Let’s face it – schools are primarily about kids and their learning. Sure, we need buildings, teachers, furniture, timetables and the like to support that, but the primary focus should be on them.
This is why I am personally very pleased to see the recent announcement from the Ministry of Education regarding the Education (Update) Amendment Bill. The current Act under which our education system operates places huge emphasis on the structures and governance of our schools, but less on the kids themselves – in fact learners and learning are barely mentioned. This would work well enough if all of our learners were uniform in terms of their learning needs and they were all happy to take whatever courses their local school can provide – but that’s no longer the case. The world has become an increasingly diverse place, creating increasingly diverse opportunities – and demands – for our young people. As a result, their expectations (and those of their parents and whānau) have changed – and many parts of our current education system are struggling to address this.
The proposed changes to the Education Act will provide greater flexibility for the system to respond to these expectations – now and into the future. As with any change it will be necessary to discuss and debate the detail in order to ensure there are no ‘unintended consequences’ – and I welcome that as part of a participatory democracy, as long as we can move beyond the ‘sound-bite’ journalism we are subjected to from the media and politicians.
One part of the proposed Amendment that appears to have drawn lots of attention already is the proposal to enable new partnerships between schools and online learning providers, and enable children and young people to access their education through online delivery. It is proposed that online learning providers will come from the schooling, tertiary education, and private sectors, and will be able to seek accreditation as a Community of Online Learning (COOL).
Much of the discussion has immediately focused on suspicions around the entry of private providers into the education system (as if that hasn’t happened for decades already). The debate around corporate support of Education is crucial to the continuation of a public education system that is free and available to all and I support that. But within the rigors of this debate let’s not confuse the issues. If the concern rests with corporate participation, then let the debate focus on that –but let’s not pour scorn on the opportunities that are being created for learners to have their learning needs meet in ways that may be more creative, more flexible and more relevant to their needs, culture and interests.
It’s good to see that the first COOL off the block will be Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura) – formerly the Correspondence School. This institution has been operating since 1922, catering for the needs of students who don’t “fit” the conventional education system – some because of isolation, some because of circumstance, and a good many because the areas of study they wish to pursue aren’t available to them in their local school – and so they become ‘dual enrolled’. What’s perhaps not as well known is that until now, Te Kura has operated under it’s own section of the Act, especially crafted to suit the way Te Kura operates as the provisions of the Act that applies to all other schools don’t work for it – for instance, the requirements around attendance, opening hours, staff contact etc.
As someone who used to work at this institution, I am very pleased to see that they will now be able to operate with greater flexibility and in a more coherent way with their site-based counterparts, particularly as around 50% of their over 20,000 students are already based in these schools.
The fact is that for over 90 years, Te Kura has been serving the education needs of a segment of our population who would otherwise have been denied the opportunity within the structure of site-based schools – and to my knowledge, they have done this as successfully as any other school. Many of our business leaders, politicians and even Prime Ministers have benefited from an education that has included time enrolled with the Correspondence School.
Learning at a distance in this way has always been about a choice for some, and the only viable option for others – either way, the quality of provision has ensured success for those participating as learners.
The prospect of this ‘distance’ engagement moving into an online environment brings with it even more opportunity, as well as issues to be addressed (i.e. equity, access, support etc.), but is nonetheless a welcome move in my view. And it’s not new! Te Kura have been using online technologies to engage with their students for over a decade, and around New Zealand, teachers in many of our remote and rural schools have been using online technologies to create opportunities for their students to access subjects of their choice for almost two decades.
The Virtual Learning Network (VLN) evolved from its beginnings in the early 1990s when a group of Area Schools in Canterbury started collaborating to enable their students to be able to access subjects being taught be teachers in schools other than the one they were physically attending. (Back in the day I coordinated and helped write a handbook to guide the development of these LCOs – how the cycles continue!) Around the same time many of the Kura in New Zealand began doing something similar to ensure their students could access their subject choices in Te Reo under the KAWM project. The data around students learning in these networks suggests that they are just as capable of experiencing success as their classroom-based counterparts – perhaps even more so. (Read more in my paper with Michael Barbour)
What these schools have in common is that in the interests of serving the needs of their students they have had to struggle with and become creative about the way they operate within the limitations of the current Act. Being unable to recognize students being enrolled with more than one school, or requiring a teacher to be a staff member at a specific school while their expertise may be spread among many are a couple of examples – along with the whole financial side of things which means money allocated to a student can only go to one school with no easy way of sharing that when that student may be accessing her or his learning from one or more other places. The changes proposed in the Act will, hopefully, allow a more equitable and fair way for these schools and teachers to operate within.
