Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Charter Schools Channel Flawed Ideology


This National Government is so ideologically driven and so determined to shut out the professional voice of teacher organisations that it ignores all research and reason to drive through changes that will be hugely damaging to children and our international standing. To force the flawed Charter School system on our struggling Christchurch communities with no educational justification will only create even greater stress to communities that desperately need continuity and stability. To have Catherine Isaac, who has no significant education background, leading this change is equally appalling.

The quality of a nation's education and health systems are generally considered to be key indicators of an advanced society and in the most recent comparisons New Zealand is ranked 41st in the world for our health system and 4th for education. One country that achieves better than us in both areas and has a similar population and general culture is Finland. In international assessments the Finnish education system is generally regarded as the best in the world and I would have thought if we were to improve our already strong education performance we should be looking at Finland for ideas.

A few years ago the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI Te Riu Roa) sent a delegation to Finland to look at their education system first hand. They discovered that in a number of areas the New Zealand system was stronger and most particularly with regards to our curriculum  (which is well regarded internationally) and our pedagogical practice. Where Finland had a clear advantage was in the status and training of their teachers, a teacher in Finland is required to have a masters degree and the teaching profession has greater prestige than medical practioners. Finnish teachers are also highly unionized and their union has a good working relationship with their government.

Probably the most significant difference between our countries was nothing to do with systems, but demographics. Finland has little cultural diversity and is a highly equitable society. We, on the other hand, have around 25% of our children living in relative poverty and the majority of our children who struggle educationally are Maori or Pasifika.

It seems obvious to me that if we were really genuine in our efforts to improve education in New Zealand we would raise the status of teachers so that it attracts a higher calibre of applicant and lift teaching qualifications to a post graduate level. We would especially have to address the poverty that leads to limited achievement and make sure that our teaching accommodates cultural diversity. Introducing Charter Schools into our current system, that have have had mixed results in the UK and US (with world education rankings of 13th and 33rd respectively), is bizarre in the extreme and will do nothing to advance the academic achievement of our most vulnerable children.

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