What is the point of education?

The proposed Education (Update) Bill is the Government’s statement about what the point of education is, and what it means to people. This week we had a day of Select Committee hearings in Auckland on the Bill. It’s a huge and complex piece of legislation. Some changes are sensible but it’s marred by some very problematic ideas. The highly diverse submitters included teachers, online learning networks, students, parents and community groups concerned about educational equity.

We had important discussions with submitters on issues such as zoning, truancy and the continuing failure of this Government to address students with disabilities and high learning needs. Three major issues with the Bill stood out from the submissions:

  1. COOL schools – the Government’s fully online schools proposal
  2. the role of the NELPs (National Education Learning Priorities)
  3. the desire of students for a say in their curriculum, including make Te Reo a core subject.

NELPs

The Bill proposes NELPs which allow Minister of Education to issue a statement to school boards of trustees which they are be required to take into account in their teaching and learning programmes. The board will then be accountable through their planning and reporting.

A group of Waitakere principals made a persuasive submission challenging the consultation process around the NELPs. They were particularly concerned that NELPs will create an ideological battleground in education as successive governments order boards and schools to conform to their vision. They also believe NELPs may lead to a narrowing of the curriculum to meet ever tightening targets.

COOLs

Many submitters spoke of the COOLs idea with trepidation. COOLs are a nice piece of puffery but student success relies upon high quality teachers and engagement, this Bill opens the way for an unstructured online learning that undermines that. We need to fully support the current blended learning in schools where online subjects are supervised by actual teachers and the relationship between schools and virtual educators is integrated and strong.

The most powerful submission for me was from the Regional Health Schools. These schools provide vital support for students with a range of mental health and other issues, supporting them to cope with and return to school. A former student said COOLs would have allowed her to hide in her bedroom rather than take the steps needed to re-join her community. One teacher presented excellent evidence on the overseas experience of online privatised education showing it is not very successful academically, let alone in terms of pastoral care.

Te Reo in schools

The last submission of the day was from Hauraki rangatahi rōpū “Te Mata Rangatira”. These students came to tell us about the vital need to make Te Reo a core subject in all schools, including primary schools. The students talked about their experiences of trying to learn Te Reo online without proper support.

My Youth MP Josh Gill, whose goal in life is to be a Te Reo teacher, described his total frustration with this learning method and how his language is part of a social face to face culture – which he cannot access online. Their haka was a compelling end to the day and a reminder that our young people and their daily experience must be heard when we draft education laws. Moreover, their call and that of tangata whenua for the national language to be core curriculum deserves to be heard by the National Government.