Tuesday, May 31, 2016

New Zealand education - a world class system? Bryan Bruce documentary tells us as it is!

Bryan Bruce's recent  documentary proves an insightful  look at the last  ( 'lost') decades of New Zealand education and provides inspiration for future changes if New Zealand is to be seen as a world class education system.

Link to view Documentary
Is NZ education world class?

Along with Bryan Bruce I also am deeply concerned with what has happened since the introduction of the 'so called' self managing schools reforms. The programme was an enlightening lesson of educational history since the 1980s and the power of  the neo liberal ideology ( individualism, choice and privatization) underlying this development.  

Bryan Bruce's findings are sure to challenge many people's ideas about the 'success' our current education system and asks what do we need to do to ensure all students leave with their talents and skills  realized to thrive in the future?

David Lange, Prime Minister and Minister of Education, introduced self managing schools in 1986 . I was a principal at the time and thought that  the concept of neighbourhood schools able to develop an education best suited to their students exciting but, as it turned out, things changed fast.  Not only the school closings but later with  the introduction of an unwieldy New Zealand Curriculum ( a watered down version of the English National Curriculum) with its 'top down' assessment requirements. As a result  of the compliance required the teaching environment changed for the worse. It seemed we had 'thrown the baby out with the bathwater'. Looking back self management now seems  a myth.

Now our system in 2016 , according to Bruce , is in a mess and it all goes back to  1987 with David Lange's introduction of  the introduction of   his 'Tomorrows Schools' (  the Picot Report).
Lange introduces 'Tomorrows Schools'.
Education as, indicated in a Treasury brief to the incoming government, was no longer to be a right but a commodity

Layer of administration were removed to make schools more responsive and efficient  including the regional Education Boards and their school advisers. Day to day decisions were to be devolved to individual schools and parents given a voice through the elected Board of Trustees.

These changes , according to Bryan Bruce , were a colossal mistake and resulted in two unhealthy dimensions that got in the way
Influenced by Treasury
of improving educational provision:

Firstly he changes resulted in an unhealthy competition between schools.

And, secondly it created a worse bureaucracy that had previously existed.

The principal of Aotea College  summed  the current situation well:

Community involvement, she said, was a good idea but the risk was that some schools were not able to manage themselves well without support. To avoid problems the Ministry introduced layers of regulations and compliance requirements. This  has resulted in schools no longer having the best of self management or central directions but the worst of both, resulting in shambles of requirements to comply with.

So much for self managing.

Not mentioned in Bruce's programme was the establishment of the Education Review Office ( ERO) whose responsibility was to ensure schools were complying. As a result  a corrosive surveillance and accountability culture was created.

The current government  blames schools for the 'one in five children failing' that the reforms were supposed to remedy  when in truth is that the poverty/inequality created by the
 market forces 'winner/loser' ideology has widened the ;achievement gap'. In an OECD report stated NZ teachers .most highly trained and best qualified' but teachers cannot  combat problems that lie outside the school gate. Too many students due to growing inequality suffer from an 'opportunity gap'.
Achievement gap reflects ts socio economic status.

OECD recognizes NZ teachers as world class
Competition and parent choice ( determined by  results in National Standards and NCEA levels)  has resulted in parents seeking out  'better schools' for their children.  To alleviate  this 'flight' away from low income schools the National government introduced a decile system - giving greater funding to lower socio-economic schools. Zoning, that had previously been abolished to give parent choice  was restored to halt the flight.

It is now possible  Bruce stated to determine two opposing educational philosophies; one based on choice the other on fairness.  Choice relates to the neo liberal politics of individualism. Fairness would need to ensure all schools were seen as excellent  as is in the case in high achieving Finland.

By 1990 neo liberal ideas  were well established in New Zealand and students no longer had free tertiary education and a loan system had been introduced.

In contrast, in Scotland,  students are still given free tertiary education on the grounds that education is not only an individual
Scottish Secretary of Education
good but a society one as well.. Other countries that still provide free tertiary education include ; Austria,Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Poland . and Sweden - just as we once did in New Zealand.

Dr Kathy Wylie ( Senior Educational Researcher NZCER)  commented in the documentary that two thirds of primary schools now compete with other primary schools and, as a result, they no longer share knowledge or resources. For
Dr Kathy Wylie NZCER
Maori and Pacifica  children, said Dr Wylie, 'the system is a disaster'
. Such students are now worse off; their 'achievement flat lined in the 90s'; it was 'a wasted decade'. As a result of the 'reforms' schools  there  is now little  trust between the Ministry and schools.