The important thing about these examples is that they aren’t about a “one-size-fits-all” approach. No-one is suggesting that learners spend the whole day in front of a computer, devoid of any social connection. Educational research strongly supports the fact that the role of schools in supporting children’s social and emotional development is just as crucial as their cognitive development. I’d argue that by creating the opportunities for learners to access the subjects they want from while still attending their local school gives them the best of both worlds. There are several schools in the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) that are now thriving because they have been able to retain their learners in the local community where their social and emotional needs can be nurtured and cared for, while also ensuring their academic potential is realized by providing access to high quality instruction in subjects of their choosing using online technologies. This is not to mention also the opportunity created for many of these teachers to grow and develop professionally while remaining as teachers in these rural settings.
This isn’t something only for rural schools – the opportunities apply equally in urban settings. While I was working at the (then) Correspondence School our records showed only two secondary schools in New Zealand that didn’t have students enrolled for distance education – which suggests that even in our urban schools, the limitations created by factors timetables and staffing availability mean that even there students’ needs can’t be fully met under the current structure. A good example for me arose in Christchurch following the earthquakes there where one secondary school that was (and still is) re-located as a result of damage joined the VLN to ensure its students could have access to a broad curriculum. Their roll stabilized, their community remains intact and they remain a part of the VLN today.
I am pleased to see that due attention is to be given to the accreditation and regulation of any COOL providers – as should be the case, and is with our current schools. According to the information released this week, COOL will have to meet criteria relating to their capability and capacity to deliver education to students in an online environment and some COOL will be subject to additional terms and conditions, like which students they can enrol. All COOL will be subject to a robust quality assurance regime, including requirements to meet specified student outcomes.
This is both good and necessary because, as has been reported this week, alongside the very successful models, there are some rather awful examples of attempts to introduce online learning into schools – particularly some of the US online charter schools. This is where the voice of informed educational and community leaders needs to be heard, and involved in the process of accreditation. Staff in organisations such as Te Kura, the VLN Community and the Flexible Learning Association of NZ (FLANZ) are all part of an established body of education professionals within our country who have been doing this sort of thing for many years now – they should be consulted to ensure the policy and implementation models are informed by experience and research evidence.
So let’s keep the discussions going, and tease out where the opportunities are, and where the potential risks and downfalls are. But let’s also focus our attention on what this is all really about – our kids, their future and how we can work together to ensure we create a system that is fully supportive of addressing that.
My post today is to acknowledge the passing of a truly inspirational leader in the field of educational technology – Professor Emeritus Seymour Papert, who died on Sunday aged 88. He was an educational-technology visionary and a founding faculty member of the MIT Media Lab.
Papert was among the first to recognize the revolutionary potential of computers in education. In the late 1960s, at a time when computers still cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Papert came up with the idea for Logo, the first programming language for children. I used this with my students to program the movements of a “turtle” around the screen, learning as they did so some of the essentials of programming.
As a young lecturer in educational technology at the CHCH College of Education back in the early 1990s I immersed myself in his book “Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas” (1980), and from it gaining insights into Papert’s position that it “should be the child who programs the computer and, in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intimate contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.”
Despite the fact that we’ve seen generations of change in the form and nature of technology that we’re using in classrooms, I find this to be as true a statement today as it was when it was written, and it continues to influence the way I think about how we integrate and use technology in education.
Papert has influenced a generation of educators such as myself, and the legacy of his work will continue to influence generations more I’m sure.
I've just been watching this film from the Let It Ripple Series titled The Adaptable Mind (11 mins) which explores the skills we need to flourish in the 21st Century. Like many other lists that have been created to define and describe the skills/knowledge/dispositions that are needed for the 21st Century (e.g. a previous post Driving the skills agenda), there are several familiar terms here:
- Multi-disciplinary thinking
The difference with this list that is so well illustrated in this short clip is that each of these things are in essence a part of what makes us human. There's nothing in this list about specific domains of knowledge, or specific technological skills etc. Even the STEM set isn't represented here. These five things have been the engine of innovation and survival since the beginning of civilisation. We're at a point in history where our human skills are just as important as our knowledge.
