Outside Opinions

August 2013


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Education Review asks four individuals from outside the sector about their perspectives on New Zealand’s education system.


Use and integration of ICT should be a priority

GRAHAM PRENTICE, Cyclone Computers, General Manager Apple Division

Do I care about New Zealand’s education system? To not care would be akin to a car driver driving headfirst into the future and choosing to look out the rear vision mirror or the side window rather than the windscreen.

All parts of the driving experience are important – an awareness of what has been and what is happening around you all contribute to good decision making. But what is ahead of you is most important. Your timing, your judgment, your speed, consideration of changing conditions, the amount of competition for the road space – are all options that need strategic attention for the best performance.

And then there is the car itself … if not tuned correctly, if not fuelled correctly, if not safe … then expect something other than optimal performance.

In continuing the metaphor, not all cars are the same – nor should they be “scored” the same.

The New Zealand education system should not try to be the same as some other system. Nor indeed should we try to get “scores” better than others – if we do not believe that what is being measured is valid. If we do not see the ability for our students to perform long multiplication sums as any longer a critical success factor, then let’s not emphasise that skill or be concerned if we perform badly on global testing of that skill because guess what … we do have calculators and spreadsheets that do perform well!

How does our system compare with those of other countries? I would say that in terms of curricula, New Zealand excels. We have a great system that describes rather than prescribes thus allowing individual interpretation at the local school/ class level. This enables the great teachers to shine! And they do. Local content, local context, and local learning pathways can all be catered for if the teacher/ school plans accordingly. On the other hand, generic stuff also appears for the less motivated. Generally, it is my observation that the further through the system we go, the less teacher creativity we see, with NCEA being given the blame, but that is not the reason.

Our top students are the best anywhere: the combination of skills, attitudes, problem solving, knowledge and entrepreneurship can be outstanding. The number of students in our “top” bracket is too small. Too little resource has gone into lifting our above average students into this bracket. And of course, we have a long tail …

What should be prioritised? For starters, the use and integration of ICT. There are some significant government plans underway to build a modern and capable infrastructure including ultra fast broadband roll out, school network upgrades (SNUP), Network for learning (N4L), and a pending announcement of an education data centre provider. There is a tidal wave of individual digital devices arriving in our schools. There should be professional development for teachers around integrating ICT for teaching and learning. iPads and other devices are empowering students and teachers to embrace anytime anywhere learning, but most of our teachers (including pre-service teacher trainers) have no idea what exemplary digital teaching looks like! New Zealand is not alone on this, but we are behind other geographies in mass rollouts. This is a long term strategy and needs careful planning. The infrastructure is critical – underway; the PD is critical – no current plans (on-line or otherwise); the other critical part is what is delivered (content). At this stage, we have given this decision making process to a non-education based government agency. A wee concern.

We need to define the outcomes of the schooling process that we are looking for. Any business has a strategic plan that lines up with the outcomes sought. If there are clear outcomes that our education system is looking to produce, I am certain that not all stakeholders know what they are. I don’t think we all own our schools system, but rather we simply get what is produced as a result of a process. I am not sure we, the stakeholders outside of the system, have been asked what we want, but rather accept what the teachers deem important, or indeed the curriculum writers deem important.

If we adjust our plans because we get a ‘bad’ OECD report one year… let not this distract us from our strategic direction.

We should bring our examination system into the now world. I do not know the last time I used a pen in my workplace. Students will more and more use digital devices in their classroom workplace (because it is the best tool).Why then do they have to use a pen to be examined?


Encouraged by the quality, capability and passion of young people


“I’m exceedingly passionate about many things to do with childhood achievement and well being, and education is certainly among my areas of focus and concern. In the context of the Glenn Inquiry into child abuse and domestic violence, I recognise the important role schools and teachers play. Not only in creating safe and secure environments but also in sharing lessons in life that will help people change habits and achieve potential. While there is always room for improvement I believe New Zealand has fine education system and dedicated professionals who do their best in teaching. Falls in literacy and numeracy capabilities do concern me, and I would like to see a much better link between primary and secondary school, and then from secondary to tertiary study. I also think we should align our curriculum more closely with what should be New Zealand’s overriding objective of being a world leading and world class country. Having said that, when I look at the quality, capability, and passion of the young people I’m meeting through my involvement with the Glenn Inquiry, the Otara Project, and the University of Auckland Business School, I have to be encouraged. 


System is complicated and impossible to navigate

MICHELLE PADDISON, Associate, Sharp Tudhope Lawyers, Tauranga

“My view is that at the moment the secondary school education is so complicated that it is impossible for parents and children to navigate it. It is complicated and not explained in any coherent way at any stage through the system. This has been mine and a number of my friends’ experience. Children get to Year 11 and Year 12 and find that the subjects they have picked are ones that they cannot get into university with and by then it is too late. Essentially, unless they have properly mapped out what to do at Year 9, by the time they are in Year 11, it can be too late. The only way to find out how the system works is from the kids who have actually been through it. The merits and credit system is also, in my view, totally irrelevant and a waste of time and not reflective of what will happen when children get to university.”

More emphasis on core subjects and current events

ALAN CHARLES, Dairy Farmer, Waikato

“Parents should try and be the best parents they can, encouraging good values, respect and honesty. They should foster a hard-work-brings-results ethic in their children. They should be loyal to their local school and encourage their kids to do the same. They should watch the TV news with their kids so that their kids are globally aware. They should work hard in their occupations and trust their local school is doing the same.

“Teachers aren’t paid well enough to clean up the social problems displayed by some of their students. It is likely that many prospective teachers are attracted into other careers which are less stressful and pay more. There is an increasing trend to broaden subject choices so that everyone has a good time. As more alternative ‘cop-out’ courses are dreamt up, more students understandably enrol for them.

I employ seven people in my farming business. They are great, hard working people, but they have poor general and global knowledge, only fair mathematical ability and pretty basic writing skills. They all left school five to ten years ago. It confuses me why more emphasis is not returned to teaching of the traditional subjects of maths, English, science, technology and commerce. A compulsory topic for all students should be current events; as so many young New Zealanders head overseas a greater global perspective would be invaluable as they compete for the many exciting careers on offer. I would have thought kids can be self taught or taught by their peers in areas of film, drama, culture, outdoor education and so on. At best, these subjects should be minority option.

“Ultimately, we should make school car parks smaller so that parents have to trust the school to educate their kids while they are working hard to provide a stimulating warm and happy home environment to which their well educated kids return to each afternoon to learn about life from their well educated parents.”

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