EIT student Janice Gordon learns horticulture ... hands-on

Failure … we need more of it!

By Paul Paynter

Modern New Zealand seems proud of the inclusive society we’ve created. But we’re often not as inclusive as we try to make out, particularly with regard to traditional stereotypes.

Society seems to favour men who are sensitive, fairly passive and do 50% of the household chores. We want women to be perfect mothers, but also to vigorously pursue fulfilling careers in order to fund the second BMW. If you stray too far from this, fairly androgynous middle ground, you can sense the silent, smiling tut-tut of those who cross your path.

The truth is that people exist on the full spectrum, from Tinkerbelle to Tarzan. If you’re a woman that wants to have five children, be a stay-at-home mum, make jam and perfect cupcakes – go for it. I bet you’ll be a superb mother and your effort to actually bring decent jam back into this world is God’s work. But some of these mums tell me society undervalues this choice.

Paul Paynter

Even more unacceptable is Tarzan, whose fearless, all-conquering talents may see him on the world cage fighting circuit. The death-or-glory mindset is an almost uniquely male domain.

Left exclusively to women, when do you think powered flight would have been discovered?  Only a young male mind, clouded by too much testosterone and an irrational appetite for risk, would tack together some balsa wood and canvas, strap on an engine and say ‘let’s try and get this thing off the ground!’ It’s a bloody stupid idea, as every female mind would have immediately concluded.

Tarzan can be an idiot with no landing plan, but we need some of that. The female perspective has become more dominant because it seems to make more sense. But the madness of young men is a wonderful thing and greatly underrated.

Our parenting and educational systems have fallen into line with these moderate expectations.  They seem to want to eliminate danger and failure, but these things can be incredibly helpful to our personal development.

Four times Olympic gold medallist Ian Ferguson is particularly frustrated with this situation.  “They can learn to master dangerous situations, but they need to be exposed to danger in the first place to learn that lesson.”  Ferguson’s argument is that if you repeatedly expose kids to the natural ‘fight or flight’ reaction, they’ll learn to engage their brains at this time, to better perceive and manage risk.

He concedes “… there is a possibility there will be injuries or lives lost, but I know it’s not as many as will be lost to suicide or car crashes as a result of people not being taught what danger is and how to handle it.”

“You might be able to eliminate a good deal of failure from secondary school, but you won’t find such wiggle room in the workforce. There is a lot of pressure out there and a lot of failure.”

The same principles apply to academic aspects of education. Prof. Jacqueline Rowarth, from the University of Waikato wrote a piece entitled Raising Kids With Grit, Not High Test Scores, a title which perfectly summarises her position. Rowarth points out that NCEA is a system that allows kids to avoid parts of a course they didn’t like or assessments they didn’t think they’d do well in. She points out that what defines success in the workforce is often the ability to overcome adversity, not avoid it.

You might be able to eliminate a good deal of failure from secondary school, but you won’t find such wiggle room in the workforce. There is a lot of pressure out there and a lot of failure. If you become, say, a courier driver, there will be no ‘achieved’ grade offered to you.  In the world of big data they’ll have your van wired up and big brother will be watching you.  They’ll know how many deliveries you make, how long you stop at each location, how fast you drive, how fuel efficient you are. You’ll be benchmarked against the other drivers and told exactly how you rate and what performance is expected of you.

NCEA replaced the old system of School Certificate and University Entrance. These qualifications were seen as stigmatising students who failed. Either that was the end of their time at school or they had to face the grim prospect of repeating exactly the same courses while their peers advanced. It seems that NCEA was put in place to try, as far as reasonably possible, to eliminate failure.

The identification of the problem may have been sound, but the solution was deficient. For many students it just kicks the can down the road so that they are forced to confront failure at university or in the workplace.

This is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. Failure is the best teacher and what we need is more of it, earlier.

“Difficulty is what wakes up the genius,” says risk guru, Professor Nassim Taleb. Taleb may have the solution to our educational problems. He suggests that we imitate nature when designing systems. There is a lot of failure and dysfunction in nature, but each individual failure is inconsequential and doesn’t affect the overall health of the system. It’s like a toddler learning to walk; they fall over a lot but just get back up and forget about it.