The challenge for schools and educators is to maintain a focus on these things amidst the pressure to also ensure we are addressing those fundamental pre-requisites of literacy and numeracy. We're fortunate in NZ that our National Curriculum has at its primary focus the Key Competencies around which the curriculum in our schools should be designed. New Zealand schools have the scope, flexibility, and authority they need to design and shape their curriculum so that teaching and learning is meaningful and beneficial to their particular communities of students.
So one would imagine that in such an environment we'd see amazing things happening in terms of the development of 'an adaptable mind' as this clip celebrates – and we do, but often in pockets rather than in a systemic way. The constant pressure to recognise and measure achievement in terms of the traditional subject areas can mitigate against efforts to develop a curriculum that will truly inspire and develop things like curiosity, creativity and initiative among our students.
As we enter a time in our system where the primary focus of attention will inevitably be on identifying and addressing specific achievement challenges in our schools and clusters of schools it will be important that those leading these initiatives are also abe to maintain a focus on the development of these deeper, more enduring skillsets.
As a father of five and grandfather of five also, I have high aspirations for my children and grandchildren, that indeed they will be proficient in the key skills that will enable to learn and be successful in their learning – but just as importantly, I want them to posses the quality of 'an adaptable mind' that is identified in this clip!
In a previous post I described a new era of professional development, outlining four key principles drawn from both research and experience in this area. I reflected further on that today as I read a report from leading Australian researcher Ben Jensen, titled Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems in which he analyzes the way four high-performing education systems provide professional learning to their teachers.
Across all four high-performing systems analyzed—British Columbia (Canada), Hong Kong, Shanghai (China) and Singapore — professional learning is central to teachers’ jobs. It is not an “add on,” something done on Monday afternoons or on a few days at the end of the school term. Teacher professional learning is how they all improve student learning; it is how they improve schools; and it is how they are evaluated in their jobs.
While these systems are quite different, the key to all of them is that collaborative professional learning (teachers working with other teachers to improve curriculum, instruction, school climate, etc.) is built into the daily lives of teachers and school leaders.
According to Jensen's reserach, this is reinforced by policies and school organizations that:
- Free up time in the daily lives of teachers for collaborative professional learning
- Create leadership roles for expert teachers who both develop other teachers and lead school improvement teams
- Recognize and reward the development of teacher expertise
- Enable teachers and school leaders to share responsibility for their own professional learning and that of their peers.
These points align with the rationale promoted by the New Zealand Ministry of Education in its current policy initiative, Investing in Education Success (IES). According to the IES policy, schools will receive additional funding to release other teachers to spend time on the job, continuing to develop their professional skills for the benefit of students in their own classrooms. Specifically,the IES policy promotes a greater emphasis on Inquiry Time, providing more time for teachers to focus specifically on working together to tackle achievement challenges. The proof will be in the pudding, of course, as to how effective the drivers that are being used to implement this policy are in terms of promoting the desired shifts in behaviour at a school and system level.
There's no doubt in my mind that the principles identified by Jensen in this report provide a useful framework for the design of an effective approach to PD, at a school or system level – but the success of any implementation will depend on the following:
- the buy-in of all involved – not just school leaders or a few enthusiasts on the staff,
- an emphasis on a collaborative approach, where the rewards are availabe to be shared equitably, and where everyone's voice is recognised and valued in the process,
- sufficient resources are available to support local initiatives – including mentoring support and external expertise where appropriate, and
- well developed frameworks and models exist and are used for evaluating the effectiveness of the process – including the impact on student learning and achievement.
We stand on the brink of a radical change in the way PD is 'done' in NZ schools – my hope is that those who are leading the approach within the different schools and clusters (and nationally) take the opportunity to delve deeply into the theory and practice of professional development, and ensure the strategies they adopt and promote meet the standards of what the research has been informing us about over the past decade or so.
There’s an old saying, “There’s nothing more certain than change”, and this will certainly be true as educators in NZ prepare to return to work in 2016. Whether we’re re-thinking what we teach, how we teach, where we teach and even who we teach, dealing with the demands of change is the biggest challenge facing schools, kura, and centres today.
