Government priorities for 2011

Yesterday’s Statement to Parliament by Prime Minister John Key provides an insight into what we can expect as priorities in education in 2011 – high on the list are ECE and National Standards.

Early Childhood

We value early childhood education (ECE) because we know it helps prepare children for future learning and assists parents to participate in the workforce.

However, we are concerned that New Zealand won’t be able to afford record ECE funding increases into the future. Furthermore, we are concerned that in recent years these increases have not achieved the results we would expect, particularly in terms of better participation by vulnerable children.

Last year we appointed an ECE taskforce to review the value gained for our investment in early childhood education. That group will make its report and recommendations later this year. The Government looks forward to considering its advice about how we can build better results from our early childhood education investment, particularly for the children who are missing out on ECE altogether.

National Standards
While many of New Zealand’s schools and teachers perform brilliantly, too many children are leaving school without the literacy and numeracy skills they need to succeed.

The Government’s National Standards policy is designed to help schools measure and compare the literacy and numeracy skills of our children against national benchmarks, to identify those who are falling behind, and to keep parents informed about their children’s progress.

This is the second year of our three-year National Standards implementation plan.

This year our National Standards plan will focus on supporting schools to ensure National Standards work effectively to raise student achievement. We will be offering targeted professional development to teachers to ensure this, as well as funding a new team of Student Achievement Experts to work alongside schools to get the most out of National Standards.

It’s of interest to me to understand the political agendas that drive such statements. For instance, there’s a clear message about increased system efficiency, with statements like “We are building increased effectiveness from our investment in schools…” and “In 2011 the Government will build improvements to the results New Zealanders get from the education system.” These are statements to do with efficiency and return on investment which are laudable goals I imagine, especially in times of economic austerity. The rationale for ECE and NatStats as priorities are couched in terms of the eventual return on investment to the NZ economy. What’s missing at this high level is any reference to the purpose of education that reflects a more holistic view of what education is about – creating a future living environment that is ‘safe’ and where ‘happiness’ levels are high, for instance. Or where creativity is expressed and innovation is encouraged – not only for economic gain, but, perhaps for quality of life and sustainability for future generations etc.

It’s an age old concern I guess – at one end of a continuum we have those who are philosophically disposed to seeing education as a problem to be fixed (and quickly), with teachers as a part of the problem and curriculum needing to be packaged up and delivered in standardised ways because teachers of course can’t be trusted to develop it for themselves. At the other end are those who believe in education as having greater societal value, regarding teachers as trusted professionals who are able to develop curriculum that is contextually relevant etc. Of course, there are positions that are taken all the way along these continuums – which adds health and balance to the debates we have.

Sadly, in the digital age, we see increasing evidence of binary thinking – with political solutions tending to vacillate between the two extremes, rather than finding some sort of balance in it all. I believe in the need for constructive engagement that recognises the difference in philosphical position, and the socio-economic context within which we operate. Sadness is, we tend instead to see only a guarded positionalism which forces people to one extreme or the other. Thank goodness Thinking is now one of our identified key competencies in the NZ Curriculum – perhaps our next generation will do a better job?

Just for fun – but perhaps illustrating the point of how differences in ideologies can cause problems in engaging effectively in debate on essential issues, I was intrigued by this recording of English Education Secretary, Michael Gove, in fiery debate with caller over the proposed introduction of an English Baccalaureate.

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