worth the read as are comments about the inequalities in our system, with particular reference to Maori and Pacifica students.  Current school reforms have, Hood writes, ‘simply advantaged those already advantaged’ and that ‘we continue to pay lip service to the real inequalities that exist’. Secondary teachers will find the chapter on the changing school qualifications of interest.

David is particularly concerned about how assessment still drives the curriculum with its accompanying harmful effects on teaching and learning and number crunching, league tables and competition between schools.

Hood also writes about the various reports recommending changes that that have been largely ignored
Except school!
by politicians and consigned to history.

The last two chapters provide ideas to transform  education from around the world  that if implemented would ensure all students have the opportunities to  develop their talents and passions,  to build positive learning identities, to become self-reliant, and to become questioning, critical and creative thinkers. He also outlines the work he has assisted with in creating schools catering for Maori students in NZ.

Hood is keen that all students should leave with a portfolio (electronic) showing their achievements and answering the questions: ’Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going?

21st century schools, Tom Peters in his book ‘Re-imagine’ writes, we need a curriculum ‘that values questions above answers; creativity above fact regurgitation; individuality above conformity and excellence above standardised performance’.

All the models Hood describes share common philosophies and characteristics:

All focus on personalisation of learning determined by each student’s needs, interests, passions and aspirations.

Teachers as designers, facilitators and decision makers.

A curriculum that is relevant to the real world, interdisciplinary, collaborative, project and research based – utilizing the power of modern information technology.

Individual learning plans with students judged by the quality of their work.

Redesigned school environments enabling teachers to work collectively to assist students.

If secondary schools (and primary schools) were to implement such ideas then in the words of Peter Fraser every student will have ‘the opportunity to develop his or her talents to the utmost.’

 ‘The current standardised approach’, writes Hood, ‘needs to be replaced by one that focusses on the individual.  Personalised learning is about creating a learning environment that responds to the needs of each individual student and their interests, talents and passions and aspirations’.

‘Since the advent of Tomorrows Schools in 1989 which was to be about giving more autonomy to schools, compliance has become for (schools) a major time-consuming activity’.

‘In an environment where there is clear vision, shared values, high expectation and a culture of challenging traditional ways of doing things, then people will work in a myriad of unplanned , unseen and successful ways; it will be a creative and innovative environment’.

Start in your school/class now - there is no better time.


friv said...

Surely with your thoughts here and I love reading

Wayne Morris said...

Spot on Bruce - and how does one make those in power sit up and take notice?

Bruce Hammonds said...

Love to be able to give an easy answer Wayne but maybe the time will come when schools will have to. I cant see many current principals having a real desire to get past the rhetoric. I remember the title of a book you once loaned me , 'If you want to teach an elephant to dance set fire to the circus tent'. The smell of smoke encourages the tame elephants to break their chains. Read the Pavlov dog link in the next blog - fear of drowning wiped out his dogs conditioning! So it seems real transformation requires dramatic responses otherwise business as usual!

Unknown said...

I am happy to find this post very useful for me, as it contains lot of information. I always prefer to read the quality content and this thing I found in you post. Thanks for sharingweb development company in delhi