Consider the following examples of change on the horizon in our education system in NZ in 2016…
- Establishment of communities of schools/learning and the new principal and teacher roles associated with that.
- Using internal evaluation to lift student achievement.
- New forms of assessment — including digital assessment at NCEA level.
- Outcomes from the review of the Education Act.
- Establishment of the Education Council and their emergent role in guiding teacher appraisal and educational leadership development.
- Introduction of a Digital Fluency requirement in our curriculum.
- Changes in the way PD is provided as a result of the PLD review.
- Aligning with the MoE’s draft vision for 2025 of Lifelong Learners in a Connected World.
- Application of the school evaluation indicators from ERO.
- Development of Innovative Learning Environments (ILEs) in many areas.
- New health and safety requirements for schools and centres.
These are just a selection of the drivers at a national level for 2016 — in addition, there will be all sorts of drivers at a regional and local level that may need to be considered.
Change confronts and challenges our ability to address the needs of our learners in a productive and relevant manner — at both a personal and system level. While many of these changes may not appear to be immediately relevant to the teaching and learning that occurs in individual learning environments, collectively they point to some significant changes for our schools, kura and centres, and for our system as a whole. As such, there will inevitably be an impact on the work of individual teachers and the work they do with their learners.
It is imperative that educational leaders understand how to engage their staff, and lead their school/kura/centre (or cluster), in collaborating around change. Don’t be afraid to draw upon the advice and guidance of external expertise where this will help — engaging a critical friend at this stage can save a lot of angst as the year gets under way. When it comes to effectively managing change 'nobody's as smart as everybody' because schools/kura/centres/clusters must consistently identify and resolve critical change issues, innovate the way they work, and find new and different ways to grow.
This can only happen if time has been spent considering the following:
- Is our school/kura/centre/cluster aligned around its educative purpose? Does this clearly identify the learner at the centre?
- Are we guided by a clear vision for the organisation, for our students? Whose vision is it?
- Has this process involved genuine consultation with the community — including local iwi?
- Do we have a set of collaboratively developed and owned values that guide how we work?
- Have we clearly identified the challenges that we must address — and why?
- Are the responses to the questions above clearly articulated to the staff, BoT, and community in an action plan with well-defined goals and outcomes that can be measured?
If the questions above can be answered affirmatively, then your school/kura/centre/cluster is well positioned to move to the next stage of designing and implementing a change management programme.
Of course, managing change in any educational setting isn't as simple as implementing some seductively attractive turnkey change management model. This is because educational change isn’t primarily about introducing new systems, facilities, or resources — it’s about changing people. It’s about changing hearts and minds, and about ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to participate in the change process, and not feel that it is being ‘done’ to them.
Professional development in collaborative groups is needed to understand and collectively build the trust, shared values and beliefs, shared purpose, shared goals, and shared responsibility. Along the way there will be provision for meeting individual needs, ensuring that individual staff are provided with the support and resources required to prepare them personally for the change. However, achieving whole-school/kura/centre change requires everyone to be committed to the same change goals. Ultimately, these change goals must reflect a concern for the learners, with every learner achieving to the very best of his or her ability.
An effective professional development programme must offer more than a sequence of ‘one off’ learning experiences for staff — in the form of isolated staff meetings or off-site workshops. The programme must be a part of the ‘weave’ of everyday activity in your school/kura/centre, with regular opportunity to identify and celebrate the successes along the way as the change goals are achieved.
If you are responsible for the design and development of professional development programmes in your school/centre, here are four research-based principles that should underpin your planning and decision-making.
1. In depth
The change process will inevitably challenge existing beliefs and behaviours. The change won’t occur by simply sharing what the ‘new’ beliefs and behaviours must be. There must be opportunity for engaging deeply with the background rationale and evidence, and for in-depth discussion and debate.
2. Sustained over time
“Rome wasn’t built in a day” (or so the saying goes), and effective, lasting educational change doesn’t occur as a result of a single staff meeting or workshop. Sure, a single event may act as a catalyst for change, but for the change to be embedded and sustained the professional development must be sustained over a significant period of time to allow for iterations to occur and the new behaviours to ‘bed in’ and become the ‘new normal’. An iterative approach that builds on action research or cycles of inquiry provides opportunities for the refinement and ideas and approaches that eventually establish the changed culture and patterns of behaviour.
