Quality public education – a public good

I spent the weekend at the Quality Public Education Coalition (QPEC) Conference in Auckland. This conference had the strongest turn out of people from every level of the public education sector since I have been attending.

There were powerful presentations from people active in early childhood issues, the compulsory sector and the tertiary sector. Everyone was united in their deep concern for the public education system and clear about the threats to it from the current Government.

The common themes at all levels were Government under-investment, a shared experience of disrespect for expert opinion on education, and the sense of a deliberate privitisation agenda making inroads into the public system.

There were excellent presentations on the contextual issues created by growing inequality around the country from Major Campbell Roberts of the Salvation Army and Mike O’Brien from the Alternative Welfare Working Group. These presentations clarified the links between basic issues in schools and wider issues in communities such as lack of food for children, inadequate housing, and the impact of prevailing economic conditions on our social wellbeing.

We also heard from American academic Chris Lubienski about the growth of Charter Schools and lottery education, particularly in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. This “disaster capitalism” opportunism is a warning as Christchurch faces a major rebuild under a right-wing Government.

There were also excellent sessions on the risk of losing some Pasifika languages and restorative justice in high schools, not to mention the mess created by the rushed imposition of the National Standards policy.

I was grateful for the opportunity to talk with people about Green education policy and my Real Education Project. It was a great gathering of dedicated academics and activists in education – well done QPEC for your leadership. The QPEC website will be a site of continuing analysis and activity, so watch that space!

8 Comments Posted

  1. I am with you Catherine but disappointed by your comment

    “not to mention the mess created by the rushed imposition of the National Standards policy”

    It was not that the policy was implemented too fast that was so wrong but rather that the policy itself is so fundamentally flawed. This must be emphasized to ensure that new govts don’t simply think that it was the method of implementation that was/is the problem.

    A new govt must get shot of this education changing (not for the better) policy as a matter of urgency not simply think more dialogue or a slower more careful implementation would make it ok.

  2. Thanks for your on going work in promoting strong public education, Catherine!

    When our education system regularly rates in the top five in the world in most international assessments, why would we need to make drastic changes? This government continues to harp on about the 20% of children who struggle, but what about the 80% who are succeeding? Rather than dismantle what is good and cut funding to our most vulnerable children we should be celebrating our successes and making sure existing good practice is shared with all schools.

    I agree with Kerry, we should be properly funding and resourcing the implementation of our wonderful curriculum, not pouring wasted money into a flawed assessment system that will never deliver what has been claimed.

    It is poverty and poor health that is the root of most learning issues and until we deal with that growing issue educators will always have an uphill battle with under achievement.

  3. The best teachers are often in the public schools and the time servers in the higher decile and private because they are easier.

    There is not much variability between schools. “Good” schools are usually that way because of the socio-economic status of the clientele. In many cases parents are wasting their money when their child would do as well at the local school.

    It is hard for children to do well when the social contract is broken and there is no money for extra help at primary level when they most need it.
    It is not the quality of the education system at fault, it is our in -equal economy.

    If you put high achieving students with some of the dedicated teachers, I know, in low decile schools they would still fly.

    There are problems with NCEA, but the intent is to test understanding not recitation.
    Private schools like rote learning assessment, like Cambridge exams, because they can get rich kids to pass, with intensive tutoring, even if they are thick.

  4. That education is slipping is a myth.

    Kerry, in the first instance, if education has been slipping, then why on earth did School Certificate (and its associated qualifications) end up getting replaced by two qualifications being given in parallel?

    In the second instance, for a long time now, we have been developing a two tier education system which has benefitted the wealthy. School zoning has meant that the wealthy can send their children to all the good schools (they can either pay the fees for private schools, or afford to buy a house in the right zone), whilst poor people have not had the ability to send their children to good schools.

  5. The last Government supported the development of a new New Zealand curriculum using input from the profession, the public and research into the best practice worldwide.
    The present Government wants to throw it in the wastebasket and supports initiatives that have been proven failures elsewhere.

    That education is slipping is a myth. Though that may be true after a few more years of NACT taking money from successful programs to prop up private schools.

  6. The question must be posed – what did the last government do to provide quality public education? As far as I see it, the quality of public education has been slipping for a very long time.

  7. Given that education is so fundamental to our society’s well-being, handing it over to the market is a real abdication of duty – I am appalled at this government’s attitude and its spending cuts in education.

    It is great to see you with this group – surely there must be some influence on public policy there.

    A comment the CE of the polytech I work for made recently was that the earthquake meant that educational institutions were working in makeshift, shared and inadequate circumstances, and that he would not be surprised if the govt looked at that and thought that if they can get along with less, then everyone can.

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