Anne Tolley
Minister for Education

Dear Minister:

My daughters are 15 and 18.

While Neil and I never went to university and have managed well with the qualifications we have, our eldest is leaving to attend Victoria to study Commerce and Administration in February. After taking part in the Young Enterprise programme, she suddenly understood what it was that she wanted from life. She wants to own her own business.

I am quite sure that most of her school lessons were seen as just things that had to be done. But Young Enterprise engaged the students, teaching them in a “whole of curriculum” way, and you could see the light come on in their eyes. Suddenly these students understood why they needed to have adequate language skills to write reports, maths skills to understand a balance sheet, and interpersonal skills to succeed as a team.

I know there are those who will say, “That is all very well, but there are more important things to teach than making profits.” But it was the method of teaching, as much as what the students were learning, that was so relevant. Students need to be engaged in their learning, being taught how to think, not what to think, problem solving, working as a team, adaptability when circumstances change and resilience when things go wrong. We also need to allow our children to fail in a supportive environment. Dealing with failure and developing strategies to cope with the ramifications of that failure are incredibly important to building the resilience these future citizens are going to need in the working world.

Current teaching generally involves sitting students in class, facing the front and copying information down to be learnt by rote, to be regurgitated later in exams. They are given information to learn and remember. 21st century learning, on the other hand, involves the students learning from experience, making their own mistakes and celebrating successes in learning that they drive themselves.

I would like to thank the previous Minister for the changes to the new curriculum that articulate the need for enterprise to be taught, and the requirement that community and business be involved with student learning.

I have recently been involved with both Secondary Futures and Education for Enterprise and have been  impressed with the passion and vibrancy of the people involved. In conjunction with the local Chamber of Commerce, we have secured three years funding to introduce the Education for Enterprise programme in Hawke’s Bay over the next three years.

We have five schools interested in taking part. Each will identify a project, and involve students in working on completing this task with the help of local businesses or community groups.  Learning is done on a project basis in time blocks much longer that the standard 40 minute periods, allowing the students to really get involved with their tasks. Schools who have been teaching this way have found that students who control the direction their learning takes are more enthusiastic and show better results than the same students using conventional learning. While planning a community playground, for example, the students are completing study in social studies (demographics of neighbourhood to clarify who might use the facility), english (writing reports), maths (quantifying the survey results), economics (costing the construction), and sociology (researching local body regulations that pertain to the playground installation).

The challenge is for teachers to allow this activity in their classrooms, to work with local businesses without feeling threatened, and to be able to measure and evaluate existing National Educational Standards against work undertaken in this form.

Minister, with so many schools in New Zealand embracing this 21st century type learning, why are the teachers training colleges not teaching our teachers how to do this? Why are we still teaching in a subject-based way, when at least half of all our school leavers will not go to university? Why do so many school leavers leave with either little or no recognized qualifications? Why was the previous government looking at keeping students at school until they are eighteen (Schools Plus) when, if the Education System was run by private enterprise and had the failure rate that our current system has, they would be fired, not given a mandate to keep all students in some form of school-based learning for another 2-3 years!

I do not believe that it is simply a matter of funding the schools better and they will succeed. I believe that very real changes are needed in our school systems to engage all students in meaningful (to each student) learning, where success means that there are never any disruptive students standing outside the Head’s office.

Minister, please look at embracing 21st century learning for all our schools. Let us build strong, collaborative, understanding communities by having schools, pupils, teachers and Boards working together with community groups and businesses to produce school leavers and people entering the work force who are resilient, adaptable and environmentally aware, who have relationship and interpersonal skills, who show initiative and take responsibility for their own decisions.

Isn’t it funny how those qualities just listed, those that I would be looking for in a potential employee, are neither measured nor evaluated in current educational standards?

Minister, my younger daughter is 15, and she needs these changes to take place in time for her to benefit from them before she leaves secondary school. I understand you have a lot on your plate, but the new curriculum is written to encourage and foster this type of learning, the mechanisms are in place to make these changes that quickly if you think it is important enough.
Please Minister.

Yours sincerely

Claire Vogtherr

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. Fully support Claire's stance. Too many children/young adults are leaving education institutions ill prepared for the modern workplace. This option appears to resolve some of the hurdles both scholars and society need foer New Zealand to become a competitive economy.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *