Learning happens in relationships. How Hekia’s new plans are an attack on inter-personal connections.

Three days a week I head to work at several early childhood centers. I love my job. I take my toddler with me on two of these days. For many parents the work and childcare balance is a weekly struggle. A juggle to meet everyone’s needs. Taking my youngest to work with me creates peace in our lives and provides stability for our children.

I have an older kid too. She’s not under my wing as much as I’d like, but that is what happens as kids get older. She is however, under the protective watch and guidance of trusted adults each day. They are all at once her teachers, our friends, our partners in politics and also part of a wider group of people who have collective philosophies and aspirations for our children. This school is small, and it  meets the needs of its children as best as it possibly can. It is a real community.

These places, my work and our school, are absolute community hubs. Every other week someone new arrives, a new whānau is taken into the fold. They are eagerly welcomed with open arms. They are accepted and absorbed….whether they see it coming or not! Education centres are crucial meeting places. They bring people together, at a time when new little lives are coming into fruition. At their best, places of education should be equalizers, and they should be there for everyone. No matter what your needs are. And for the most part, schools are these things.

I say all this, because there have been two pieces of news in two days this week that have worried me greatly. As a teacher with a background in special education, with a child who requires extra learning support, I feel under-valued as a teacher, fearful for my child’s future educational possibilities and fiercely protective of her rights as a citizen and learner in this world. And I feel worried for everyone actually, for our communities who strive each day for the betterment of children.

Hekia Parata,you have stung twice. And it really hurts.

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First you say that youth aged 18-21 years will get less funding, which will be reallocated to pre-schoolers. My first thought straight off the bat is that I just don’t believe you. I doubt this will happen. Well, I don’t doubt you’ll authorise funding to be taken away from those who need it, but I can’t see it going anywhere else productive. Here are the reason this makes me furious:

  1. Kids aged 18-21 in the education system are at a critical turning point in their lives – they are being supported so they can live as independently as possible. To live lives that are fulfilling. You know, the kind of stuff we all want and expect at the end of our schooling. These young people can be painfully aware that their peers have moved off into work or further training and education, and that they are still at school – this is hard. However, staying on may make them happier too.
  2. The whole idea that youth with extra learning needs can stay at school until they are 21 is because they need MORE, not less – hence the extra three years. Is this not blindingly obvious? More. Not less. Yes, littlies need early intervention too, but not at our youths’ expense.
  3. For many families it takes a long time to establish that their children need extra learning support – not from lack of trying either. For some families this isn’t clear until their children actually start school. So these kids could miss that early intervention and the support in the last stages. Sure, extra funding for ECE may catch more children who might otherwise fall through the gaps. But if you take my kid as an example – a child who started ECE, and then on to Kōhanga from age 2.5yrs, with a specialist teacher for ORS children as a mother, it still took us 4.5yrs to diagnose her needs-  it is not always simple.
  4. Finally, why does it have to be one or the other? Are all children not worthy, regardless of age or stage?

Hekia is trying to make this move under the guise of a more inclusive education system in which she says there needs to be more “clear accountabilities” and “at the moment we mostly focus on and measure inputs”.

To quote Stuff – ‘This would mean schools would need to show students receiving funding had made progress in their academic achievement, which would be measured through their National Standards and NCEA results.’

Thank goodness my kid’s school refuses to drag our children through the time-consuming, unhelpful and ultimately humiliating process that is National Standards. If they did, my daughter would be WELL BELOW, all the time. Well, she ain’t below anything Hekia.

Again, a few pointers:

  1. National Standards compare children against each other. How fair is it for a kid with a developmental delay, or a sensory processing disorder to be pitted against a child who glides through academic learning? What does that achieve, and for whom?
  2. When you measure kids who don’t fit the mould with NS, they bring down the whole school’s score – by which I mean, the final NS results for a school appear lower, which puts pressure on the teachers who are already doing their best. NS are not reflective of what the teachers DO do and how individual kids progress themselves, from their own starting points. This is what matters, not how they compare to others.
  3. NS only measures some areas of learning, and disregards the arts, much of technology and science, and critically – social learning. Yes, these things are all inseparable from each other, but NS sure knows how to drill down to the fine points to compartmentalise learning. Some kids won’t necessarily thrive in academic subjects but that may not matter, depending on how everything else goes for them. Again. My kid would look like a failure on paper to Hekia, but she’s never seen her in centre stage.

I’m glad Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins chimed in with some sense. ‘using those measures was “utterly uninclusive” and “bizarre”. Kids are receiving ORS funding because they have a serious impairment or physical disability. To suggest National Standards or NCEA as a way to assess their success and the quality of their education is ridiculous.’ I couldn’t agree more.

And the second sting from the Hekia machine…

She is suggesting that some children could learn entirely online from providers who are ‘COOL’. That is, a ‘Community of online Learning’. This proposed change is part of the Education (Update) Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament this week.

COOL Providers could be schools, tertiary providers or *shudder*, private industries. The former is not too far-fetched. I can imagine some schools setting up online learning for children who may do better at home, or who have a mix of on and off site learning. Tertiary education providers delivering entirely online is nothing new. But private industries?! Here are my points:

  1. Private industries have no place in schooling. They are out for a profit, nothing else. They may say otherwise, but they are not primarily for the benefit of children. End of story. No one can convince me otherwise.
  2. Hekia sells this as an effort to appease digital companies who have made it clear to the government that there are not enough school leavers entering the work force with the skills required for working in technology. Saying that technology can just teach the kids technology is like whacking kids over the head with a maths text book, or expecting children to learn to play instruments by simply watching a band play all day, or sitting in a room full of instruments. Kids need support and direction from people.
  3. Social connections and relationships are the most important factors in any learning. We need more people not less. More skilled teachers for all students to meet ALL needs, whether they need extra support or not. Better teacher to child ratios.

Going back to my first statements about how wonderfully immersed my family is in our children’s educations, and how important these sites of education are for us each day. They are not just places our kids go to learn. They are places for all of us.  There we meet other families whose children may be on a similar path to ours. We swap notes and support each other. We up skill ourselves. Our children know there are many adults who have their backs. They know they belong somewhere, that they are a part of something that matters. That they matter. Critically, they see their parents interacting positively and meaningfully with their teachers. There are no barriers. We are teams, for the benefit of our families.

Hekia, please do not remove the funding that so many young people rely on in their final years, within the safety of their schools. It is crucial for that big step they take into the world , a world which is ultimately not made for them, that is hard enough. The more knowledge and resources they take out there with them the better, for them and for society as a whole.

Hekia, please stop side lining us teachers. We understand kids, we know about teaching and learning. It is what we do. We are professionals, we are experts. We are telling you that relationships are what matter. That connection is what supports children. It gives them confidence, courage, and companionship. These things are invaluable and National Standards doesn’t measure them. Computers can’t teach them. But communities do. Parents know who has their kids backs and who doesn’t. Don’t pull the rug out from beneath us. Make the foundations stronger instead.

Lastly, Hekia – watch this, because every kid does need a champion. Educationalist Rita Pierson breaks down the importance of relationships in learning, and life. I have lost count of how many times I have watched this and it still makes me laugh, and cry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Learning happens in relationships. How Hekia’s new plans are an attack on inter-personal connections.

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful article. Parents need to raise hell about this COOL school thing, which is a blatant step towards reducing teacher numbers and encouraging privatisation; you can bet that the kids of rich parents will always end up with more options. Educators I’ve heard today are justifiably appalled by this sudden move, which has little to do with actually giving your child a decent shot at a rounded education. Why would we turn over our precious children to commercial education programmes online? Did you hear that another part of the bill removes the necessity for the principal of the Correspondence School to be a qualified teacher? And why do politicians and bureaucrats seem to believe that they know more about education than the trained people who work in this valuable sector? Of course they don’t. This move by Parata needs to be opposed vigorously, or the next thing you’ll hear is that small or rural schools are scheduled for closure because these kids can just go online. State education for all must be preserved. It cannot be put into the hands of commerce.

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    1. Thanks Robyn, it seems to me like they are trying another avenue since charter schools didn’t take off. Another way that they can possibly pass the buck. It is despicable isn’t it. The future of our society is in our children’s hands, so why would we not want to walk that way together? So short sighted. Ripping kids off. An on top of the kids getting a sub standard education, they would miss out on the joy of learning positively too, in a child led way. It always blows me away the way the govt undermines teachers, but you’d never hear them saying the director of a hospital can just be some business person, or that a nurse could be someone who likes teeth?! They have been devaluing teachers for such a long time that the public buy it. In the Netherlands, the teachers have complete control and direction of the education sector – the govt cannot meddle, which means they aren’t having policies changed on them each govt term, and they can actually research properly, and follow through on their findings without being hindered.

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  2. Agree with most of the points around special education needs, particularly that support is needed at both ends of the scale rather than at pre-school versus 18-21 years. However, as someone who has been recently been trying to get support for a student with extreme school anxiety, I can say that the COOL idea would be absolutely welcome in terms of being able to access education while getting through a period of life dealing with anxiety that is only exacerbated by having to be daily in a school environment. It would significantly cut health and education costs if students could easily be simultaneously enrolled at in-school and online school environments, rather than putting them through further assessments (health costs), psychological assessment and extra education costs through Health schools because of the current regulations around school attendance and where they can be enrolled. This would certainly help some kids and isn’t that the aim of education? Let’s not be dismissive of everything, but have a good think about how things maybe could work (despite our misgivings about motive, etc).

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    1. Does the Correspondence school not meet the child’s needs? I agree that the school system needs to meet all children’s needs, however I am extremely worried about the motives – as you have mentioned. And mostly, the quality. Hekia is saying things like the Correspondence school principal may no longer have to be a qualified teacher, and the idea that a private company could create a COOL is a red flag for me. I’d be more interested in seeing schools being supported to create online services for any students that needed to learn from home, while also keeping strong links with the child/family – in whatever ways possible.

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  3. I am excited about the Cool project. Computers are being used more an more in education, and I consider this project to be a natural progression.

    When it comes to education there is no one size fits all. And that includes the use of teachers. Some children will undoubtedly be more successful in front of a computer than in front of a teacher. I do expect they will be the minority, but it is a reality that is difficult to ignore.

    Tertiary education is becoming increasingly influenced by online learning -a boost in online learning for school kids will improve transition.

    I am also not concerned by the concept of more school privatisation. Private schools will strive to educate just the same as public schools. Their reputation and ultimate success requires it.

    Private schools are not run by people any different to public schools. People are people. They care. They are not careless monsters.

    I have an opposite view when it comes to performance measures. I think we need more performance measures not less. Competitiveness and performance recognition prepares kids for the real world. A world where they need to put their best foot forward daily to be the best they can be. A world were recognising weakness supports personal growth. A world were striving to do better than others leads to success.

    I think we are creating a generation of reduced irresponsibility. Some kids don’t understand the risk of failure in the real world and the cost to society is huge. I meet youngsters who are employable but care not for employment. I meet youngsters who care not how the world or peers perceive them. They are youngsters that become trapped in a cycle of poverty and welfare requirements.

    I hope technology will succeed and it will judge kids. Kids need judgement to learn pride in achievement.

    Society needs pride in achievement.

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  4. I note that that women here talk about the importance of relationships in learning and a bloke comes along and says no leave kids in front of a computer all day and make them compete – too bad if it destroys their confidence and love of learning. He doesn’t show any evidence of ever having spent real time nurturing youngsters or working I the field of teaching and learning – but he’s a expert anyway…. Perhaps it’s David Seymour?

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    1. Couldn’t agree more about the comments encouraging children to be competitive to survive in the ‘real world’. School should be about making the ‘real world’ a better place, and realising that kids are already in the real world, in fact they are already people! Blow me down! They are the change makers, and we need to support them to shape a world they want to live in, a world which is more accepting, more open, more inclusive than what we have now. We don’t need to be toughening our children up for the harsh
      realities, rather arming them with the tools to make change.

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