Nature abhors a vacuum, so the saying goes.
And right now, we are in the calm eye of the storm when it comes to education policy in New Zealand. While some policies have been abruptly swept to the wall (such as National Standards, charter schools), others are still waiting to hatch.
With no fewer than 16 change initiatives up for review from the Ministry of Education, all kinds of kites are being flown about the curriculum, education and assessment while we wait for direction to be set.
This is, I believe, what is driving the recent flurry of back-and-forth online about what matters most in the complex matter of learning and education.
I think it’s crucial that we differentiate between discussion designed to inform policy, and that which can help us design for our learners.
For example, two current debates of interest have been summed up well by other bloggers this week, and fall along quite clear idealogical lines:
- What’s more important: knowledge or skills?
- Driven by the NZ Institute think tank via articles by Briar Lipson (‘Opinion: Briar Lipson – 21st century hogwash’) and Prof. Elizabeth Rata (‘The basic flaw in our education system‘), and events such as the ResearchEd conference. There has been rebuttal by Dr. Gillian Hubbard (‘English teaching not perfect, but it works‘) and Maurie Abraham, and overview responses from Tom Haig (PPTA) (‘Curriculum Wars: Coming to Aotearoa?’) and Danielle Myburgh.
- Note that different writers take different positions; the NZ Institute is arguing from a policy perspective, while school-based responses tend to explore issues from a practice-based position.
- Why we must keeping innovating/using tech for the future.
I wonder if the recent ‘knowledge vs. skills debate’ has muddied the waters between ‘policy’ and ‘practice’ for many of us. There has been a strong reaction from the English teaching community to the notion of a canon (a perennial discussion, might I say) — and yet I suspect that the article was not aimed at the local English faculties but at the ear of the government who is embarking on a review of NCEA and Tomorrow’s Schools. Note that both of these include Terms of Reference related to how far schools might shape their local curriculum and balance knowledge. For example, the NCEA Review will include discussion on: “The degree to which NCEA credentials ‘soft’ or ‘21st century’ skills and capabilities from the National Curriculum, and cultural competencies, particularly the principles, values, attitudes and key competencies”
None of these is ‘wrong’ (or necessarily ‘right’) — but understanding the values and biases that influence them all may be our biggest challenge in the coming months; right now, Hon. Chris Hipkins is gathering various reference groups about him to inform his thinking about the future of education.
It will be interesting to see how these policy development pieces play out. Because, of course, policy changes will ripple down to the practices that impact our learners in coming years. And we need to speak up in favour of those values, those learners and those whānau who ought to benefit most from the changes ahead, those least well-served by the current system.
See the broader debates as opportunities to read widely, get informed about educational ideas / paradigms, check our biases at the door — and have our say.
Five ways we can influence policy development
- Read about the Ministerial consultations and reviews that are are ‘live’ – dig into the terms of reference to see how far the scope of the reviews extends. Updates go out via Twitter and Facebook. When submissions are invited, have your say.
- Participate in the Education Conversation — Kōrero Mātauranga #EdConvo18 which includes two Education Summits in May. 5000+ folks have fed into the Ministry of Education survey already.
- Say connected to your union — you can contact them directly, particularly in relation to reviews in which they are at the table.
- Contact your local MP and make your views known.
- Follow education announcements on the Beehive website(via RSS feed or Twitter @NZParliament); announcements from the Education Minister are posted here
Image credit: Shalom Johnson ‘Speak Up’ CC BY NC-ND