This lack of trust between the Ministry and schools continues to  be an issue.
Education as a commodity 

Two conflicting values lie at the heart of the issue - the values underpinning the beginning of public education ( that it be free and fair ) and the values we have inherited from the recent neo liberal ideology ( education  to be seen as a commodity based on schools competing). 

The trouble is , says Bruce, you can't achieve equity and fairness through competition because  competition by definition means 'winners and losers'; and not all children can 'enter a winning schools'.
The results of a narrow test emphasis.
Result of three decades of neo liberal reform.

In Shanghai they aim to develop all schools as 'winning schools'  through their  centralized system with an emphasis  on the collaborative sharing of ideas between teachers by means of their test orientated system. This test focus has resulted in Shanghai dominating the OECD PISA achievement tests.

In Finland, another country that has topped the PISA results,
has an approach very different from the test orientated Chinese. All students go to neighbourhood schools and, according to a Finnish principal, there are 'no good or bad schools , all schools are more or less of the same quality'.

In Finland there is very 'light administration' with teachers being seen as professionals and there is trust between the government, teachers, principals and parents. It sounds a little like the lost promise of David Lange's 1986  'neighborhood schools'.

So, asks the documentary, what is the best way to prepare New Zealand children for an unpredictable future?

The answer, according to Dr Andreas Schleicher PISA Director , is to help all students to be
successful; to be able to get jobs that haven't yet been created ; to solve problems we can't yet imagine; to use technologies yet to be invented; it has to do with interpersonal skills; to be able to work in teams ; students who 'can join up the dots'; and, he concluded,  'content you can look up on Google'.

The barrier in New Zealand to  achieving the above is our increasingly test driven system based around targeted achievement in National Standards and NCEA results.

Such compliance requirements are also ironically driven by  the PISA international tests . As a result,  our system, is an increasingly compliant  rather than a creative one.

American Chinese born education Professor Yong Zhao believes a test oriented system is the last thing New Zealand should be involved in. And he believes we should get out of PISA testing which forces  competing countries to respond to a few test scores. He wonders why  New Zealand,an otherwise smart country should let three PISA test scores dictate our children's futures. Such tests, he continued, do not reflect other equally important aspects of education.
Professor Yong Zhao

Yong Zhao  believes that the authoritarian test approach of Chinese schools will not provide the innovative and creative people the future demands, If New Zealand wants to develop  a creative economy we should 'be more New Zealand' to win in the future. Copying China would be a step back to the past.

In today's global economy, says Bryan Bruce, continuing on Zong Zhoa's theme,  we  need to find new ways to diversify; we will need  'to think smarter' will require an education system that produces 'innovative and creative students'. 'We need to start valuing creative schools and teachers if are to be successful in the future'. 'We need flexible thinkers who can work on complex problems which have no known answers;problems with more than one solution'.

The need for such students was reinforced by tutor Mike Porter, of the Auckland  Media and Design School,  who observes that new students at first are upset because they have to find their own answers to problems. They are not used to solve their own problems by themselves, nor work in teams,  and do not appreciate the need to learn through their mistakes. 

So, asks Bruce once again, what are we to do to prepare our  students for an unpredictable future?

Manurewa Intermediate School , a  decile one school, Bryan Bruce believes  provides one answer to the problem.

Manurewa Intermediate   focuses on  'teaching the joy of learning through an inquiry approach'; an approach where students form their own questions working with the guidance of their teachers to solve their own problems. Teachers motivate  learning by  'igniting children's interests'. As a result  students  'want to read more, to find out more' and  to use literacy and  maths in real contexts.  The school's inquiry approach
A stimulating environment
is 'a process of exploration' that  results in quality work and students who want to learn.and students who are prepared 'to put in the had yards' and to 'take responsibility for their own learning'

Exciting school cultures, says Bruce, need  inspirational leadership. Manurewa's principal Iain Taylor's

vision 'is to give the kids the best deal possible ; one that allows them to think ; to be creative; to learn through their mistakes ; and to take responsibility or their own learning and actions'

Bryan Bruce comments ,'it is similar to the Finnish system'; and, I would add, followed by many creative teachers, past and present, in New Zealand.

Finland has interesting history. Twenty years ago Finland dropped   the tyranny of an authoritarian and test orientated system for a more creative approach  and as a result they are  now the most successful European education system

New Zealand teachers, in contrast, are constrained by the imposition of National Standards based on reading , writing and maths  which encourage conformity .National Standards requires teachers to select from a range of  approved tests and then
Doubtful National Standrards
add their 'teacher objective judgement'  to place their students at the appropriate standard, All this data collection is time consuming and of dubious value. And far too easy for school to 'cook the books'.

