Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Government Education System Set to Get Worse

NCEA and the Dodo Will Have a Lot In Common

We find ourselves amused at the prospect of the New Zealand government education system imploding because its centre cannot hold.  The pagans have had a free run for nearly fifty years.  The government has built an education system after its own image.  It now appears to be a decomposing mess.  

Hapless Hipkins is the fresh new Minister of Education.  He has announced a review of the NCEA system.  For those who live outside New Zealand, NCEA stands for National Certificate of Educational Achievement.  It has busily been defining standards of knowledge which can then be "taught" and the student can pass an exam or complete some work to get a certificate of achievement, with which he can then whip down to the local employer, show them the earned certificate, and get a job.

An important philosophical precept of the NCEA system was that it be designed so that no student need fail.  The system would produce an achievement in something or other for every student blessed to partake.  National certificates have grown like mushrooms.  There are now, we are told, 9,360 National Standards.  You can get NCEA certificates in beginning, medium and expert tiddlewinks. If anything exists which does not yet have a NCEA certificate wrapped around it--be patient, it is surely coming.  Since everyone is good at something, and since "something" would eventually have an NCEA certificate attached, every student would graduate out of NZ schools with a recognized qualification in something.  No child would be left behind.

This novel approach to education has had at least two unintended consequences.
  The first is that the madcap NCEA system requires a vast army of teachers.  Consequently New Zealand government schools are overstaffed because they need teachers for up to 9,360 NCEA standards.  The second is that the school plants are overcapitalised.  Every school worth the name these days has to have a multi-million dollar Performing Arts Centre.  Why?  Because as students contemplate their future lives they have worked out that the "really good jobs" go to TV and film stars.  Qualifications in performance arts will open doors to careers in film and stage and pop-music which will make them exceedingly famous and wealthy.  These aspirants may know very little about reading, writing, sentence construction, literature, or history, but they can perform.  Hence the need for Performing Arts buildings in any school worth the name.

But don't worry.  Hapless Hipkins is conducting a review of NCEA.  Already it has been not just dismissed, but expert critics warn that the Government's education system will end up even worse than what it is now as a result of Hapless's "reforms".
Radical changes to senior school exams have been slammed by the head of one of our biggest schools as "dangerous" and "irresponsible".  Auckland Grammar School headmaster Tim O'Connor, where 60 per cent of senior students sit British-based Cambridge exams, predicts that more schools will abandon the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) if changes proposed in a discussion document are adopted.

He says the document's authors are "in la-la land" in saying that students should have "capabilities and attitudes for lifelong learning" by the end of Year 11.  "I think we are standing in the quicksands of NZ education right now," he said.  "We are going to be going into a deep, dark place in what I see as a lack of responsibility by the adults for the children in this conversation.

"I frankly believe that the removal of NCEA Level 1 in the manner that they are describing it - literacy and numeracy and even having a conversation about does financial and civic literacy fit into that definition of literacy - is a very, very dangerous start."  [NZ Herald]
At the other end of the spectrum a New Zealand teacher, called "Britain's strictest teacher" follows a very narrow, focused approach, with outstanding results.
No one at Katharine Birbalsingh's school studies information technology. But they all learn about history, Shakespeare and French.  Auckland-born Birbalsingh, labelled by the British media as "Britain's strictest teacher", hands out detentions to kids who speak while hurrying in single file between classes at the Michaela Community School, a "free school" or charter school in a poor part of London.

They are allowed two minutes to get from one class to another because Birbalsingh believes every minute counts.  "You want to have order and structure," she said.  "You want to make the most of every minute, because people are who are coming from disadvantaged backgrounds don't have access to the same knowledge and culture."

The Times outlined some of the school's draconian-sounding rules in a story which labelled Birbalsingh Britain's strictest teacher.  "No fighting, no lying. Break the rules and it's the isolation room," it wrote.  It also describes the school's lunch ritual. The students chant some of Kipling's words before moving silently to their tables. Over lunch they debate a set topic, for example, is Winston Churchill the most inspirational person you have read about in history? . . .

The Guardian wrote about the school's "no excuses" policy.  "Detentions are awarded for arriving one minute late to school, for not completing homework, for scruffy work, for not having a pen or ruler, for reacting badly to a teacher's instruction by tutting or rolling eyes, and even for 'persistently turning round in class' after being told not to."  She believes children thrive on tough love.

"I'm a real traditionalist. I believe in the basics - lots of reading, writing and maths," she said.  Information technology is not part of her curriculum because "when it comes to IT, the children often know more than the teachers.  You can cut certain things and spend that time in English and maths and science," she said.

She said some children came to her school at age 11 with a reading age of 5, but they all caught up within two years using phonics - learning the sounds that letters make in a word. It might sound boring, but she denied it.  "At primary school when it's taught well, using wonderful flashcards and pictures, the children love it," she said.

"We do times tables in song form - they absolutely love it. They do these funny movements when they're doing it.  Children love learning, I think it's just a prejudice of adults that learning is boring. It's not, it's really interesting. It's the absence of learning that is boring."  [NZ Herald]
Birbalsingh would not be allowed to teach in New Zealand.  The Government has closed down all our charter schools, forcing them back into the State's educational strait-jacket.  In the meanwhile, it is "reviewing" NCEA and its bloated over-capitalized schools.  It's most perceptive critics have warned that it will most likely result in an even worse Government education system. 

We expect a revolt of some kind--in fact it has already started.  It seems as if we may well get charter schools after all--although the Government is trying desperately to disguise the fact.  They will be called "Special Character" schools.  Prestigious (and effective)  Auckland Boys Grammar school may well become one.

Maybe the NCEA system itself will go the way of the Dodo.  It would be a most welcome, if unexpected, outcome.

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