Some would have you believe that New Zealand’s schools are in a state of collapse, that your children are not being educated well and that things are going to hell in a hand basket. That there is no innovation, no forward thinking going on. But that simply is not true. Quite the opposite, in fact.
New Zealand state schools are a hotbed of innovation and excitement
Avondale College in Auckland has a superb Innovation programme and this year a class of 28 had created apps with potential commercial applications, such that the school is looking at how to protect the students’ intellectual property rights. This is a state school.
Or what about the amazing Common Unity Project at Epuni School, Lower Hutt, where they have a pilot scheme that is a model of community sharing and resilience. So far they have gardens, community cooking, sewing, baking, bread making, knitting, an awesome garden, a bike shop, woodwork projects and more. The goal is to produce enough food to feed the entire school community this year. All done with the students, integrated into the curriculum and achieved on a shoe-string.
Then there are the more hands on programmes, like the one run by Te Taitokerau Trades Academy in Northland that helps students in many schools learn a trade and work towards a National Trade Certificate and their NCEA accreditation.
There are children as young as 5 years old enjoying accelerated science groups, winning movie making, hands-on conservation, Make and Take and garden-to-table food programmes, maths magic, and all manner of great programmes.
All in state schools.
And then there’s the teachers themselves.
There are winning teachers like Melanie Wihongi-Popham, Josie Fitzgibbon, Helen Toplis, Fiona Smith, Ramona Barbara, Sara Sabin, Hayley Anderson, Patricia Pietersen, Benjamin Himme, and Brenda Meyer as well as dynamos such as Peter Stewart, all of whom are an inspiration.
Then there are those gems working in their own time to become even better at what they do, like the Connected Educators and those taking part in #edchatnz, sharing knowledge and best practice with each other, always looking to reflect on and improve their pedagogy. Marvellous! Go find them on Twitter or Facebook every evening – they are there in droves, on #edchatnz #edubookchatNZ #shiftingthinking and more.
Wonderful things are all being done in state schools every single day by dedicated and caring teachers who know their stuff.
And on the world stage?
Our 15 year olds show that we fare well, and despite a slight slip 2009-2012, New Zealand’s average achievement in mathematics, science and reading is still above the OECD average.
Meanwhile, the USA has gone backwards at a rate of knots and is now stagnant, as is the UK, both of whom are further than we are into education reforms that were meant to improve things. That was the promise – reforms would make things better and improve results. That was the reason given for bringing in performance pay, charter schools, standardised testing, unqualified teachers, and so on. And yet it has not improved results for either country.
What is very interesting is that the PISA summary paper outlines that New Zealand’s top students do incredibly well, but that there is a huge disparity between top and bottom. The OECD points to socio-economic factors holding back students in New Zealand, the USA and the UK, too.
This isn’t news to any teacher or to politicians, and everyone agrees it needs to be addressed. How we address is it a point of huge disagreement, however.
Should we address poverty’s impact on education by undermining the public education system and simultaneously building a competing privatised charter school system? National and ACT say yes – just about everyone else says no.
The global education reform movement (GERM) hasn’t worked for the USA or the UK, and no-one has yet explained at all why it would work here in NZ.
Our public education system has so much going for it. It would surely be a better move to ditch blind ideology and undertake quality research into what is working in state schools already and why, have cross-sector and cross-party talks, and really get to the bottom of how we can get the good practice currently happening into more and more schools.
And while the experts do that, maybe instead of brow-beating teachers and trying to eke a profit out of education, the reformers could put their energies to improving equality and see what effect that has? Just a thought.
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