Friday, April 26, 2013
Crutch Kicking a Crippled Education Profession
My wife is a GP and they are described as "Specialists in General Practice". This is not a fancy way of puffing up their importance, but recognition for needing a broad understanding of medicine and managing the health needs of a range of people. It is not a failure nor an issue of competence when they have to refer a patient to a specialist with a specific area of expertise. A general practitioner cannot be expected to know everything when diagnosis and treatment becomes more complex.
It is the same with teaching. Classroom teachers are classroom specialists, they have broad curriculum knowledge but can hardly be expected to have a degree related to each of the eight Learning Areas. Classroom teachers may also have children in their class with high learning needs, major disabilities or severe behaviour problems but can't be expected to be knowledgeable or experienced in managing all possibilities. Like GPs, teachers need specialist support and timely professional development if they are going to successfully manage the more extreme scenarios that could confront them in a rapidly changing world.
Teaching in New Zealand does not have the status that it does in Finland, where there are around 6,000 applicants for every 600 training positions. Our teachers are well regarded internationally but our teachers aren't chosen from the same elite field and this government does not value teacher education in the same way (ie. the 80% cap on the number of qualified teachers that will be funded in each early childhood centre and support for learning on the job and one year training courses). While our teachers generally do an excellent job of teaching the majority of children in their classes, many may not have the skills, knowledge or expertise in meeting the needs of those who may require more specialized support.
The Education Ministry's own research found that the most effective way of extending the knowledge and skills of teachers is to have direct contact with skilled practitioners who actually spend time in the classroom with the teacher. It is far easier for a facilitator to assess a teacher's needs after observing them in their own environment and useful for a teacher to have individualised support. This was recognised with the provision of an advisory service for all the Learning Areas and using skilled facilitators when the Numeracy Programme was first introduced.
This National Led Government have sacked the majority of our advisors and now any support for schools is designed to meet the Government's narrow goals rather than the needs of teachers or children. The Government even chose to punish schools who didn't comply with their National Standards' agenda by withdrawing the remaining professional support. There is also a reluctance to fund any successful programme that relies on specialist facilitators and the latest to be axed is Te Kotahitanga.
The Government's approach to building the capacity and performance of our teaching profession is to cut funding to specialist support and tell teachers to work harder. Education Minister Hekia Parata is demanding greater efforts and improved outcomes while at the same time kicking away the crutches that provide valuable support to an increasingly crippled profession.