TOP's take on the last 3 years of Education in NZ

TOP’s take on the last 3 years of Education

Newsroom recently summarised the progress, and lack thereof, in education over the last three years.  The Opportunities Party (TOP) agrees that National and Labour working together is good for education’s future.  But celebrating the tinkering is not worthwhile when transformational change is needed.  

In the election campaign, these parties will appear to talk a different talk, but for 30-40 years, both have walked largely the same walk.  TOP is on a different road altogether.  The road to a better future.

What has gone well since 2017?

Abolishing National Standards was a step in the right direction.  Neither party would reinstate them now.  How this change has played out on the ground is another issue, depending on the school, its community and their understanding of learning as a process (rather than a series of outcomes).   

Pay equity for teacher aides has been a recent win.  Restored parity between secondary and primary teachers was also positive.  But the working conditions that were part of the teacher strikes have not been resolved.  

Recent attempts to give some Early Childhood teachers equity have been usurped by services siphoning these dedicated funds into maintenance and operational costs.  This is problematic.

Food in schools is making a difference on the ground for students, and should be celebrated for its contribution to children’s learning.

However, the foundational challenges that have plagued the education sector for decades remain, and election promises have been broken.  Rather than tinkering at the edges, TOP wants to make fundamental change to education.  

What would TOP do differently?

Learners need to be resilient and able to adapt in the future.  TOP will create a system that enables educators to create joy for life-long learning in their students.  We would invest in the profession of teaching, creating a high-trust system like Finland.  We would then fund teachers accordingly.  Compliance and assessment has taken priority over teaching and learning in recent decades.  But you don’t make a pig fatter by weighing it.  

Specifically, TOP would reduce arbitrary student assessments in secondary school, requiring students to leave school with one National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA) qualification, either Level 1, 2, or 3.  The prior high school years would have comprehensive individual learning plans that celebrate the natural talents, interests and passions of youth.  We would like to see soft skills like collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking (4Cs) developed across a variety of contexts across all age groups.   In a world of rapid change, disruption, and requirements to retrain throughout life we know how important the 4Cs model is to employers and society.   

TOP would encourage intensive short courses at tertiary level to create an all-of-life, flexible system for learning.  We would dismantle the Education Review Office and the Performance-based Research Fund and reconfigure the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.  We would follow the recommendations of the Tomorrow’s Schools Review Report to create an effective administrative system that supports the profession.

While we agree there is a need to understand progress, the incessant testing of students is not the way to measure this.  Similarly, the government needs to know where to invest funding to create an equitable system.  You don’t need to look far to see which sectors of our society have been under resourced in the past.  No amount of progress reporting will change this.  

TOP also thinks schools should reflect the cross-section of their local society.  We would encourage collaboration between schools and local school attendance.

In the light of COVID-19 and the government’s messaging around education through devices, TOP is concerned society will misunderstand the value of teachers and schools.  Learning is an interactive, emotional, contextual and practical experience.  TOP sees teachers, human interaction and relationships as crucial to the process of learning.  Devices have a place in education, but their value should not be overstated.  

However, Early Childhood Education (ECE) is TOP’s educational priority, as the sector is in a state of crisis.  We need foundational change in the way we see children in our society.  TOP view children as vulnerable citizens in our social world, learners within families and communities, and little people who need deep, reciprocal relationships to develop healthy brains.  Those relationships can be with parents, caregivers, teachers or other educators.  But they need to be consistent, warm and responsive.  With better integration between services and families, ECE has the potential to grow whole communities. This is TOP’s vision for ECE.  

Overall, 2017-2020 has seen a lot of educational disruption.  TOP sees 2020 as our chance to fundamentally rethink education, and move forwards with vision, flexibility, and a focus on learning.

Dr Naomi Pocock is TOP’s Education Spokesperson and Hamilton East Candidate.


TOP’s other education blogs include:

Post-Covid-19 ECE in NZ – what could it look like?

ECE budget 2020. A drop in an ocean of need.

Does the Ministry of Education Even Understand Children?

How can we fix education in New Zealand?

Will participation in early childhood education actually reduce future crime in NZ?

Nature play in schools – A mainstream option?

National & Labour – Both tinkering around the edges of education