Inept Ministers eroding N.Z. education

In 2007, a few months after he became leader of the National Party, John Key as Leader of the Opposition gave a speech called the Three E’s – about National’s key priorities should it win the election in 2008. One of those E’s stood for Education.

As New Zealand, like the rest of the world was mired in the Global Financial Crisis, one of the first steps taken by National upon being elected to govern was to announce a swathe of cuts across Government spending. And one of the first to suffer was Aorangi Primary School, which ironically had Mr Key on its roll from about 1966-1971. Within months of National coming to office, the Minister for Education, Anne Tolley had announced plans to shut the school instead of spending $3 million replacing deteriorating school buildings. To this day, no decent reason for closing the school has been given and if it had remained open it would be full to capacity in post-earthquake Christchurch.

In 2011 Ms Tolley relinquished her Education portfolio in, with it being taken over by Hekia Parata. Ms Parata quickly set to work announcing a raft of changes, such as the introduction of charter schools – a concept that has failed in the United States, National Standards for students below secondary school level and more recently, “Communities of Online Learning”. The failure to demonstrate long term vision, do a proper Strength-Weakness-Opportunity-Threat (S.W.O.T.)analysis of policy or willingness to be held accountable has meant that these reforms have largely failed and overall performance of New Zealand schools is flat-lining.

Ms Parata also undertook a wide ranging review of Christchurch schools following the immensely destructive 2010-11 earthquake sequence that initially got off to an appalling start by insensitively making a preliminary announcement that 18 Christchurch schools may be forced to close. This caused widespread anger, protests and accusations that the Government was taking advantage of quake related disruption to carry out a social experiment at Christchurch’s expense. Although Ms Parata backed off on many of the proposed school closures, some had to engage in court action to stop their closures and not all were successful, namely Phillipstown Primary and a couple of schools in eastern Christchurch where large numbers of people left.

On the surface there is definitely a need to accurately gauge how students are performing at school so that the teacher can provide better feedback to the parents on how their child/ren are going. However, the implementation of National Standards has raised so many flaws that it is not surprising that people are starting to question its credibility as a method of assessment, and if that point in a child’s education it is even needed or wanted.

Another issue that has caused significant concern in New Zealand education is the implementation of “charter schools”. These are institutions promoted in particular by A.C.T. Party leader David Seymour who per his party’s ideological standpoint views private education as getting a poor deal and not enough opportunities for non public schooling in New Zealand. Charter schools were implemented in parts of the United States some time ago. The problems there are well documented. This begs the question why is New Zealand trying to implement a failed concept here?

But perhaps it is the most recent announcement that is the dumbest of all. The Government says that Communities of Online Learning are designed to introduce children to learning possibilities on the internet. Critics say it is an overt attempt privatization of something that is a human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To many it seems like an overt swipe at the very people who make teaching possible in New Zealand: the teachers themselves. Aside from being mini-heroes day in day giving instruction, maintaining discipline and organizing activities to engage students learning, teachers have other unofficial responsibilities as well. Among them they are observing their students for signs of development and social issues and being an integral part of the school communities.

There are so many things wrong with Communities of Online Learning it is hard to know where to start, but a few of the problems that potentially exist are:

  • Not everyone has access to the internet or can afford access to the internet
  • It will potentially replace core motor skill development activities such as learning to draw, write, count and read on paper
  • It will create potential life long habits that may be impossible to overcome latter in life – digital technology is great, but incomparably greater are learning to socialize, experience the outdoors and learn ones physical and social boundaries

Can’t do that through an iPad.

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