The maxim that came out of Silicon Valley is ‘fail fast, fail cheap’. That’s the way education should be. We need our kids to experience many relatively inconsequential failures so they see failure as no big deal. Creating room for inconsequential failure is the best way of removing the stigma of failure. The fear of failure is paralysing and so many of our best and brightest choose very safe careers where they will never be found out.

In many other parts of society, failure is similarly paralysing.  If you get it wrong in politics, investment or banking, you’ll be castigated and this leads people to extreme conservatism and mediocrity. Putting in place new systems risks getting it wrong and politicians don’t like that prospect. Our education system is the perfect place to encourage people to see change and potential failure more positively. I don’t know whether charter schools are a good idea or a bad idea – but at least it’s an idea!

We need a society and an education system that embraces failure as the positive learning experience it can be. Intellectual Ventures is an innovative company near Seattle which reported a novel approach to failure. When they pulled the pin on a major project they had a wake – putting on some cake and drinks to celebrate the occasion. That’s the spirit.

Many of the most successful entrepreneurs are academic failures.  Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Henry Ford were all dyslexic. People with learning disorders are grossly overrepresented in the ranks of successful businessmen. The theory is that the endless failure they experienced at school made them indifferent to failure. The business risks that would have most of us terrified were no big deal in their eyes. Sadly those with dyslexia are also overrepresented in prison – a wall of failure can also destroy you.

Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling is another who credits failure for her success. She says how liberating she found it to be a solo mum and beneficiary and to have the weight of expectation removed from her. There was only one thing she could afford to do and felt passionate about doing – writing. Now, I’m not suggesting we expose our kids to extreme failure, but it’s important for everyone to know that whatever happens, there is a potential way back. Failure is about developing the belief and will to pick yourself up and carry on.

In an educational system, the important thing to get right is the scale of the failure you expose kids to. What kids need are many small, relatively inconsequential failures – ‘successful failures’ they can recover from and embrace as part of the learning experience. Cataclysmic failure is a bad idea for young, impressionable minds, but no failure at all sets them up for a heavy fall down the track.

Many forecasters suggest that future environment our children are likely to experience will be more volatile and complex than we adults have had to cope with. Similarly, they’ll likely have more employers and more radical changes in career paths. Our world is more stressful than that of our parents, and our children will see this trend continue.

To prosper in such a world will require high levels of resilience. It’s not a world that will hand out ‘participation trophies’.

We need to rethink our education system if we are to adequately equip our children for the future.

To Improve Education, Improve Parenting!

By Michael Sisam, Principal, Heretaunga Intermediate

Since the start of this millennium, also the duration of my teaching career, there have been many changes in New Zealand education. Two changes with a significant impact on students, staff, and education are the New Zealand Curriculum and National Standards.

The New Zealand Curriculum document guides teachers in their practice in the differing subject areas that need to be taught. It also prescribes the values of education – the vision of what we want our students to be when they leave school, and the key competencies – key attributes of citizens who are going to contribute positively to society, to be sought. The Curriculum was seen as a world first.

I’ve heard a number of professors, lecturers, and passionate educationalists from around the world speak about our great curriculum. They use phrases like: “provides flexibility for teachers to cater for student needs”, “gives schools control to design the curriculum for their community”, “student focused”, and “promotes teacher reflection to improve outcomes”. Schools around the country embraced this change and took charge to focus on the students in front of them on a daily basis.

The other significant change is the introduction of National Standards. Now that a lot of the dust has settled, you will find the majority of schools using the National Standards as one of the many tools they use to make judgments when assessing student achievement.

Michael Sisam

The two main issues that most educators have with the National Standards is how they were introduced, and their inability to show the progress students can make within the four-point scale on offer. Great for parents to know where their child is at in comparison to a set of norms.  However, once a child is well below a standard, they can consistently remain well below the standard for their entire schooling, even though they have made substantial progress in their learning. Pretty disheartening for the child, and their family.

I am yet to meet a teacher that does not care for all the children in his or her classroom. I know they care about their students because they are beating the caretaker to the school gate, and leaving well after the caretaker has left. I know teachers are working hard to provide the best for their students when I receive emails well into the evening and throughout weekends and holidays sharing learning opportunities for students, and student achievements. I know the teachers are working hard to improve learning when they give up weekends and ‘holidays’ to travel to courses to get ideas and strategies to take back to their students. I know teachers care when I see them meeting with parents, caregivers, and many outside agencies to get an understanding on how to cater for the needs of the child.

