Big shake up for Polytechnics

The Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins has announced a potential merger of New Zealand’s 16 polytechnics, as part of a major overhaul of the education sector.

Mr Hipkins says that the strong labour market is encouraging people to move straight into the workforce instead of continuing formal education.

It might be, but we need to have a look at the reasons for this being the case. National and Labour have both spent years putting down postgraduate research by either under funding it or removing incentives such as the Postgraduate allowance. Such short sighted thinking does little to help students who want to participate in higher learning. Likewise Labour’s failure to offer a fully supported apprenticeship scheme when it was last in office has contributed to the poor state of organisation around apprenticeships.

I have also wondered on occasion what a wananga could do that a polytechnic could not. What is the difference in terms of courses and management? What differences in teaching practices would there be among the staff? Not having been to a wananga or know anyone who has, I honestly do not know. Wananga were the cause of considerable controversy under the Government of Prime Minister Helen Clark and I recall various Opposition M.P.’s grilling the Minister for Tertiary Education in the House.

A third problem has been because of the lack of effort across the economy to invest in high tech/high skilled jobs, there has been less incentive to go to University and complete higher study. Outside of farming we are in many ways still a hospitality/retail/service driven economy, shown by the fact that many people – myself included – still earn less than $20/hr before tax.

I completed last year a Graduate Diploma of Sustainable Management from the Open Polytechnic. It cost me about $7,000 across two years. It had a research paper that was worth 1/3 of the whole Diploma. During that time I had support that I never had whilst studying at Massey University, both in terms of getting the coursework done and administrative issues caused by having to bail out of a paper before I incurred an academic penalty.

I had thought about going back to University of Canterbury to do a Diploma there, but there were several really off putting factors, not least the cost. Also the set timing of university courses meant I would have had to change my work hours significantly or stop altogether. And finally, University of Canterbury Geography did not sound too keen to have me back based on my academic record, which was admittedly not the greatest.

I noticed that the Open Polytechnic teaches a range of other qualifications as well. It teaches social work to environment, from legal (law) to engineering. It has a campus in Wellington, but I did mine via distance learning whilst holding down a 40 hour a week job. I cannot help but wonder if perhaps New Zealand simply has too many non university tertiary institutions, in which case scaling down the number would make sense, but not to the extent Mr Hipkins is suggesting.



The future of Tomorrow’s Schools in the balance

In 1989 a task force was created to examine how New Zealand’s school should look and function. Tomorrow’s Schools was based on the idea that public sector policy and operations should be separated. Regional education boards were abolished. An Education Review office was established as was a New Zealand Qualifications Authority to administer qualifications at school level. Schools were allowed to write their own charters.

30 years later it is time to look at how the system is (or is not)getting on with the task of delivering good educational outcomes.

Tracey Martin, New Zealand First spokeswoman for Education, believes that Tomorrow’s Schools was a world class system when it was established. Perhaps, but what was world class in 1989 is not necessarily world class in 2019. And indeed the report called Our Schooling Futures, which is out now for public consultation, points to significant shortfalls in practice standards, resourcing, conduct and and leadership.

I applaud the move by Minister of Education Chris Hipkins to address the numerous issues confronting New Zealand schools. Most of them are ones that have been identified in the Our Schooling Futures report. I would also question whether the National Certificate for Educational Achievement is fit for purpose on the basis – my experience in the 1990’s when Unit Standards were experimental was that “no, it is not fit for purpose”. There was, scaling aside, nothing wrong with the old system of School Certificate, Sixth Form Certificate and University Bursary. I got the marks I did in that system because then I was a believer of minimal study getting me over the line.

By contrast Unit Standards confused me, gave misleading impressions of whether I was doing enough and got marked inconsistently by teachers that I am not sure actually knew how to administer them. It showed in my course results. The ones that I failed had a component of Unit Standards, and the ones that I passed did not.

Of school governance, having an Education Review Office and New Zealand Qualifications Authority, I believe Mrs Martin is correct. That splitting up of these roles and the installation of School Boards of Trustees was a correct move.

The bigger concerns for me are about the students themselves – one half of why education exists in the first place. If they cannot read off paper, write and count then I believe they will struggle in later stages of school. There is also evidence that this has benefits in terms of retention of information and conceptual understanding. Certainly in this world there is a need to teach students how to use computers and computer software, but anyone who has worked with children will know that sitting around in a group reading a picture book to young children and showing them the pictures, understand the mental stimulation this gives them.

Whilst I do not advocate a return to corporal punishment, I think some firmer boundaries need to be set than those that exist. One is ask all students to surrender their cellphones at the start of each teaching session and not let the students have them back until the next break. It is a simple to implement policy.

But the biggest concern of mine overall is the sheer workload that teachers have to deal with. Whilst I do not agreement with Mrs Martin on the subject of adding/subtracting from the workload, I think that there is a demonstrable need to look at why by 1999 teachers were working an estimated 51 hours a week and Principals doing nearly 60. I understand that this has risen further since.

Perhaps out of all of this I am reminded of a principle that was drummed into me as a student when trying to explain/do things: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid). Perhaps teaching staff and administrators need to K.I.S.S.


Looking at the issues behind the teachers strike

On 15 August 2018 Primary and Intermediate School teachers and principals went on strike over their pay and work conditions. Whilst there were much support for them getting a pay rise, looking back at them and having a chance to digest the feedback from others, I wonder now how support they got for addressing the conditions of their work.

1) Get a pay rise
2) Get attention focussed on the atrocious amount of other work that teachers have to do, a portion of which I simply do not believe teachers should be doing

The first aim is indisputable, though we might disagree on the pay rise happens.

It is the second one I want to focus on. The expectation that somehow they are also supposed to be part time parents, social workers, bureaucrats and jacks of all trades as well is silly. Lets get real here.

