Wednesday, 25 October 2017

One way the government could adapt NCEA to completely revolutionise the education system.

We understand why the education system needs to change. As the Factory Model moves gradually out of our schools and we usher in a new era learning. As the knowledge curve extends upwards in our lives, the schooling system moves away from content transmission and moves towards using knowledge to create new knowledge. Developing skills of collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, problem solving...

...unless you're doing NCEA external exams.

Exams are solely based on memorising information before you go into them, and regurgitating as much as you can onto the page, to be marked on how well you applied the knowledge you could remember to the problem given on the day.

The exams create a need in schools for teachers to follow a syllabus. I lived with a high school science teacher for a while, and although she loved the idea of introducing modern learning principles into her classes, she struggled because of the amount of content she had to deliver to students to get them ready for the end of year exams. She had it all planned out for pretty much the entire year of what she was going to deliver and when. And talking about this person comes from an absolute place of love. I know she was doing her best to ready her students for the system they were in.

So we need to change the system.

The digitisation of exams is coming. Sue Suckling talks about it has she travels around the country. But I don't believe this goes far enough. To just digitise exams becomes doing the same thing we have always done but in a different format. It's pointless.

I propose we go further. We open ourselves towards the heretical notion that we allow students to access online material while sitting exams. That we actually allow them access to google and the wealth and breadth of knowledge that lies within it. Even this small step would change education completely.

No longer would high school teachers be driven to deliver the content for students to remember before they head into the exam. They could focus on the important skills that students need for the future, like how to find and access knowledge. How to critically think about the knowledge that is in front of them. How to apply the knowledge that they have accessed to different contexts and across different disciplines.

They could begin to prepare their students for their own, unknown future.


As an outsider coming to Christchurch, I didn't know one area from another. You could say Bishopdale or Swanson, and it would mean absolutely nothing to me. But I'd heard of Aranui.

The stigma of the East side of Christchurch travels far and wide, and is re-promoted continuously. Only at the weekend, an MC at a kapahaka event asked all the participating schools if they were here, and the schools would shout back that they were. When Haeata, the new school in Aranui shouted back that they were here, the MC responded "Oh good, then my car is still in the car park." The fact that this kind of stigma that people are working hard to remove is promoted by leaders in our community ensures that it is refreshed, reinvigorated and continued. This is not however, a single isolated event. It is a stigma that our students experience and have drilled into them over and over again every day.

So are all the children in Aranui thieves and vagrants? No. Of course not. They are loving, caring children, some of which have had some hard lives which they respond to in different ways.

The issue lies with society. When parents are crying out for help, and schools are struggling to cope with demands, it lies with social services to do something. But at the moment those social services, as has been for so long in New Zealand, are waiting at the bottom of the cliff for someone to fall.

It's easy to ignore Aranui though for Christchurchians. It's easy to say "Oh that's over on the east side, we just don't go there." It's simple to just not see, when it's all centred in one place. But ignoring the issues doesn't make them go away. The community needs help, and if we were a society that lived by community values there would be help there for them.

Ara in Māori means pathway, and nui means big. Where is this big pathway leading our community?

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Today's environment could be a catalyst

Today this article came up on my facebook feed.

Which is quite an old article, but talks about how Finnish schools are phasing out subjects, to value contextual learning, and learning through projects.

When we examine the New Zealand Curriculum, we normally skip straight to the back, where individual subjects look like they dominate, and have major priority (indeed it was the first thing I was taught to look at.)

But if we look at the front we see a very different story. We see quotes like this:
While the learning areas are presented as distinct, this should not limit the ways in which schools structure the learning experiences offered to students. All learning should make use of the natural connections that exist between learning areas and that link learning areas to the values and key competencies. 
-New Zealand Curriculum pp16
 And this:
Schools may, for example, decide to organise their curriculum around one of these three aspects (values, key competencies, or learning areas) and deliberately weave the other two through their programmes. Alternatively, they may decide to organise their curriculum around central themes, integrating values, key competencies, knowledge, and skills across a number of learning areas. Or they may use another approach or a combination of approaches.
-New Zealand Curriculum pp 37 
The structure of New Zealand's schools, (especially High Schools, but still some Primary) of students walking from subject to subject, or classrooms going through reading, writing and maths time is built on a model which is out-dated, inadequate, and one take on a Curriculum that is broad and agile.

Finland has lead the way to show schools how to integrate and make learning more meaningful for their students. Schools around the country need to think about the why of what they are doing, and to challenge themselves to ask "is this really the best thing for these children?" Because it is not the curriculum that restricts you from changing - it is your mindset, it is the "way it has always been done" which is not the same as "the way it should be done."

There are schools all over the country who are starting to explore integration, and starting to challenge the traditional model. Usually these are ones who are remodelled into innovative spaces, or new builds that take advantage of the change, but it doesn't need to be. This kind of learning can be done anywhere, from an old school, to a new one, from a barn in someone's back yard, to an empty field.

The buildings don't make the learning, you do.