ERO's latest report went live today – and it's definitely worth reading for an overview of the state of education in NZ. Priority Learners in NZ Schools is a synthesis of findings from a wide range of evaluations carried out over recent years by the Education Review Office (ERO), and through this process, they have identified three key issues which evidence indicates are acting as impediments to NZ schools lifting their practice, and in particular, raising the achievement levels of priority learners:
- Shifting the focus to student-centred learning
- Knowledgably implementing a responsive and rich curriculum
- Using assessment information to know about, and plan for, students' learning.
As themes central to our educational thinking at present these will come as no surprise. What the ERO report reveals, however, is the extent to which these issues are not being addressed in our schools, and where there is room for improvement.
The first issue, student-centred learning, is a common theme all around the world – something I've been discussing today with members of the Department of Education here in Melbourne. What it appears the officials here are observing is similar to what is happening in many NZ schools – the interpretation of student-centred is represented in actions the school and teachers are taking to address different learner needs, styles or interests etc., not on thinking more deeply about how students should experience education and be 'honoured as partners in learning'. The report states that students must be at the heart of school business – while their analysis shows that some schools are not yet positioning students at the centre of learning and teaching – instead, they are simply 'forgotten' amongst the daily business of 'delivering' education.
This leads to the second issue – the fact that in NZ we have extraordinary freedom to design and develop a localised curriculum for our students, within the framework of the NZC. This isn't something that is simply a 'nice-to-have', but is fundamental to engaging students in ways that allow them to connect with their local context. The report states:
Too many of our most vulnerable students, particularly in secondary schools, are the unlucky recipients fo a curriculum that is fragmented and bears no relationship to their cultural backgrounds or to contexts that have relevance and meaning for them.
The report also highlights how subjects such as science are becoming 'lost' or subsumed into other teaching areas, and how there needs to be an emphasis on learning that leads to deep understanding.
I've had the privilege of having had a copy of this report to read over the past few days, and my copy is now extensively annotated and highlighted, causing me to think deeply about what it is we're focusing on in education, and where our efforts might best be directed in order to achieve the sorts of changes we need to be aiming for. As an educator I find the report challenging, as a parent I find it concerning, and as a citizen I find it something we can't ignore.
Having just visited Silverton School here in Melbourne today, I am convinced that what is highlighted in this report as being issues for us to address is not unachievable. Silverton serves a low socio-economic area, yet manages to provide an holistic curriculum approach, with deep learning evident in the sciences, music and languages area – all of which is supported by the use of ICTs which are seen in every space of the school.