The sum of our expectations does not match the sum of what teachers can realistically expect to do. Teachers are making a 10/10 effort to meet expectations, but New Zealanders are not making a 10/10 effort to be realistic about what they can do. I think it must be soul destroying to a teacher, 100% committed to their profession, their school and their students to walk away at the end of a day and think “I screwed that up didn’t I?”.

Well, no, I doubt you screwed up anything – at least not knowing. What’s screwed up is the idea that you can do better than what you do in a teaching environment where I think there are a number of background problems.

1) Do the assessment regimes as they currently stand, actually work? You can assess a student all you want, but if the metrics that come out are goobledegook, I doubt very much when you have Teacher/Parent nights that is going to help – granted I have no idea what a school report looks like today, my high school reports in the 1990’s had three sections:

A) Curricula – where the teacher grades your performance in that area
B) Person – where the teacher notes your attendance, behaviour and whether you turned up to class in an acceptable standard
C) Commentary – self explanatory

2) Is it time to hit “reset” on our expectations of teachers, and put more responsibility back on the parent, the other social agencies – yes a teacher will see a student five days of the week, most weeks of the year and in that time they will be expected to get to know them a bit and identify behaviours,

3) Is the Education Act due for a review or overhaul – did it mandate or provide for them being all of these other things that we expect them to be? Maybe it did – I honestly have no idea what is in the Education Act 1989, but if it did not, then the time has come.

4) How much of what goes on can be put down to our addiction to social media? Would it really be too much to mandate a requirement for to hand over their phones at the start of class and only get them back a morning break and lunch time?

I think this is a conversation that we need to have as a nation, among our school communities and as parents and teachers. You could give teachers a 50% pay rise, which no doubt they would absolutely love, but if the arse is in the legislation or an aspect of teaching that cannot be sorted out by pay rises, then nothing is solved, except maybe retaining teachers is a bit easier.

The teacher’s strike 2018

This was a long time coming. Prior to this strike Primary School and Intermediate School teachers and principals had not walked off the job since 1993. During the Fifth Labour Government of former Prime Minister Helen Clark, High School teachers had gone on strike in a wave of rolling strikes. The 2018i strike was an opportunity for the rest to catch up with the high schools.

No one should be surprised it has happened. Schools have undergone huge change in the last two decades. The idea that a teacher’s workload is from when the students arrive at the start of the day, through to 1500 hours, is now generally recognized as nonsense and that teachers are only half done with their working day when the students leave at the end of each day.

The workload has also diversified considerably. In 1989 a Primary School teacher was not a de facto social worker, though they were definitely trained to watch for visual or behavioural signals from students that suggest there might be problems in their lives. Statutory paper work required by law has also increased, much to the chagrin of teachers. How much of it they actually need to do and is not already covered under other laws, is questionable.

Without doubt teachers face many challenges in their careers, irrespective of which school  they teach at.

We can be certain that there will always be disciplinary issues among some students, no matter how they are (not) taught discipline at school or at home – complaints about aggressive students with no understanding or respect for other people, their property or the community at large. Will the student be made to stand facing the corner of the room or will they be given a Managing Student Behaviour┬╣ notice, which is what my old high school often did with students who were disrupting classes.

Another big and no completely unavoidable issue is how to make sure that students are able to benefit from social media technology, whilst being safe and learning how to use their devices responsibly. Classes in my opinion should be made to surrender their cellphones at the start of each period and shall be able to collect them again afterwards. Videoing abuse is one thing, but then posting it for others to see quickly sends a message that the abused is vulnerable.

And then there are student fees. Whether it is for text books, or stationery or for activity needs the annual cost of these is considerable. Not all parents can afford to pay and therefore not surprisingly can cause a break down in the relationship between parent and teacher

So, I welcome the strike, which I think was necessary to release pent up anger and frustration with the state of the eduication system. But now that the teachers have had that opportunity to vent, it is time to go back to the negotiations table and work out a deal for all primary and intermediate school teachers and their support staff.



Foreign student rules to change

The Government has announced that new rules will take effect in November concerning the rights of students to work here, whilst studying. The rules, which were announced by the Minister for Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway today are intended to address the periods in which students can work in New Zealand after completing study.

The rules for foreign students studying in New Zealand have long been the source of controversy. It has ranged from students trying to do engage in paid work whilst in the country encountering exploitative employers to dodgy visas issued by immigration consultants who should have never been in the business in the first place.

Now they are changing. The new plans are a confirmation of the Government’s intention to steer students away from studying in Auckland by using a carrot and stick approach. The stick is that students who study in Auckland will only be permitted to work for a year in New Zealand after they complete their studies. The carrot is that a student who studies somewhere else – say Christchurch – can work for two years in New Zealand after they complete their studies.

Due to Auckland having the largest international airport in New Zealand it tends to be a magnet for students coming to study in New Zealand. This is largely because of the opportunities, perceived or otherwise, a lack of understanding about the rest of New Zealand and what provinces outside of Auckland have to offer.

Original proposals to change the rules were roundly panned by both the Opposition, industry leaders and and analysts. It was estimated that they would have cost New Zealand $1 billion per annum and have resulted in 44,000 fewer students studying in New Zealand each year..

The new rules will include:

  1. Students studying for qualifications outside of Auckland at Levels 4-6 will be permitted to work for 2 years provided study is completed before the end of 2021. After that point, they are permitted to work for one year. These changes are also applicable to non-degree Level 7 courses.
  2. Students in Auckland studying Levels 4-6 and 7 (non degree courses only) will be able to work for one year
  3. Those studying at Level 8 however must be developing a skill that is on the Long Term Skills Shortage list. This is a list of skills where New Zealand anticipates having long term shortages of people with them.