And I know all teachers take an enormous amount of pride in seeing students achieve in their learning, and take it to heart when they are not.

When all this is said and done, the bottom line is that at the chalkface, soon to be screenface, schools are providing the best learning programmes they can with the tools and finances available. They hold high expectations for their students to leave school and contribute positively in society.

Still, there are those that feel that teachers and educators are not doing enough. But I am convinced the issue is not what is happening in schools, it is what is happening outside of schools, and the pressures placed on schools to fix what society unfortunately accepts. We need to look at what is happening closer to home, or perhaps what is not happening in the home.

Go for a drive round Hawke’s Bay suburbs, and not just the lower socio-economic areas. Go for a walk in the local parks, and swimming pools. Go to the supermarket. Watch and listen. You will see young children between the ages of three and 15 without parent supervision wandering the streets, swearing, left alone at the pool for the attendant to rescue them, and maybe even committing crimes.

After listening to Nathan Mikare-Wallis, a primary and early childhood teacher, who has studied brain development extensively, I believe parenting and lack thereof is the issue.

“What families do in those first six years of a child’s life will determine how well they achieve at school …”

The first three years in a child’s development are the most important in making positive behavioural, social, emotional, and language connections in the brain. The following three years in a child’s life are the next most important in the brain’s development through the reinforcement of the connections it is making from the stimuli around them. What families do in those first six years of a child’s life will determine how well they achieve at school, and ultimately in society.

One day over the summer I was walking back from the park with my own children and their neighbourhood friends when I heard a father requesting his three-year-old children to stop at the intersection. What drew my attention was not the volume of his voice, not his message about child safety, but the constant use of ‘fuck’ when speaking to his children. I have lost count the amount of times I have heard parents swearing at their children to correct behaviour.

You could walk into most classrooms round the country and ask students, who plays Call of Duty (R16), who has watched Dirty Grandpa (R16), who has a TV, DVD, or computer in their room, and a number of hands will go up. There is a reason that these items have a rating, because the content is not suitable in the brain development of people under the ages it is restricted.

It is not the child’s fault if they are exposed to age restricted media, or free license to play computer games, surf the net, or be on Facebook (especially if they are under the age of 13). It is not the teachers’ job to monitor this, although teachers have to attempt to correct the connections that have already been instilled in the brain through repeated exposure. It is the parents’ responsibility to provide the positive stimuli that make the positive connections in their child’s brain. This includes how to speak with people, how to express emotions, how to play with others, as well as continuing the passion to learn and inquire into the world around them that all humans are born with, and what sets us apart from all other species.

New Zealand educators are working hard to ensure the students they are teaching today will be positively leading the world tomorrow. However, this is a difficult task when too many students are coming to school not knowing their colours, left from right, letter sounds, how to spell or write their name. Too many students are coming with emotional and social issues due to being left to entertain themselves in front of social media. Far too many young children are coming to school with learning and behaviour difficulties because their parents have not taken the appropriate care to nurture their child from the day of conception (fetal alcohol).

Educators can feel proud of the work they are doing under the circumstances they have to do it.

What does need to change is the focus on parenting, and the expectations placed on parents to be accountable in providing an environment rich in love, and learning opportunities, within safe risk-taking boundaries.

Preparing for Future Jobs

By Anna Lorck, Labour Party spokesperson

Education prepares us for tomorrow, today. And when it comes to being ahead of our time, it appears we have a lot to learn from our younger generation, who are far better at grasping this new way of learning and living with technology.

New Zealand’s education model has always been to expand the growing minds of our nation. A country delivering a wide curriculum that teaches us the right skills and knowledge we need so we have a solid foundation to build our dreams on and achieve lifetime success.

Anna Lorck

But the challenge, as always, is ensuring we are learning the right skills for what the future will bring. Today, more than ever we are living in a fast paced and changing world through the advances in technology and globalisation. Where our children – so very adept with technolgy and using it as a tool to gaining and absorbing information – are getting ahead of us

But what we know, that our children don’t yet, is that as technolgy continues to rapidly change, so will the jobs and careers of the future.