3. Contextually relevant
Meaningful change cannot occur simply by borrowing ideas from elsewhere and assuming they’ll work the same in your context. Your staff, your students, and your community are different. There will be different needs and different opportunities and resources for you to tap into. Sure, an idea from somewhere else may serve to stimulate your thinking, but you need to do what will work for the learners in your context.
4. Linked to practice
Finally, there’s little point in any professional learning that isn’t linked to practice. Stories abound from the days where teachers periodically went off-site to attend PD sessions, most of which were aimed at providing ideas and experiences that may be useful ‘just in case’ the need emerged when the teacher went back to school. Nowadays, the focus needs to be on PD approaches that provide access to these new ideas and approaches ‘just in time’ — so that they can be implemented, trialed, reflected on, and refined in the context of the teacher’s own practice. Not only must the PD be linked to practice, but there must also then be evidence of the impact of this on that teacher’s practice.
The approach outlined above places high expectations on the leadership in our schools/centres. The competing demands for the limited financial resources available in most schools/centres to support professional learning can create tensions that are difficult to resolve. Approaches that rely exclusively on externally designed and delivered PLD are no longer viable (or effective).
The changes announced to PLD by the MoE aim to grow leadership capability across the system and strengthen profession-led support for curriculum, teaching, and learning. The momentum must come from within our schools, kura, and centres — but doesn’t exclude drawing on external expertise. Indeed, a further goal of the MoE changes to PLD is to mobilise quality assured internal and external expertise — drawing on the strategic wisdom and critical support of external providers where this is aligned with and adds value to the internally agreed goals and direction for the school, kura, or centre.
As you contemplate the changes that lie ahead in 2016 in your school/centre, now is the time to review your vision, values, and action planning, and to ensure that a well-designed programme of professional development is a key part of this planning.
NOTE this was cross-posted from the CORE Education blog on 21 Jan, 2016
For my first blog post of 2016 I thought it appropriate to feature a 'future focused' piece. As the parent of an 18 year old who is currently assessing his career options I was interested to read this morning a report from the World Economic Forum titled The Future of Jobs that has just been released.
The report is premised on the idea that the world is currently in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. The authors argue that this revolution is not simply an extension of the digital revolution that began in the middle of the last century. While it builds on the developments of this revolution, it is significantly different in three ways: 1. the speed of the development, 2. the scope of what is affected, and 3. the impact on systems change.
Key drivers of change in this revolution are the emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.
This interests me as an educator as I consider how these things are (or aren't) reflected in our curriculum – not as an argument for introducing these as defined areas of study necessarily, rather, how seriously we need to consider the development of understandings, skills and competentices that will enable our young people to participate fully in a world where these things are shaping the way we live and the jobs we do. This is not simply an argument for increasing the focus on technical skills – a far wider set of skills and competencies will be required to thrive in this 'fourth revolution'.
On average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today, according to our respondents. Overall, social skills— such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.
This is not a new message – this thinking is exactly what informed and underpins the emphasis on key competency development in the New Zealand Curriculum! The perspective added by this report, nearly 15 years later, is the reinforcement of how important and urgent it is that we take our curriclum seriously, given the data revealed here about the shifts in job types and opportunities that are occurring.
While I hear a lot of talk among some of my colleagues about 'slowing down' and 'getting the basics right', we owe it to our mokopuna and tamariki to ensure that the things we prioritise in the precious time they are in our care at school take into account the sorts of trends outlined in this World Economic Forum report.
A key factor for educators and our education system is to consider how we might re-think our approaches in schools and tertiary insitutions, given that the exponential pace of change. During previous industrial revolutions, it often took decades to build the training systems and labour market institutions needed to develop major new skill sets on a large scale. Given the upcoming pace and scale of disruption brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, however, this is simply not be an option.
I've been privileged to be attending the Google CS Outreach Partners Summit in Sydney over the past couple of days where the conversations have focused on how we can promote computational thinking and coding in our schools for students of all ages. It's a timely visit, particularly as the Hour of Code is gaining momentum currently around the world.
Lots of reference has been made at the Summit to the Australian Federal Government's recent announcement that they will spend almost $1.1 billion in the next four years to promote business-based research, development and innovation, which includes money to be set aside to help students in years 5 and 7 learn coding. (I wonder if we'll hear a similar announcement on our side of the ditch in Auckland next Monday?)
