Saturday, 1 July 2017

Our Cuban Education System

Not Worth The Paper Its Written On

The New Zealand government owned-operated-and-run education system is increasingly of little use.  Fast follow the standard disclaimers--teachers in the "system" are generally dedicated, hard-working, and committed.   Successive governments have bravely attempted to turn the ship around.  But what no-one in the government system will face is that a universal state monopoly upon education cannot be reformed.  Government is necessarily incompetent at such things.

If we were to suggest that all commercial enterprise in New Zealand should be owned, operated, run, and controlled by central government there would be ripostes ranging from outrage to mockery.  We know that such a "system" would never work.  No government would ever be powerful enough, have sufficient resources, or achieve the necessary omni-competence to make it work.  Omni-competence, let it be said repeatedly, is an oxymoron.  Poverty would beckon.  There would soon be lines of people outside shops waiting to buy something, anything from the empty shelves within.  We know.  We have seen it.  It was called communism.  And it utterly failed.

Why, then, do we persist with the myth that when it comes to educating our youth things will be different?  When that question is put to authorities, the answer invariably comes back, "Educating our youth is too important to leave to non-governmental agencies and the 'private sector'".  To which, our retort is, On the contrary, education is far too important to leave it to inevitable government incompetence.

Control systems do not produce quality education.
 Control system only serve and produce bureaucratic outcomes.  Bureaucracies need all things to be ruled, regulated and measured.   Education cannot fit into such a superficial matrix.

Rodney Hide provides us with yet another example.
A student passed with an excellence grade in NCEA History Level 1 by copying another student's answer from the year before. That used to be called cheating.  It's now called being "well-prepared".

The "preparation" was easy enough: the Qualifications Authority had uploaded the answer to their web page as an exemplar. The "well-prepared" student memorised the answer and repeated it for the following year's exam.  The plagiarised answer was given "excellence" and, amazingly, NZQA then uploaded the plagiarised answer as an "exemplar" for that year.  The two virtually identical exemplars were both on NZQA's web page.

You will no doubt wonder how the same answer works for an exam from two different years. Well, that's because the external exams ask generic questions. The particular unit standard is "Describe how a significant historical event affected NZ society".  The wording of the first question in every exam since at least 2011 has been, "Describe what happened in your chosen historical event". The only thing a student has to learn to pass with "excellence" is the exemplar answer the NZQA provides. There is nothing else to it.

History teacher Greg Burnard says memorising previous years' exemplars is "reasonably widespread across the country".  We could do the same for algebra. The unit standard would be, "Learn a really hard equation".  The exam question would be, "Solve a really hard equation".

To assist students, an excellent answer from the year before would be put on NZQA's web page. And to make sure students understand how to pass well, the answer from the student who copied it best would be uploaded as the following year's exemplar.  That's how it seems to work for Level 1 NCEA History unit 91006.

NCEA is run by technocrats and made impenetrable by gobbledygook. It has become a huge bureaucratic enterprise that fails in the very basics. All the work, words and assurances boil down, for unit 91006, to copying last year's answer.

We can all readily see that's wrong, that copying does not provide an objective assessment of what a student has learned or can do, and that it's grossly unfair to reward students who copy while disadvantaging those who don't.  But stating the obvious is not how government handles blunders.  Education Minister Nikki Kaye has called NZQA chairwoman Sue Suckling to a "please explain" meeting.  No doubt there will be a review. There will be an acceptance that there are flaws but overall the system is extremely great. There will be the promise that it won't happen again.

The handling of such shambles is now a practised and well-managed art.  The political and bureaucratic machinery doesn't even miss a gear.  The best we can do is point at it, have a laugh at the system's sheer incompetence, watch as the predicted PR response unfolds - and then feel sorry for the students who are the subjects of another experiment that works only in theory.  [NZ Herald]
Oh, and did you notice the "weasel words" repeated in the now-standard Level I history exam: Describe how a significant historical event effected New Zealand society.  Let's see now.  Ah, yes, my view is that the founding of Cadburys Limited in Dunedin in 1868 was truly a significant historical event that affected New Zealand society.  What about World War I?  Nah, mate.  I'm sticking with Cadburys: it's all history to me.  The bureaucrats gravely nod their assent.  Here is another rotten fruit of a universal state education monopoly: every subject is dumbed down into an inchoate, insignificant mess--like cheap chocolate melting on the sidewalk.  Shambles, indeed.

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