Finnish educator Pasi Salberg says that the future requires
countries to develop 'fearless' environments that allow teachers and students to take risks and learn through their efforts. 'Without the confidence to try things and take risks there can be little creativity and without creativity no innovation'.

In contrast New Zealand schools are increasingly becoming risk averse as a result of the accountability and surveillance culture that has been in place since the 80s. 

Finnish teachers, according to Salberg, have been integral in 

.transforming Finland once conservative culture. Teachers now 'expect creativity'. Finland's original test based system has been replaced by one that aims at 'developing the curiosity' of its students. Finland, as a result of such cultural changes, has transformed itself from a country dependent on primary products to one that trades in knowledge and  technology.

A lesson for New Zealand?

 If we also want to diversify our economy, continues Bruce,  we need to face up to the fact that while teaching for conformity may produce test results that are easy to measure and compare such a compliance culture stifles the creative thinking that we need to foster in our country if we want to be a creative
Team work a future skill
country. Schools need to recognize that, in  the real world, complex problems are solved by teamwork rather than individuals and greater weight needs to be placed on  social skills such as cooperation and communication skills

This would mean , he continues, we need to develop new ways to assess our students. We need  to be able to assess group tasks and students ability to work with each other as well as each individual's contribution if we want a system that produces more cooperative and creative thinkers.

From Finland we could place more emphasis on creative play in the early years ( Finnish children do not start formal schooling until 7 and still achieve highly in literacy). 

Research has shown 80% of the brains growth develops by the age
Dame Lesley Maz
of 3 and we need to spend more money at this earlier level.
  Dame Lesley Max   ( CEO Great Potentials Foundation) says that too many students arrive at school substantially behind their more affluent peers in cognitive development.

The 'one in five' failing  cannot be simplicity blamed on poor teaching ( as suggested by the Prime Minister and Minister of Education) . According to Dame Lesley children of affluent parent hear 12 million words a year while  children in welfare  only 3 million.

This would indicate where we need to place our efforts  assisting less affluent parents with appropriate assistance and resources. The parent's role is vital and many stressed parents, living in poverty, need help to relate positively to their children. 

Take the time to watch Andrew Wilkinson ( of 'Spirit Level' fame) TED Talk to see where the government's neo liberal policies have placed New Zealand - shameful!
Money spent at the wrong end.
Bruce states that is impossible to overstate the importance of the early years and their link with later life.

Sir Peter Gluckman , the government's scientific adviser,  says that this is not about early literacy and numeracy  but that the most important thing is to 'help young people interact positively, to learn how to respond appropriate; to complete tasks, to understand other peoples feelings; and to develop empathy for others'.

He continues, success in life depends on these skills and that it is these skills that 'determine resiliency in people in later years'. All life chances depend on such skills and without them young people are more likely to get into trouble with the police and end up in prison.

Bryan Bruce comments that educational spending  sadly does not reflect this research.

Bruce concludes his documentary saying that no one knows what the future holds for our students but it  would seem that developing  a 'love of learning  needs to be at the heart of our education system'.
Manurewa  Intermediate School

Education or more than reading and writing.  Equally important is for students to gain success  and self discipline through  a range of activities and experiences. This will require a 'rich and diverse curriculum' that  intrinsically engages all students.

Bruce's overall assessment it that while there are many good things happening in NZ schools  such creativity 'is happening in spite of the system not because of it'.

One the underlying principles of a good public system, he says, is that it should be fair.
A rich curriculum

We need to face up to the consequences of the introduction of 'Tomorrows Schools' 30 years ago. 'Tomorrows Schools' ushered a period of unhealthy competition  between schools  creating a growinggap between the educational outcomes of students from richer and poorer areas.

He believes we need to  develop a more cooperative system ; one in which 'teachers feel trusted to look after our children and who are able then  to bring out the best in them'; a system   where children feel safe to develop their talents and gifts; a system where they aren't being constantly tested.

'That', he says, 'will be hard to achieve'. 'But if we don't start a national conversation today to bring such things about then we are not going to have a vital creative economy tomorrow'.

I think we should all be thankful that Bryan Bruce has brought this challenge to our attention.

 Achieving such a creative education system capable of developing the talents and gifts of all our students,  able to contribute to the development of New Zealand as a creative country is a worthy goal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the trouble Bruce to summarize what was said about education on Bryan Bruce's documentary.

I fear many younger principals and teachers have no idea of the history ( the domination and corrosive power of the market forces ideology); of education since the 80s. And , worse still, many 'managerial' principals happily comply with the system - it is all they know.

Hopefully Bryan Bruce's documentary will spark a national conversation about the future of education.