Google has, of course, been providing support for programmes like this for a while now, including the successful CS4HS and CS-First programmes – plus they offer a huge amount of other resources and support on their Google For Education website. And so too does Microsoft, with their Virtual Academy, and their support for Hour of Code, and computer science student resources (app) for example.
Despite this, however, the uptake of interest in computer science and digitally-related careers lags well behind the level fo demand – with CS and digi-tech yet to be appropriately recognised within the curriculum of many international jurisdictions.
So it was of interest I read a publication recently released by the European SchoolNet organisation, titled Computing our Future (PDF downoad) – documenting what is happening in this area across the European context.
The preface to the document includes the following:
The challenge for the Education sector is to upskill the future workforce, but more importantly to empower young people with the competences to master and create their own digital technologies, and thrive in the society of today. We believe that teaching and learning how to code, in formal and non-formal education settings, will play a significant role in this process.
I like the fact that the focus is wider than simply preparing kids for future employment, and includes the notion of 'thriving in the society of today'.
While this report is austensibly focused on providing an update on what is happening in the various countries in Europe, there is a lot of valuable material in here for educational leaders who are considering the place and value of computer science and coding in the curriculum – particularly those who may be at the start of their journey of thinking about this. The document includes some really useful graphics and definitions that will be helpful.
Of particular interest to me is section 3 of the document which looks at integrating coding into the curriculum (very timely in terms of the NZ context). Among the 21 countries in this report, coding is already part of the curriculum (at national, regional or local level) in 16 of them. Countries generally have multiple reasons for integrating coding in the curriculum – reinforcing the understanding that this is about much more than simply preparing kids for future jobs as programmers, in fact, the aim of fostering employability in the sector is key for only eight countries. The majority of countries aim to develop students’ logical thinking skills (15 countries) and problem-solving skills (14 countries), thus addressing 21st century skills. More than half of the countries, namely 11, focus on the development of key competences and coding skills.
Key questions I'm pondering:
- how should computational thinking, computer science, coding (interchangeable terms to some degree) be included in our NZ curriculum for the future?
- what are the key messages we must develop to ensure this is not simply about preparing for future employment – but about developing essential skills, knowledge and competencies to thrive in the digital world of the 21st century?
- How can we best utilize the abundance of resource already available to support what can happen in schools – but needs to be distributed more widely?
In the New Zealand context we are facing times of incredible change in our education system, including a review of our Education Act. The consultation process for this review is incredibly short – particularly given the scope of what the Act addresses and the complexity of issues that arise from it as we endeavour to operate an effective and efficient educaiton system within it.
One of the things the consultation process focuses on is making sure everyone knows the goals for education. According to the consultation documentation, the current Act doesn’t say clearly what the education goals for our children and young people are. The document claims:
[The Act] should describe what early learning and schooling should achieve for our children and young people, and say what things are most important to learners, parents, whānau, teachers, education services, businesses and the public. The Update should establish a way for national priorities about what is most important for education to be made clear, so schools and kura know what is expected of them, and can be sure that their planning is focused on the right things.
The consultation documentation identifies that we currently have multiple purpose/goal statements in documents such as the NZ Curriculum, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa and Te Whariki. We need to consider these collectively and identify what it is we have as our 'moonshot' goal for the NZ education system. The groups at the consultation sessions I've attended to date haven't really engaged with this in any depth – moving more quickly to some of the more detailed questions for conisideration – yet I can't help feeling that without a clear alignment on this first one it becomes difficult to answer any of the others. (Without a vision the people perish!) We see this currently in our education system where national priorities, no matter how well intended or valuable they may be, can simply emerge (and do so) at the whim of the Minister or senior officials.
This issue is not unique to NZ, and is the focus of systems around the world. I found it useful to read the Incheon Declaration for Education 2030, which sets out a new vision for education for the next fifteen years. It was developed by UNESCO together with UNICEF, the World Bank, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women and UNHCR at the World Education Forum 2015 in Incheon, Republic of Korea, from 19 – 22 May 2015, hosted by the Republic of Korea.
