Category Archives: News & current events

Government priorities for 2011

Yesterday’s Statement to Parliament by Prime Minister John Key provides an insight into what we can expect as priorities in education in 2011 – high on the list are ECE and National Standards.

Early Childhood

We value early childhood education (ECE) because we know it helps prepare children for future learning and assists parents to participate in the workforce.

However, we are concerned that New Zealand won’t be able to afford record ECE funding increases into the future. Furthermore, we are concerned that in recent years these increases have not achieved the results we would expect, particularly in terms of better participation by vulnerable children.

Last year we appointed an ECE taskforce to review the value gained for our investment in early childhood education. That group will make its report and recommendations later this year. The Government looks forward to considering its advice about how we can build better results from our early childhood education investment, particularly for the children who are missing out on ECE altogether.

National Standards
While many of New Zealand’s schools and teachers perform brilliantly, too many children are leaving school without the literacy and numeracy skills they need to succeed.

The Government’s National Standards policy is designed to help schools measure and compare the literacy and numeracy skills of our children against national benchmarks, to identify those who are falling behind, and to keep parents informed about their children’s progress.

This is the second year of our three-year National Standards implementation plan.

This year our National Standards plan will focus on supporting schools to ensure National Standards work effectively to raise student achievement. We will be offering targeted professional development to teachers to ensure this, as well as funding a new team of Student Achievement Experts to work alongside schools to get the most out of National Standards.

It’s of interest to me to understand the political agendas that drive such statements. For instance, there’s a clear message about increased system efficiency, with statements like “We are building increased effectiveness from our investment in schools…” and “In 2011 the Government will build improvements to the results New Zealanders get from the education system.” These are statements to do with efficiency and return on investment which are laudable goals I imagine, especially in times of economic austerity. The rationale for ECE and NatStats as priorities are couched in terms of the eventual return on investment to the NZ economy. What’s missing at this high level is any reference to the purpose of education that reflects a more holistic view of what education is about – creating a future living environment that is ‘safe’ and where ‘happiness’ levels are high, for instance. Or where creativity is expressed and innovation is encouraged – not only for economic gain, but, perhaps for quality of life and sustainability for future generations etc.

It’s an age old concern I guess – at one end of a continuum we have those who are philosophically disposed to seeing education as a problem to be fixed (and quickly), with teachers as a part of the problem and curriculum needing to be packaged up and delivered in standardised ways because teachers of course can’t be trusted to develop it for themselves. At the other end are those who believe in education as having greater societal value, regarding teachers as trusted professionals who are able to develop curriculum that is contextually relevant etc. Of course, there are positions that are taken all the way along these continuums – which adds health and balance to the debates we have.

Sadly, in the digital age, we see increasing evidence of binary thinking – with political solutions tending to vacillate between the two extremes, rather than finding some sort of balance in it all. I believe in the need for constructive engagement that recognises the difference in philosphical position, and the socio-economic context within which we operate. Sadness is, we tend instead to see only a guarded positionalism which forces people to one extreme or the other. Thank goodness Thinking is now one of our identified key competencies in the NZ Curriculum – perhaps our next generation will do a better job?

Just for fun – but perhaps illustrating the point of how differences in ideologies can cause problems in engaging effectively in debate on essential issues, I was intrigued by this recording of English Education Secretary, Michael Gove, in fiery debate with caller over the proposed introduction of an English Baccalaureate.

NZ ranks number one for education

I’ve been reading with interest the results of the 2010 Legatum Prosperity Index, which ranks New Zealand number one in education, just ahead of Australia in second place and Finland third!

The Prosperity Index™ assesses 110 countries, accounting for over 90 percent of the world’s population, and is based on 89 different variables, each of which has a demonstrated effect on economic growth or on personal wellbeing.This year’s overall leader was Norway, with New Zealand making it into the list of the top 30 “strong ranked countries”.

The Index consists of eight sub-indexes, each of which represents a fundamental aspect of prosperity. The Education sub-index demonstrates how access to education, as measured by levels of educational enrolment rates that are equal for both girls and boys, allows citizens to develop their potential and contribute productively to their society.

One of the things that intrigues me about this site is the way in which you can interact with the data to explore your own assumptions or ideas. Whatever you may think about the data itself, the prosperiscope provides the opportunity to use various filters to explore the data further, and to view the results in a range of graphical representations. I could imagine this being a very useful resource at secondary level (eg for maths with statistics, geography or economics).

Journalism in the age of data

Here’s a great clip to spend 50 minutes watching over the weekend, particularly if you teach media studies, journalism or English – titled Journalism in the Age of Data from Geoff Mcghee on Vimeo. (I can’t get the embed code to work in my blog at present, so you’ll  have to link to it :-))

This clip explains and illustrates so clearly why we need to be thinking a lot more about the visualisation of data in our school curriculum. As one of the commentators says, “the best way to learn about visualisations is to make them“m and… “making visualisations should be more like art or writing” (as opposed to being the domain primarily of computer ‘geeks’ which it seems to be currently).

