The NZ herald had an article titled “Child-centred-teaching-blamed-for-NZs-educational-decline” it was followed by another on The Spinoff with some rebuttal by a principal. I thought I should read the actual paper the article was quoting, I’m on page 35 of 156…. It is an interesting exercise. The writer, Briar Lipson, is a recent arrival to NZ and comes from the UK. I have taught in primary school’s in the UK, though not at one of the Free (which doesn’t mean costs no money) Schools (we call them Charter schools) Briar Lipson setup, and I only worked as a reliever, and 10ish years ago so I feel I can’t make any claims about the English (I know the Scottish system is different again) education system. At the time I did feel relief at having gone through the NZ system. I wanted to read the article to try and understand her position because I feel I should be able to see past the major inital issues, – the article is published by the New Zealand Initative which is a right wing “think tank” of business people with money who write these things to influence our society in a way that is inherently unequal, – it is also not written by someone who has any NZ experience, and to be precise comes for somewhere linked to our colonial past, who has never taught in the NZ education system but has talked to the people who talk about the NZ education system. I felt that I should be able to look at the content in an academic way, do the critical thinking thing…. However I think the problem is deeply philosophical, to do with feelings. We think about children and the world in such different ways. We are having an election in NZ at the moment and I saw something a self proclaimed left wing journalist wrote about it not being rocket science, if you rate the environment, equality and people vote red or green, if you rate money vote blue or yellow (red and green won in a landslide). I’ve been trying to think of what the equivalent is about education. If you see children as fully formed people with their own lives go for child centered education and if you see children as needing a particular definded success give them direct instruction in what you want them to have success in.
But wait it’s a false dichotomy. To talk about Education as an either or exercise totally underminds what I see teachers do. For instance I let Helena choose what she wants to learn even when I can’t see the point but when she said to me she wanted to learn to tell the time (on an analog clock) we sat down and I gave her direct instructions on how to do it. She can tell the time now and it makes our lives easier. She is pleased with her self.
There are assumptions of all these education ranking tests, where NZ is declining in rank, make about what skills are important however they are not changing despite the skills we need in our complicated society changing. How do we measure some of these “soft” skills? Will we still have to learn Shakespeare to prove our literacy skills in 100 years time and forgo any new playwrights, or that stuff that speaks to the youth of today (over my head but I’m OK with that)?
I feel I should be open about any conflict of interest I have in making my claims… I am not part of a fee paying global school, I have no desire to have any kind of management role I only want to be with the kids. l will never have such “legitimate” credentials as Briar. I do however interact with actual children in an educational context, I see them as a complex group of individuals. I try not to interfere just like I wouldn’t with people closer to my age. I enjoy, (I can’t find a big enough word here) watching their joy, they way they change and grow. They have such awesome ideas.
I would argue that what people like the NZ initiative want is archaic, they want control of the outcome, they perhaps fear the change the students might bring if we change the model of caring wholly about results rather than the process. Let alone how we judge what is success… Our whole model is so wrong. Education should not only be for a certain period of life, schools should not only be for children. Childhood is however finite and children should be allowed to be children and play as that is the biological design that has enabled our species to get to the moon!