I really like the following from this document…
Our vision is to transform lives through education, recognizing the important role of education as a main driver of development and in achieving the other proposed [Sustainable Development Goals] SDGs. We commit with a sense of urgency to a single, renewed education agenda that is holistic, ambitious and aspirational, leaving no one behind. This new vision is fully captured by the proposed SDG 4 “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” and its corresponding targets. It is transformative and universal, attends to the ‘unfinished business’ of the [Eduation for All] EFA agenda and the education-related [Millennium Development Goals] MDGs, and addresses global and national education challenges. It is inspired by a humanistic vision of education and development based on human rights and dignity; social justice; inclusion; protection; cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity; and shared responsibility and accountability. We reaffirm that education is a public good, a fundamental human right and a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights. It is essential for peace, tolerance, human fulfilment and sustainable development. We recognize education as key to achieving full employment and poverty eradication. We will focus our efforts on access, equity and inclusion, quality and learning outcomes, within a lifelong learning approach.
Now that's a transformational vision! Imagine the possibilities and permissions there are within that statement, with it's emphasis on…
- inclusion and equity
- gender equality
- lifelong learning opportunities
How might we lift the level of conversation in our NZ Education Act consultation process to dig deep into these themes and issues, and consider how our Updated Education Act might create the platform for a wide range of truly transformative activity in our schools and communities, rather than attempting (as it does now) to manage our system with an unecessary amount of minute and detail that belongs more appropriately in the subsequent policy documents and priority statements that will change and evolve over time.
This week's announcement of funding to support the establishment of a new Centre for Educational Leadership in NZ heralds a significant change for the way we think about the leadership of our schools and educational institutions into the future. The press release states:
The centre will be established by the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand, the newly formed professional body for teachers, and will be partially funded by the Ministry of Education which is contributing $250,000 to its set-up costs. Its initial focus will be the principals who have been selected to lead the new Communities of Learning established to foster systematic collaboration across the education system.
The Teacher's Council has been preparing their thinking about future focused leadership, and have just published their paper on Leadership for Communities of Learning (pdf download) which has been authored by Robyn Baker on behalf of the Council. This paper is a synthesis of the five "Think Piece" papers (pdf download) that were commissioned by the Council from five educational leaders in NZ.
I was the author of one of the papers – on Networked leadership. My perspective is that as we embrace the thinking and activity of the Communities of Schools we must avoid thinking of them as simply another structural or organisational change in our schooling system, but rather a fundamental shift towards operating as a networked culture and as networked organisations. Leadership in this environment must be thought of and enacted quite differently from what we've experienced in the past. It will require considerably different mindset, based on deep collaboration at all levels, and the sense of being connected to something bigger than oneself and ones own (local) institution. It will require a fine balance of three perspectives, leadership of the organisation, leadership in the organisation and leadership as the organisation.
This is going to require leadership that
- is network literate, understanding the way networks operate and how to work effectively within them,
- collaborative instead of competitive, moving beyond the self-interest of the local organisation,
- moves from hierarchy and heterachy to holarchy, understanding that the conventional 'power-oriented approaches to leaderhsip no longer apply.
My hope is that this new centre will embrace this thinking (along with the key ideas presented by the other four authors) to create and promote a truly future focused view of leadership for our schools – not simply a regurgitation of all of the leadership thinking and theorising that has shaped our past thinking. Of course, there is much value in a lot of that thinking – but as we bring it forward to the present, it needs to be located within the paradigm of the networked organisation in the networked age. And that's something we're all going to have to imagine and co-create as we move forward.
The latest report from the OECD titled Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection has attracted lots of attention in the past week. The report's main claim is that computers do not improve student results, and news feeds around the world have picked up on this using headlines suggesting school technology struggles to make an impact and schools are wasting money on computers for kids.
Lying behind the headlines are revelations that technology in the classroom leads to poorer performance among pupils is that it can be distracting and that syllabuses have not become good enough to take make the most of the technologies available. There are also concerns about plagiarism with concerns that if students can simply copy and paste answers to questions, it is unlikely to help them become smarter.
Such headlines are bound to appeal to the 'digital doubters' and those calling for 'back to basics' as the panacea to education's woes – but what does this report really tell us? Given the level of investment involved with the use of technology it's certainly not inappropriate to ask whether it makes a difference, but in doing this we need to ask: “Difference in what?"