They point to the Many Eyes project, a free site where you can upload data and turn it into a visualisation to help engage with it and understand it more. They also point to the ED Data Express web site that was launched recently, making a huge amount of data currently held by the US government available for people to download and manipulate as they will, including creating visualisations. The creators of the site say it is designed to improve the public’s ability to access and explore high-value state-level education data collected by the U.S. Department of Education. This site is designed to be interactive and to present the data in a clear, easy-to-use manner, with options to download information into Excel or manipulate the data within the Web site.

As the title of the talk suggests, there is quite a lot said here about the impact of data visualisation on journalism, and the various speakers provide some useful illustrations of where things are heading.

I’d be interested to hear from any teachers doing this with students, and to see examples of what is being produced.

Earthquake Shakeup – learning from the experience

The earthquake after shocks continue to rock us here in CHCH, but people appear to be getting on with things. For CORE staff in Christchurch, however, that means getting on with things from home, as our offices in Kilmore Street have been officially closed until further notice. While our building is simply awaiting a structural clearance, the Repertory Theatre directly over the road isn’t so lucky.

Proof that there’s a learning opportunity around every corner has been provided by some of my CORE colleagues in other parts of the country. Jill Hammonds and Tessa Gray have worked with others to create the “Earthquake Shakeup” wiki, containing loads of curriculum ideas, focus questions to guide inquiry, and resources to support the earthquake theme in the classroom.

Plenty here for educators who are planning to use the Canterbury Quake as a context for learning – in fact, I think I’ll point my own children to it as I now have them at home with me until the end of the week from the sounds of things.

While I’m at it, take a look at this animation showing six months of 2010 New Zealand seismic activity data picked up by the GeoNet sensors. The animation begins in April and ends a few days after the 7.1 quake that hit Christchurch on September 4. Keep in mind two things when you view the video.

  • Blue circles represent seismic activity recordings.
  • Each event leaves behind a small, pale red dot to show the overall pattern.

(via SciBlogs – Seeing Data)

Shaken, but not stirred…

As I sit to write this post this evening another after shock is rocking my home. At 4.25 this morning we were woken by a roaring sound, followed by an extended period of our house rocking and shaking on its foundations. Amazingly, we suffered no damage – apart from a single vase that broke, and a bottle of balsmic vinegar that fell off the shelf in the pantry. We were indeed fortunate. My elderly parents’ house was like a warzone – I spent near three hours with them cleaning up the broken glass and pottery from across their lounge and kitchen.

What the experience has taught me is the value of community and networks. From the moment the first quake subsided, there was activity in our street as people visited each other’s homes to check that things were OK. A little later in the morning, the phone began ringing as friends from other parts of the country were turning on their TVs and radios and learning of what had happened – then ringing to check that we were OK. Through the day my mobile phone has been receiving texts and emails from all of the country, and overseas, including Melbourne, Hawaii and Scotland. Many I have managed to acknowledge, some I haven’t. All have provided a sense of support beyond my immediate circumstance, and I am very grateful for them.

Today was also the wedding of my niece – months in the planning, with attention to all of the meticulous detail involved in making the day a special occasion. But it was not to be – at least, not in the way it was imagined. Firstly, the columns in the front of the historic church that was to be used collapsed in the quake, rendering it out of bounds. And then the power outage and water cut meant that the breakfast venue and catering couldn’t be used. So… in stepped the community. An alternative venue was found, neighbours pitched in and became the caterers for the day, more neighbours offered cars for the wedding party, friends and family decorated the venue in stunning style, and by the scheduled time for the wedding, it went ahead in style and ceremony that will be remembered for a great many years to come.

As I experience the repeated aftershocks that keep coming, and watch the forecast for severe winds approaching the city tomorrow, I have a feeling that our networks and community will continue to be important. Interesting thing to remember really, that community isn’t just something occurs online within – it’s about real people, with real connections showing support and interest in each-other in real ways.

Music video contest begins

The people at eInstruction are at it again, offering a prize of up to $75k (US) to the school that can gather  students and create their very own music video. The video can be a parody of an existing song or you can create one yourself. The key is to make it fun, creative, and focused on the use of technology in the classroom. I’ve blogged about this in previous years, and I know of several NZ schools that have entered, one of which won a significant prize!

The entries in this competition are always worth a view, as they illustrate the amazing diversity there is in the way the theme can be interpreted, and the incredible creativity that is unleashed when you set students an open-ended challenge like this.

This year I’ve had the privilege of being asked to be one of the judges for this event, so I’ll have even more reason to view and consider the entries – so let’s hope there are some NZ ones amongst them 🙂

Facts about the internet

I liked this diagram so much I thought I’d re-post it. Would make a useful classroom or staff PD resource to stimulate discussion about the internet and its role in society.
(the original can be found here.