The working world we were prepared and educated for is no longer. Nowhere is this more evident than in Hawke’s Bay, where once you could leave school and easily get a job with no formal qualification or training. The days when a school certificate was all you needed to get a job are gone; now it is a university degree or a trade qualification. And getting a post-school education is becoming so expensive that many people either don’t, or they get saddled with crippling debt limiting their ability to do things like buy a first home.

Hawke’s Bay is a region where about a third of our working age population has no qualification post secondary school, according to Census statistics. And as our job market changes, the skills they have learned on the job won’t be required. More people in their 40s, 50s and 60s are and will find themselves redundant, and needing to retrain and gain new skills, to get a well-paid job and support their family.

So this is why we must embrace the idea of having the most qualified and most skill savvy workforce gearing for the future of work. Where we have a Government committed to investing and supporting people so they are equipped with real skills and real knowledge to make a difference.

And to do this we need to also do away with all of those low quality courses that will never get people into a job.

I look back on Hawke’s Bay’s culture of a strong seasonal workforce, reliant on the mix of work from the primary industry. They were able to readily adapt, budget and live well by adjusting to the work as it came on and went. But over the past two decades, as freezing works and factories have closed much of this work dried up for our strong seasonal workforce, and the region’s unemployment has never recovered.

Yes, as a region, we are on the cusp of growing great things, yielding greater economic activity and business growth on the back of the horticultural and food production sector, where many new job opportunities will be ripe for the taking.

The key will be creating the right learning environment that supports more businesses to take on apprenticeships and encourage those who have no qualifications to get new skills. Do this and we can move more local people into better paying jobs, reducing inequality. Instead of being at the bottom of the heap for unemployment, low skills and low household incomes, we can become the leading region in New Zealand.

I listen to people talk with a very narrow mindset that a job picking fruit is the answer to getting people off the dole and sorting out unemployment in Hawke’s Bay.
Our region needs a Government that is fully committed to making sure we get every apple picked, instead of leaving $25 million worth of fruit on the trees, which happened last season. The RSE scheme, which Labour introduced and I strongly support, is critical to the industry’s survival and the growth of Hawke’s Bay.

Nevertheless, we should not be focusing on seasonal jobs for our unemployed; instead we need a far more progressive approach to upskilling and educating our current and future workforce.

By having a Government that is prepared to get stuck in and invest in free post-school education we will see a far more workable partnership with industry and business.

And herein lies the paradox – will educating for the future of work end up taking us back in time? Where the workplace becomes again a classroom, and students are actively recruited straight from secondary school and learn on the job and gain qualifications, rather than having such a strong focus on going to university? We should take the best of what we’ve learned from the past to help us prepare and better educate for tomorrow.

Steiner Schools … No ‘Normal’

By Jessica Soutar Barron

In considering my children’s education, perhaps I should have carried out an in-depth analysis of all the schooling options available to them in my area, read endless ERO reports, done school visits, studied results tables, googled principals on Rate My Teacher, snuck in at lunch time to sample various canteens’ fare. But I didn’t.

I knew from before my children’s birth that I wanted them to have what I had: a safe, fun, full education, and as mine was spent at a Steiner school, it was natural for me to find the same for them.

We came to Hawke’s Bay so our kids could attend Taikura Steiner School in Hastings. Rather than moving here and finding a school to fit, we found the school, then shoe-horned ourselves into the community.

From left: Willoughby (7), Baxter (12) and Isabella (11) with mum Jess

My appreciation of what we have in our school has formed over the seven years we’ve been part of it. As I’ve watched the wealth of experience my children get from Taikura, my wonderment of the school has grown. And from an intellectual perspective I can see more and more pros to the school and fewer reasons to send my brood elsewhere.

Far be it from me to convince another to take my road, and as I’ve never attended a state school, or had much experience within one, I can’t offer a comparison. I can, though, give you my view on what our school offers.

Imagine that the story of any school includes three strands: there’s the day-to-day activity, the pedagogical approach (aka the philosophy), and the future picture of how each child from that school goes out into the world as a fully fledged member of society.

