Thursday, October 26, 2017

Thesis snapshots 1

There are 8 weeks left before I have to hand in my thesis (eek!). So despite having about twenty blog posts brewing, I just will not have much time to blog. Instead, I thought I would post sections of my thesis here for critique, review, feedback, etc. The more brutal the better! 
So here you go.... Thesis snapshot 1

Is formal education broken, expired and systemically flawed? Academic experts across the world have argued that our current education system is not fit for purpose. The public mirrors their arguments too, everyone from politicians, parents, teachers, students and the media can, and do find fault with the current system. Yet, despite so many finding fault with schools, a myriad of change in education, both in New Zealand and elsewhere, have somehow not succeeded in bringing about the necessary change. This begs the question, why not? 

In the chapter ahead, the history of education reform in New Zealand will be outlined. Following this, a brief evaluation of the New Zealand public education system, and its fitness for purpose, in light of the three philosophical purposes of education, socialisation, qualifications and subjectification. This establishes the argument that education in its current form is no longer fit for purpose. The chapter concludes with a review of how this has been addressed in the past, and establishes the limitations of past interventions. 

History of education reform

Despite the endless critique of education, its history is littered with varied attempts at change. (Berry, 2011; Brown, 1990; Thomas, 2013). These reforms in education reflect the historical and sociological context, including the rise of Marxism, Neo-Marxism and Capitalism (Brown, 1990; Gordon, 2016; Thomas, 2013). Specifically, in Western history, a number of global trends stand out in this timeline, including the rise of compulsory education and the secularisation of schooling. As well as the sociological context, education debate across Western nations have also been swayed throughout history between progressive (child centred, learning by doing) and formal ideas (teacher centred, back to basics, chalk and talk) (Thomas, 2013). 

Within New Zealand, a number of significant changes in education can also be noted. During the 1870s the development of state schooling, followed nearly a hundred years later with the Tomorrow’s Schools reform in 1989, are examples of the major educational reforms that have shaped the New Zealand education context (Gordon, 1992; Novlan, 1998).The Tomorrow’s Schools reform is perhaps the largest impacting factor on the current New Zealand education landscape, and has been credited as "one of the most notable episodes of liberalization that history has to offer” (Evans, Grimes, Wilkinson, & Teece, 1996). Largely, because it introduced free market ideals in the education sector (Philips, 2000). Gordon (2016) credits this reform with many of the structural aspects that we can see in New Zealand education today, including the governance by Boards of Trustees, competition between schools, fee-paying students within tertiary education, and the shift towards operational funding being managed by schools. The introduction of the Tomorrow’s Schools Act is largely credited with the autonomy with which New Zealand schools function today (Gordon, 2006). 

Following on from the Tomorrow’s Schools reform in 1989, other changes also took effect. A new qualification system (National Certificate of Educational Achievement - NCEA) was introduced from 2002 for students from year eleven to thirteen (New Zealand Qualifications Authority, n.d.). Additionally, New Zealand saw the introduction of a new curriculum from 2007 (Schagen, 2011). Although not credited with having as radical an impact as the Tomorrow’s School reform, the introduction of the latest New Zealand Curriculum document is of interest. This document, which is often touted as future focussed, saw a shift in the way education was approached in New Zealand, marking a movement from “setting out not what children are expected to know, but how they should be” (Priestley & Sinnema, 2014; Watson, 2010), for example the shift towards key competencies (thinking, relating to others, understanding language, symbols and text, managing self and participating and contributing), as opposed to large amounts of clearly defined content. Despite much protesting, National Standards introduced in 2010, required schools to report to Ministry of Education and to parents, on the literacy and numeracy levels of students from year 1 to 8 (Crooks et al., 2009; Ministry of Education, 2010). And most recently, New Zealand saw the introduction of the Investing in Educational Success (IES) policy in 2014. IES was deliberately designed to increase collaboration between schools and teachers (Ministry of Education, 2014). Under the Tomorrow’s Schools reform however, schools were set up to compete. Yet, none of the legislation from the Tomorrow’s Schools reform was amended, despite the conflicting purposes of IES and Tomorrow’s Schools policies. In conclusion then, New Zealand schools have seen a host of changes in the past thirty years, however only the Tomorrow’s Schools reform tackled systemic change rather than a tweaking of the system.  

Despite the many changes that have occurred at the policy level, there are many who argue that even more change is needed. This desire for change in public education is evident in schools and tertiary education, locally and globally (Berry, 2011; Bolstad et al., 2012; Claxton, 2013; K. Facer, 2011; Gilbert, 2005; Lichtman, 2014; Productivity Commission, 2016). There appears to be broad agreement from educators, academics, and the public, that education should be different. However, there is lack of agreement about what is actually needed, and no consensus about how a change might be achieved. For example, the PPTA (post primary teachers association) have argued against Innovative Learning Environments (Post Primary Teachers' Association, 2017) that is now mandated for all new built or refurbished schools in New Zealand (Ministry of Education, 2015). The lack of consensus is also apparent between schools and their communities, between various political parties and even between families.

Is education broken?

Purpose of education

To understand why public education, and in particular schools might need transformation, it is important to first examine its three philosophical purposes. Since inevitably, these act as the measure by which we establish whether public education is in fact, fit for purpose. However, these purposes for education are underpinned by conflicting ideologies that are “fundamentally irresolvable” (Biesta, 2009; Egan, 2001). As a result, these conflicting ideologies contribute tension to public private, political and academic debates where unknowingly, arguments are based on incompatible philosophies. This means that debates about the success of the education system are incapable of reaching a consensus, as different parties inevitably prioritise different purposes of education.  

Generally, we can agree on three common, albeit conflicting purposes for education; Plato’s academic idea, Rousseau’s developmental idea, and socialization (Egan, 2001). Similarly, these are identified by Biesta (2009) as, socialisation, subjectification (development of individual autonomy), and qualification, (acquisition of knowledge and skills). Despite these ideas underpinning most, if not all debates about educational success, they are rarely acknowledged, but instead are assumed. This problem stretches beyond our current dissatisfaction in education, even extending to Aristotle who captures these tensions when he wrote; 
“For in modern times there are opposing views about the tasks to be set, for there are no generally accepted assumptions about what the young should learn, either for virtue or for the best life; nor yet is it clear whether their education ought to be conducted with more concern for the intellect than for the character of the soul. - Aristotle (Thomas, 2013)
Although Biesta (2009) begins to stress the importance of examining the purpose of education within the current political landscape, his argument does not extend to a critique of these ideas, or the extent to which the current system actually meets these goals. Further, whilst the above three ideologies regarding the purpose of education are inherent within current and historical debates around education reform, an argument can be made that education within its current state does not serve any one of these particularly well. Additionally, this argument for potential system failure is amplified when considered in light of emerging global trends, and the Futures literature. In conclusion a case can be made for radical shift within public education, particularly in schools and universities.