The History of RickRolling
Via: Medical Coding Certification

A “G-Cloud” for England?

News just out here in the UK is of plans to develop project to build a shared cloud infrastructure for all government departments – announced yesterday at the Future of the Data Centre conference happening over here at the moment.

According to the release the UK government’s Cabinet Office plans to create a so-called ‘skunk works’ team to develop better ways to manage IT projects.
The proposal was revealed in a strategy document published this week, entitled the ‘Structural Reform Plan’’, which proposes a number of IT-related reforms.

This will be an interesting development to watch – thanks Malcolm for the alert 🙂

The trouble with bureacracy

Top of the list in almost every education news report here in the UK at the moment is the large-scale cuts that are being made to the various education ‘quangos’ that were created in the past to serve and support the education system.

The list includes:

  • Becta (The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) which promotes the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning (to be abolished altogether)
  • Training and Development Agency for Schools – responsible for the training and development of the school workforce
  • Young People’s Learning Agency which funds local authorities to commission suitable education and training for 16- to 19-year-olds
  • National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services which oversees professional development of leaders of school, early years settings and children’s services
  • Children’s Workforce Development Council which handles training, qualifications and reform for the children and young people’s workforce
    School Food Trust which is charged with improving quality of food in schools
  • Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, the regulatory body for public examinations and publicly funded qualifications including the Early Years Foundation Stage and the National Curriculum (to be abolished altogether)

A common argument put forward for the closing (or downsizing) of these agencies (aside from an economic response) is the notion that they have grown to ‘top-heavy’ and bureaucratic, and no longer provide a good return on investment. This is the problem with any bureaucracy – or any organization for that matter. They generally begin life as ‘lean, mean and very focused’, but over time tend to become inflated at the top level, with increasing amounts of effort going into ensuring that the bureaucracy manages itself. The long-term impact is that the organization ceases to be effective.

When we think about the public sector, this is exacerbated by an unhealthy emphasis on risk-aversion and political correctness, particularly in times of economic constraint. So, practices and procedures are established to minimize or avoid risk – inevitably resulting in a reduced level of service, innovation and leadership from the agency concerned.

It seems that the education system in New Zealand may be living proof of this, judging by a recent snapshot report issued last Friday which found that “excessive red tape, bureaucratic systems and ineffective consultation are hampering government departments.” Of the government departments that were reviewed, the Ministry of Education came bottom of the rankings for overall performance, chief executive performance, and quality of service. The assessment said the Education Ministry was seen as “ineffective and too politically correct”, as it played a “piggy in the middle” role in the introduction of national standards.

The challenge – how do we create an education system that is appropriately resourced, led and well managed – that is also characterised by a high degree of agility, flexibility, innovation and adaptability? Some sort of coordinating agency is required in order to achieve the economies of scale and to lead the ‘big picture’ view that is often missing in localised management. But we must avoid the over-bureaucratisation that ensues if there are insufficient checks and balances along the way.

GCSN website launch

I had the privilege of attending the official launch of the Greater Christchurch Schools Network website yesterday afternoon at Burnside High School – attended by around 200 principals and education leaders from Christchurch schools, plus various representatives of the local business community who have been supporting this endeavour, including enable networks and the Canterbury Development Corporation. CORE Education also got a profile for the contribution it has made to the development of the GCSN community.

Guest of honour was Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, who spoke positively about the potential of fibre connectivity to schools and the ways in which this can benefit learners and learning. All very encouraging and affirming of the work we’ve been doing in Christchurch.

The launch of a website is rather ho hum these days, with websites being started up every day – but for the GCSN it was more about the launch of the community than the website. The momentum for this initiative has been building for nearly five years now, from some informal discussions about the concept of a MUSH network in the city leading to the current situation where more than 200km of fibre has been deployed around the city, and things are on track to have all 160+ schools in the greater Christchurch region connected by the end of 2011.

While there has inevitably been a significant amount of effort put in by specific individuals and companies, the main reason for the success of this venture so far has been the level of buy-in, participation and commitment from people across all areas of the school and business community. Thus, the website that was launched yesterday  is intended to provide a focal point for that community. It is far more than a brochure site for the GCSN. While it will be the place where news, updates and features are presented, it has been designed to allow members of the community to make their own contributions, whether they be resources, links to workshops or professional learning opportunities, or programmes being offered for students in other schools.

In  particular, I am really pleased to see the development of the ‘learning centre‘ on the site, focusing on the 3 Ps – Programmes, Projects and Professional learning. In these areas teachers and schools have an opportunity to share ideas, resources and specific events that both students and teachers can participate in and benefit from. I’m looking forward to seeing how this area will grow and develop.