Day-to-day our Steiner school behaves like any other, from about morning tea onwards. There’s a combination of maths, English, reading, PE, Maori, Spanish, tech, music, gardening etcetera, depending on which year level we’re talking about. There’s a few subjects you won’t find in another type of school – handwork, eurythmy and formdrawing – but on the whole it’s similar.

First up in the morning each class has Main Lesson, which provides an umbrella to the rest of the curriculum. Main Lesson occupies 90 minutes each morning and concentrates on a specific subject in four-week blocks. Depending on the age and stage of the child this might be building, or Man and animal, fractions, the Ancient Greeks, or light, plants, Canterbury Tales or Homer’s Odyssey. It’s a varied range of subject matter across all disciplines.

These blocks then provide a scaffold for the other lessons to hang off. It makes for a full and satisfying immersion into a subject. It also means a subject is explored in practical, intellectual, artistic and physical ways, giving kids of all temperaments and inclinations a ‘way in’. Some learn through doing and some read their way into knowledge, with a whole spectrum in between.

The Main Lesson vehicle gives rich fodder for practicing writing, number skills, reading, orating, researching, working in teams, and individually. For my kids it gives them time to stretch out into a subject, find its relationship to them as a person, play with it, explore it fully: how it links to other subjects and other things they’ve learnt.

Some people describe a Steiner education as ‘slow’. Our children move from kindergarten into the main school in their seventh year so, yes, we ‘start them later’ than other schools. But I believe it’s more that we put emphasis on the building blocks that make for a strong foundation on which to place layers of learning over many years. We put time and energy into providing our kids with the tools, skills and resilience to seek the knowledge they want from the world throughout their lives.

In a micro-view that means we put weight on how they hold a pencil, how they form sounds, how they make marks on the page, how they move their bodies, how they interact with others, how they sit still and listen. We take our time to ensure those foundations are rock solid before we heap facts and figures on top. Balance, coordination, team work, critical thinking, speech, movement, fine motor skills are all vital for a positive learning journey, so we spend time honing these.

Every child reaches their individual milestones at a different pace; there’s no ‘normal’, there’s no ‘standard’. As a parent this means I have to look at what my child brings without measuring them against others. Sometimes that’s challenging because we want to know how high up the ‘reading tree’ our particular kid is, but I do believe that’s not useful to the child. Pushing them to be their best self is a far better use of energy.

Philosophically, a Steiner school receives each child as an individual for the gifts they bring with them into the world. A class teacher will know each child thoroughly – often their journey together lasts from Year 2 to Year 8. Alongside that, every child has a group of teachers who’ve known them since they were very young, who know their family, their siblings and parents, their story. So there is a community understanding and interest in each child’s strengths and weaknesses that forms a robust picture built over many years. It means teachers can navigate the highs and lows alongside parents with a knowledge of what is ‘normal’, or not, for that child.

The Steiner pedagogy meets the child at their particular stage. There’s acknowledgement and respect of times in a child’s development where changes take place. I’m not talking solely of ‘pus and pubes’, but also of the nine-year-old crisis of withdrawal into one’s self or the golden year of eleven where a child is still innocent enough to be lovely but able enough to be interesting!

This kind of conversation within our community helps me be a better parent as well as enabling our teachers to do a better job for our kids.

Looking at the future picture of a Steiner child, I see a confident individual who has been given the opportunity to mature into themselves at their own pace. I see someone with empathy, resilience, inner strength, some humbleness about their own abilities, with knowledge but knowing there is still much to learn. I see a person who can work with others across a range of backgrounds and disciplines because they are confident of their own place in the world. Someone whose head is not full of answers, but full of questions.

The working world needs people with skills in creative thinking who have initiative and ingenuity – problem solvers and team players – a Steiner school gives its students all this. In a broader sense, every pocket of our world needs people who think sideways, who have empathy, who can connect with others, who can present their own stories and stand up for what they believe.

For my kids, I hope their schooling will equip them to live lives that are full, to say ‘Yes’ to opportunities, to navigate challenges, to participate completely in whatever comes along, to be involved in work that is rewarding, stimulating and useful. My hope for them is that they will grow to nourish and nurture those around them in the way they were nourished and nurtured as children.

Where to, EIT?

