In 1989 the then Labour Government unveiled what they called “Tomorrow’s Schools”, which was a radical overhaul of the New Zealand education system. The reforms, which shifted financial and administrative responsibility to the Board of Trustees that each school has been around nearly 30 years. It has stood up to major disasters, debates about class sizes and rapidly evolving technological challenges. But now, comes its biggest test of all: reform.
I have written in past articles about the need to scrap National Standards. I am not convinced that a child at that age should be subject to such a demanding assessment regime for a range of reasons. Yes, there needs to be some sort of measure of progress against which parents can measure their child. Much criticism has been made of the system which was implemented by former Education Minister Anne Tolley and her successor Hekia Parata without trials, with the latter threatening to sack any Board of Trustees that did not follow her directions. I think a simplified system needs to be trialled in schools and only rolled out if an overwhelming number support it. Otherwise go back to the system that existed in 2008.
I also support the scrapping of N.C.E.A. in high schools. Again I have written about this in prior articles. There was nothing of substance that was wrong with the old assessment regime. With the exception of the following provisions, I recommend going back to the old system:
- All subjects have internal assessment so that those who find exams conditions difficult are not put out
- All subjects have end of year exams
- Scrap the scaling system – what a student would have been awarded without scaling is what they are awarded
- Remove unit standards from traditional courses such as Geography, History and Maths and use them for technical and trade courses
The Minister for Education, Chris Hipkins, has also announced an overhaul of Early Childhood Education in the process. This is where I think the Government will strike resistance. Parents of pre-school children will be asking, “do we actually need these reforms, and if so, what are they going to look like?”
Another area that is going to be subject to reforms is Polytechnics, where trades are taught. Again, other than appropriately funding these institutions, students like the parents of pre-schoolers, might very well be asking themselves and their institutions whether or not these reforms – in whatever form they come – are necessary.
I do have one concern spread across the entire education spectrum. My concern is that if basic maths, reading and writing are not taught on paper first, students will find themselves very short on certain skill types that my generation and older generations. They include:
- Learning to use an index in a book;
- showing the working for complex equations; comprehension of what one is reading
- being able to form sentence structures without the grammatical assistance of a programme like Microsoft Word.
- Being able to speak – I had major speech impediments that are not noticeable now when I was a child, but I was taken to a speech therapist who also let my teacher go with me so that they could learn the warning signs and use them to spot problems in other children
Unless the above skill set has emphasis placed on it, there will be generations of children in the future who will struggle in society. They will have trouble working in places of employment and possibly doing every day things such as filling out application forms. New Zealand calls itself first world and in many respects we are just that, but when I hear about students struggling to read, write and do mathematics, I cannot help but wonder if they are lacking these skills. If so, that makes addressing this problem a major priority.