Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What's Happening in Education? A look at some of the issues and trends locally and globally

There are many issues and trends in education today and many are not unique to New Zealand.  This post looks at two of the local and global issues that stand out for me at the moment and that have an impact on my practice.

Globally, education is facing some challenges particularly in the areas of the way we teach and how we assess, what we value in the assessment.  With a greater focus on high stakes testing to the detriment of creating a passion for learning, some very prominent educators including Sir Ken Robinson are sounding a warning which we fail to heed at our peril.  His books are highly recommended and valuable reading for everyone.  Sharing his ideas, videos with our school communities is also recommended.

Sir Ken Robinson - How to escape education's death valley

Sir Ken Robinson - Changing Education Paradigms


TV3 - World Class? Inside New Zealand Education: Bryan Bruce
Recently Bryan Bruce presented a documentary on the issues in the New Zealand Education system. He presents some interesting points to ponder:

  • Since the advent of Tomorrow's Schools, trust between schools and the Ministry has decreased
  • Closures and mergers of schools (restructuring) came about due to a Treasure recommendation based on financial gains rather than educational ones
  • Education became a commodity rather than a right
  • Unhealthy competition between schools and greater bureaucracy to 'control' the self-managing schools
  • Test results are what parents are judging the 'best' schools on so our children aren't going to the local school - the decile system hasn't helped this.  Equity and fairness cannot be achieved through competition
  • Our system has become competitive rather than collaborative
  • Latest research is showing that small schools can cater better for student learning needs, particularly in low socio-economic areas.  Treasury continues to ignore these facts as does the Minister
  • Equity and fairness are huge issues
  • Lack of consultation with the profession raises issues of trust
  • The system is geared towards compliance rather than creativity
  • There are huge dangers in relying on world rankings and the PISA testing
  • Standardised tests don't foster critical, creative and innovative thinking
  • Inquiry learning is powerful and a fantastic way of shifting the focus to student-centred learning
  • National Standards aren't  (They're not national and they're not standard which we've been saying since their inception)
  • Social skills must be emphasised from an early age.  We need to support Early Childhood Education, Parents As First Teachers, Paid Parental Leave, etc  Sadly, many of these initiatives are being restructured or their funding cut
  • Social skills are key (Sir Peter Gluckman, our Chief Scientist) speaks on this in the report).
  • Good things are happening in New Zealand schools in spite of the administration not because of it
  • The system needs to be more cooperative and should have a high level of trust and less testing if we want a 'vibrant and creative economy'.
Bryan Bruce, 2016

For me, one of the main issues in education in this country is one of equality for ALL students.  I worry that, in our need to quite rightly raise the achievement of the so-called tail of underachievers, we are watering down our rich education structure that is supported by the New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007).  I'm concerned that our Gifted and Talented students and those who have the potential to achieve so much more but are disengaged from the current system, and who are often seen as 'behaviour problems' are missing out.  I blogged on this recently - Are we failing our gifted and talented learners - and teachers?

On reading the 2012 Education Review Office (ERO) Report regarding the three most important issues for education in this country, it should seem 'simple' to be able to address the needs of ALL learners.  The three priorities or issues are:

  • One: shifting the focus to student-centred learning;
  • Two: the implementation of a 'responsive and rich' curriculum and;
  • Three: Using assessment information to effectively plan learning and teaching.
ERO Report, 2012

The report was written in 2012 and we are now in 2016.  How much has changed and how far are we along the continuum towards best and most effective practice to meet ALL students' learning needs? I'm wondering if, in the need to meet the government's focus on 'the tail of underachievement' and meeting the National Standards, that some of our learners are now missing out.  In my own practice I've always tried to personalise the learning for each individual student and to emphasise learner agency in everything I do.  It's meant incredibly long hours which works some of the time as I don't have young children to consider.  I often wonder how teachers with young families manage to meet the needs of their students as well as they do.  Surely something has to give.  That is another post for another time.


The one I've chosen to focus on for this post is STEAM learning and teaching.  Both locally and globally we are seeing a greater emphasis on the need for in-depth learning in the sciences and mathematics.  The term STEM, or the one I prefer - STEAM, as it includes and values the Arts, is becoming a catch-cry for improvement.  Like anything in education, however, there are issues and concerns.

In my own practice and through discussion with my students, we knew we wanted more of an emphasis on STEAM in our learning so we worked together to learn what the best way of creating this environment would be.  We had an unused classroom in our school so a plan began to hatch.  We focused on the Nature of Science, a current emphasis for our professional learning within the school, and researched a great deal as part of an inquiry which began in 2015.   Our journey and what has been achieved to date is documented in a blog that the students curate.  The writing is largely their own thoughts and ideas and record of what we created together.  Unfortunately, I am not at the school anymore but the knowledge base of the students is strong and they will lead the future development of the space and the thinking behind it.  (Please click the link below to the students' blog - The Creator Ops STEAM).

The Creator Ops STEAM

Nature of Science on TKI



STEM to STEAM: Art in K12 is key to building a strong economy

Schools shift from STEM to STEAM


Bramwell, C. (2016, May 20). Funds cut from parents-as-teachers scheme. Retrieved from

Bruce, B. (2016, May 24). World class? Inside New Zealand education - a special report.  Retrieved from

CORE Education (2016)  Trend 1: Learner agency. Retrieved from

Delaney, M. (2014, April 2). Schools shift from STEM to STEAM. Retrieved from

Education Review Office (2012).The three most pressing issues for New Zealand’s education system, revealed in latest ERO report - Education Review Office. Retrieved 14 June 2016, from

Maeda, J. (2012, October 2). STEM to STEAM: Art in K-12 is key to building a strong ecomomy. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education. (nd). Ministry funding deciles. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education. (2007). New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media

Ministry of Education. (nd). Science online.  Retrieved from

O'Callaghan, J. (2012, December 4). Tomorrow's schools 'lost a decade'.  Retrieved from

Radio New Zealand. (2016). Government vetoes paid parental leave bill. Retrieved from

Robins, A. (2015, June 3). National standards aren't. Retrieved from

Robinson, K. (2013, May 10). How to escape education's death valley.  Retrieved from

Robinson, K. (2010, October 14).  Changing education paradigms. Retrieved from

Valentine, K. (nd). Parents as first teachers.  Retrieved from

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