The OECD researchers found no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education. It adds that the use of technology in schools has done little to bridge the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. The report concludes that ensuring that every child reaches a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidizing access to high-tech devices and services.
Of course there's nothing new in studies comparing educational outcomes using technology with those that don't. Back in the early 1990s the "No Significant Difference" study provided an analysis of several hundred reports comparing student outcomes between face to face and distance delivery courses. It concluded that an overwhelming number of studies showed that when the course materials and teaching methodology were held constant, there were no significant differences (NSD) between student outcomes in a distance delivery course as compared to a face to face course.
One interpretation of the NSD conclusion holds that the use of technology to deliver courses does no harm – that is, face to face learning has no inherent advantage to students over learning at a distance. The other interpretation is that technology does not help – and if a course can be delivered for less expense without technology, there is no need to use technology at all.
In the early 1990s Stanford historian of technology in education, Larry Cuban set out to find out if computers were changing education practice. His findings mirror the original NSD study. In his book he writes "In the schools we studied, we found no clear and substantial evidence of students increasing their academic achievement as a result of using information technologies." Further, he found "…the overwhelming majority of teachers employed the technology to sustain existing patterns of teaching rather than to innovate." In other words, by simply using the ICTs as a substitute for traditional approaches it was not surprising to Cuban and his colleagues to find no significant difference in achievement.
Acknowledgement of this is made in the foreword to the OECD report…
The report leaves many questions unanswered. The impact of technology on education delivery remains sub-optimal, because we may overestimate the digital skills of both teachers and students, because of naïve policy design and implementation strategies, because of a poor understanding of pedagogy, or because of the generally poor quality of educational software and courseware.
So here remains a big question for us to answer as educators, leaders and policy makers: "is the apparent lack of 'difference' in achievement attributable purely to the affordances of the technology, or is it more to do with the wider issues of teacher and student digital skills, pedagogical practices, assessment regimes etc.?"
In their response to the NSD phenomenon, Diana Oblinger and Brian Hawkins of Educause suggest that asking whether technology makes a difference in student learning implies that learning is a high-tech or no-tech phenomenon. They argue the issue is not that simple. Learning occurs as a result of motivation, opportunities, an active process, interaction with others, and the ability to transfer learning to a real-world situation.
This is the key focus of educational leadership guru, and more recently technology advocate Michael Fullan. His book Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge is about how the ideas embedded in the new technology, the new pedagogy, and the new change knowledge are converging to transform education for all. Fullan claims that…
Technology has had its own pace, wildly outstripped the other two in sheer quantity and in aimless quality. It is now time to reconcile how technology can join the fray in a more purposeful way in order to transform learning for educators and learners in the 21st century.
The OECD's Andreas Schleicher appears to support this position in his final paragraph in his foreword to the report:
If we want to mobilise support for more technology-rich schools, we need to become better at communicating the need and building support for change. We need to invest in capacity development and change-management skills, develop sound evidence and feed this evidence back to institutions, and back all that up with sustainable financing. Last but not least, it is vital that teachers become active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too.
Computers can be useful when teachers sufficiently understand the technology themselves, believe it will enhance learning, and have the power to shape their own curricula. But these conditions can’t be met without a broader and deeper commitment to public education beyond preparing workers. More attention needs to be paid to the civic and social goals of schooling, goals that make the question of how many computers are in classrooms trivial. As the OECD report points out…
Empowering young people to become full participants in today’s digital public space, equipping them with the codes and tools of their technology-rich world, and encouraging them to use online learning resources – all while exploring the use of digital technologies to enhance existing education processes, such as student assessment or school administration – are goals that justify the introduction of computer technology into classrooms. (OECD report, page 186)
So what are some lessons for us all in this…
- Don't read the headlines only, read the substance of the report to find out what is really being reported.
- Take note of what the report confirms about comparative studies – if it can be done without technology then it possibly should.
- Consider the appropriate response to concerns about plagiarism and digital distraction in your school.
- Don't expect technology to, on its own, result in improved student outcomes.
- Don't give up on the idea of embracing technology in your school – but ensure it's not simply as a substitute for existing approaches
- Improving levels of digial literacy and digital fluency among teachers and learners is vital – where is our PD focus?
- Focus on how technology, combined with new pedagogies and change knowledge, can transform our practices as educators.