By Mark Oldershaw, Deputy Chief Executive EIT

Should EIT be focusing solely on training students for jobs, or does Hawke’s Bay’s leading tertiary educator have wider responsibilities to this region’s diverse communities?

I believe the institute’s role rightly encompasses both these aspects, but then how does that play out in the sector’s tough financial operating environment?

Our overarching obligation is to serve the needs of our communities. At one level, the institute considers this in tailoring programmes attuned to the needs of industries and businesses in the Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti regions.

Over the years, that has seen offerings grow to span the qualification levels framework, from Level 1 foundation programmes through to a wide range of diplomas, bachelor and master’s degrees and postgraduate qualifications.

Mark Oldershaw

In a catchment that includes areas of significant social and economic deprivation, however, 76% of the institute’s students fall within one of the Government’s “priority learner groups” – one of the highest percentages of priority learner participation within New Zealand’s ITP (institutes of technology and polytechnics) sector.

That makes it all the more important for EIT to encourage people to take those first steps onto the tertiary education ladder. Their learning benefits them, whānau and their communities and will hopefully lead them into jobs. And for a significant percentage, it sees them progressing to more challenging learning opportunities.

Attracting foundation learners calls for grassroots contact with local communities and EIT Hawke’s Bay’s learning centres are at the forefront of this dynamic. Based in Waipukurau, Hastings, Maraenui and Wairoa, they are a first leg up for many learners who have not been connected to the formal education system for much of their lives.

The regional centre coordinators listen to what learners, would-be learners and local businesses and industries have to say. Suggestions are passed up the chain to Jan Mogford, who manages the learning centres, and so EIT listens and where it can it responds.

The centres’ adult education courses give people an opportunity to acquire new skills and to progress, if they choose, onto a formal programme. These ‘tasters’ provide hands-on applied learning based on specific tasks – building a pizza oven, for instance, using a computer or growing healthy kai.

It brings people into the centres and they then see what they can do. It breaks down the barrier between EIT and people in our communities. They see that a tertiary educator is not so scary after all.

All the programmes have embedded numeracy and literacy and they can lead to jobs.  As an example of that, health disability and age support programmes offered at the Central Hawke’s Bay and Wairoa learning centres achieve a high success rate in channelling people into employment.

In a year when we didn’t run the programme in Central Hawke’s Bay, there was then a shortage of people to help with the disabled.

EIT’s regional centres also deliver a Ministry of Social Development contract training people for work. Learners complete unit standards and acquire job interview skills and write their own CVs. They also gain work experience.

The ultimate goal is to get them into permanent full-time employment, particularly in horticulture, where there are jobs. While the Ministry sets high targets, there are some great success stories out there.

Sometimes it’s the communities that take the initiative. Last year, the Camberley Community Centre approached EIT seeking help with teaching computing lessons.  That move resulted in the delivery of a formal computing programme, and the relationship has developed to include an EIT carpentry programme, delivered from the centre since October.

This semester, the institute is running horticulture programmes at all its centres.  Learners look after community gardens. In Maraenui, that’s at the local Pukemokimoki Marae, Central Hawke’s Bay and Wairoa base theirs at their learning centres, and in Hastings it’s at Aunty’s Garden on Waipatu Marae.

They can take the produce they’ve grown home. It’s teaching them about providing for whānau and passing on those skills so even those on low incomes can eat well.

All this comes at a cost to EIT, but I’m convinced that delivering on social good also makes sound financial sense and Mogford agrees with me on this. As she points out, we make a contribution with diplomas, degrees and postgraduate qualifications, but we also make a difference at the other end of the scale too.

An amazing number of learners have upskilled at the learning centres and these people gain in confidence working alongside others they know in their own neighbourhoods. They then take their skills back into their communities and whānau.   Whether they go into paid employment or not, they will be better at using a computer or have learnt how to build a fence or a shed. They will have acquired a broad range of skills.

While EIT encompasses a vast territory and covers a lot of educational bases, it ranks among New Zealand’s leading ITPs.

We feel we do a very good job as a tertiary educator, and that’s confirmed by the Tertiary Education Commission, which ranks us among New Zealand’s top three performing ITPs. We are very focused on preparing students for available real world jobs, both here in Hawke’s Bay and also within New Zealand and overseas.

Currently there are 3,500 students enrolled at EIT and by the end of the year that will be more like 8,000.

But we’ve always been very strong too around community good. We’ve probably pushed that more than a lot of other polytechnics, many of which have closed their regional learning centres.

That’s meant some diligent work to ensure ours remain cost efficient and continue delivering appropriate programmes.

In a region which has below national average indicators for employment and incomes, I don’t see EIT’s educational emphasis changing any time soon.

Improving student retention will transform Hawke’s Bay

By Geraldine Travers, Principal, Hastings Girls’ High

If you ask me what the most important skill that students require for the 21st century I will answer, cultural competence.

What I mean by that is the ability to relate to people regardless of who they are and where they come from. When I think of the young people being educated in Hawke’s Bay, I am confident that most of our young people have the opportunity to develop these essential skills within the context of our schools.

Deputy Head Girl Gabrielle Palmer, left; Head Girl Emma Cameron, right.

In my school, Hastings Girls’ High, our students come from a complete cross-section of society and represent a wide range of ethnicities and life experiences, all melding together in a happy learning community. Our students in Hawke’s Bay seem generally free from the extreme stresses and pressures that young people in larger population areas struggle with. This area is becoming increasingly attractive to international students as well, and they marvel at the relative simplicity of our students’ lives.

Families in Hawke’s Bay have a choice from a large number of secondary schools and I am confident that there is a place for everybody. You would normally have to be in a very large population area to have the number of choices that families have here, and of course that is because in Hawke’s Bay education is a business … with the boarding schools serving a far larger area than just this province.

I believe that the competitive education market here is very much to the advantage of students and their families as we all strive hard to ensure that we are doing the very best by our students.

None of our schools are complacent or resting on their laurels, as we are all very aware of the scrutiny that we are under and woe betide any school that allows their standards to slip. Not for us the comfort of being the only school in town with a largely captive audience!

In terms of NCEA pass rates, Hawke’s Bay punches well above its weight and I know that our schools have adopted many innovative practices to ensure the best possible outcomes for the young people in our care. Many schools have relationships with a variety of tertiary providers to make sure that young people remain interested, focused and engaged.

This is where NCEA has helped hugely, because many of the activities that students have engaged in for pleasure in the past they can now gain credit for. Principals not just in Hawke’s Bay but in the rest of the country walk a tight rope with regard to their school’s administration of NCEA. While it is desirable to make NCEA as accessible as possible, this cannot be at the expense of the credibility of the qualification. There is a real tension here between two conflicting values.

One of the most pleasing changes that we have experienced in recent years is increased student retention. In days gone by, as students passed their 16th birthday there was a gradual attrition until Year 13 consisted of just those students who were University bound. That is no longer the case, as most students on entry plan to do the full five years. Research proves conclusively that every extra day of secondary schooling produces better life outcomes.

As principal of a girls’ school I am particularly conscious that I am educating the future mothers of the nation, meaning that I am potentially educating the following generation. The challenge for us is the provision of relevant courses for those students who have no intention of ever attending university. University is not for everyone and many students make the pragmatic choice that the time required to pay back a substantial student loan would impact on everything from future travel plans, home ownership and even parenthood.

I am thoroughly committed to NCEA because of the flexibility it gives schools and students and I believe that it is totally responsible for the increasing retention of students in schools, because almost all students are able to achieve some measure of success. In the past, our qualification system told 50% of our students that they were failures at age 16. I love the confidence that our students gain from success.

Obviously future employers need the skills to differentiate between one NCEA and another. It is a matter of looking at the individual standards studied and the quality of the results – be they at achieved level or endorsed with merit or excellence.

I would also really like people to understand that University Entrance does not mean what it did when most of our current parents went to school. Many students choose only to engage with UE if university is where they see themselves. Not all subjects are on the approved list, which does not mean they are any less relevant for some students. NCEA Level Three needs to be recognised as a worthwhile qualification in its own right.

In conclusion, I feel that Hawke’s Bay should be really proud of the fine young people who regularly emerge from our educational institutions. We have always produced high fliers, but what is particularly creditable now is the incremental societal change that is occurring through longer and greater engagement in post-compulsory education by the masses, which will transform our beautiful province.

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