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Education for the changing world

20 April 2004 Speech Notes

Education for the changing world

Speech to PPTA Charting the Futures Conference, Wellington
Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to join you here today.

This is a groundbreaking conference, and I would like to thank the PPTA team for their work initiating and organising this event.

All round the country I see billboards that say "Cooperation and constructive engagement is the only way forward for the sake of our kids". Financed by the PPTA they do hit the nail on the head.

And in that spirit I'm not going to assign a Lord of the Rings character to Phil.

Thanks again for the invitation.

All too often we focus on what is urgent, rather than what is important.

Conferences like this are a great opportunity for us to take a few steps back, put things into perspective, and focus on the big picture.

We've got a good education system in New Zealand. It's easy to focus on the negative and highlight areas where we can do better, but we shouldn't over look the fact that we're doing pretty well overall. Having said that, we can't settle for good when a great education system is within our grasp.

In most international comparisons we do well on average – often as well or even significantly better than students in countries who have much higher standards of living.

The Programme in International Student Assessment (PISA) 2000 and the Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS) study show the essence of the challenge for us all.

In PISA we had nearly 20 per cent of our 15 year-olds in the surveys overall top 10 per cent. Now that is impressive. But we also have one of the world’s widest gaps between our highest and lowest achievers. PISA also shows we have one of the world’s highest within school variance of achievement.

We can, and we must do better.

In considering how to build a great education system, we need to think about how we define a successful school leaver.

Last year around 55,000 young people left school. They would have started school around 1990. Just think how the world has changed during that time.

In 1990 most homes wouldn't have had computers, mobile phones weighed several kilos and were a luxury only the rich could afford, and the online age had barely begun to emerge.

This year, around 60,000 kids will start school. If they finish 13 full years of schooling, they will leave school in 2016 and step into a world that we can only begin to imagine.

Who knows what the world they are going to face will look like? And who knows how the education system is going to have to evolve over the next 13 years to meet their needs?

What we do know is that change is inevitable, and we must embrace it.

Just as schools, teachers and the education system will need to cope with change, so too will our students. If there is one thing that will be constant in the lives of all future school leavers, change will be it.

If they are to cope in such an ever-changing environment, the most important thing that the education system can do is equip them with the skills to constantly adapt and continue to learn throughout their lives.

In the information age, the three Rs will be just as essential, but so too will the skills of adaptability. A successful school leaver will need to have acquired considerable and varied knowledge, as well as the skills to apply that knowledge.

They will need to be able to problem solve and will need to have information management and creative skills.

The personal attributes they acquire and develop will be just as important. The will need strong values, confidence in their culture, and skills to interact with people from other cultures and backgrounds.

In short, we need to equip school leavers with the types of skills and knowledge that will allow them to be self-reliant in our ever-changing world.

The learning needs of each individual student will be diverse. One of the major challenges we will face in the modern curriculum is getting past the notion that all students need to learn the same thing. Every student is different, and they will all follow different paths.

The evolution of the National Qualifications Framework and the introduction of NCEA have provided teachers with a range of new tools to customise programmes to meet individual learner needs. I think we're only just beginning to see what a positive impact that is going to have.

We also need to avoid the idea that all roads lead to university. While the knowledge economy undoubtedly requires us to lift the overall skill levels of all New Zealanders, that doesn't mean they all need to go to universities.

Career pathways provided through trade training, institutes of technology, and other providers of further education are just as valid and should not be seen as a second choice option.

The education system is challenging, but it's also incredibly exciting and dynamic. We've got some great teachers doing amazing things, and we need to build on our strengths and address our weaknesses.

So what will our future education system look like?

It will be very explicitly focused on raising achievement through an ongoing search for more effective strategies to succeed with different students.

Policy, research and practice will be strongly evidence based, not based on views that are much more about anecdote and prejudice.

Students will be better assessed in terms of their learning needs and better guided along different learning pathways. That assessment and guidance of students will also inform and support the teachers of those students.

The strength of the system will lie in its ability to succeed with diverse students. Diversity will be viewed not only in terms of different cultures and ethnicity but also in terms of special needs, giftedness, learning styles and learning interests and abilities.

One size does not fit all in the education system, and we need to focus our attention squarely on ensuring that every child, regardless of their background, succeeds in education.

I'd like you to imagine the education system as though it was a house. The students are the roof of the house, supported by the teachers, who are the walls. Quality learning resources provide a window on the world, while the leadership of boards and principals provide the foundation and the Ministry of Education provides support. The walls, foundations, and supports are all designed to hold up the roof. In other words, the entire system if focused on supporting student achievement.

At the moment I think it's too much the other way around. I think these two slides illustrate what I'm talking about. We need to move from a model that places the system at the top and the students at the bottom to a model where it's the students at the top and everything else is built under them.

If we're going to make this happen, we need develop a continual cycle of improvement at all levels of the system. It needs to be built on quality research and analysis, and sound planning.

Already research has shown us that making the biggest difference in our education system means focusing our attention squarely on student achievement, and the major influence on that – effective teaching.

If we're going to have an education system in which all of our students succeed, we need to make sure that we recruit and retain the best teachers.

I was heartened by the report of the Taskforce on Secondary Teachers Remuneration, and I had no hesitation in commending it to my Cabinet colleagues.

Recruiting and rewarding great teachers is one half of the equation, investing in teacher support and development is the other half.

Effective teachers adjust their teaching to suit their students, understanding that their students have different needs, goals, and interests.

We need to make sure that the education system is focused on helping them make that happen. Providing a range of flexible tools, like asTTLe, NCEA, and online technology is a key part of that strategy.

We must build a system where we hold high expectations and support students and teachers to ensure those expectations can be realised.

Regardless of how the world changes, the critical importance of good teaching will remain.

But it’s not just the responsibility of teachers to meet the needs of diverse students. Schools need to develop different capabilities and change the ways they organise themselves.

We should set our sights on a system where no child fails. It should be a system where everyone takes a shared responsibility for a child succeeding.

The other day I heard Howard Fancy liken rebuilding the education system to rebuilding an aeroplane while it is still in the air. You've got to keep up with change, but you've also got to make sure you don't crash the plane in the process!

The Secondary Schooling Futures Project and the development of a Schooling Strategy provide important opportunities to support these discussions.

The Secondary Futures Project aims to ensure that we continue to improve student outcomes, and that secondary education can respond to the changing needs of society and the needs of students in the future.

It is a unique endeavour as the government is a contributor and active participant, rather than the leader or ‘owner’ of the process.

By focusing on trends and concerns 15-20 years ahead, we hope the Secondary Futures Project will give us all “20/20” vision.

The Schooling Strategy is a shorter-term process than the Secondary Futures Project, drawing together the important work already underway and setting priorities for action within the next five years.

It will give us a broad map for this period and focus our efforts.

Its intended audience is wide - taking the entire schooling experience into consideration from primary through intermediate and secondary levels.

The outcomes of the Schooling Strategy will undoubtedly be influential and benefit the work of the Secondary Futures Project.

Processes like Secondary Futures and the Schooling Strategy, and this conference itself, enable the profession to identify different ways of moving forward together.

They provide an environment for all contributors to secondary schooling to pool their expertise, wisdom and knowledge.

Thank you all for your time, your commitment, your ideas, and your enthusiasm.

I'm looking forward to working with you to map out a bright and positive future for our secondary school system.


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