Best of yesterday’s, worst of today’s
The high-flying philosophies of David Lange’s Tomorrow’s Schools have become today’s nightmare for many communities.
While the government battles to get to grips with economic chaos and with the Resource Management Act, wants a recount on the Waterview tunnel cost, and agonises over car hoons – notably in stately Christchurch – it must also give some detailed study time to the state of the country’s schools.
Latest evidence of real, continuing and growing problems has been the sacking of the Selwyn College and Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate boards within a few weeks of each other.
By one count that means 28 schools now have commissioners in charge and another 42 have statutory managers advising boards which had real problems but so far have escaped the chop.
All this will come as no surprise to longtime critics of the Lange dream.
Within a few years of its introduction, the cracks began to appear.
Parents and others who enthusiastically took on new roles as elected board members found themselves overwhelmed by the responsibilities, often totally out of their depth in the complexities of financial governance and all the other challenges of running rapidly growing schools.
The pressures from Wellington bureaucrats and educational theorists, the never-ending worries over inadequate budgets which just won’t balance and the changing, sometimes worrying, atmosphere in schools have left the onceempowered amateur administrators exhausted and frustrated.
The theory and the name are not limited to New Zealand, nor is the role of communities.
Announcing a $1 billion Tomorrow’s Schools package in its 2006-07 Budget, the Queensland government talked in Lange-like terms of giving Queensland students “access to a worldclass education that gives them the skills, knowledge and creativity they need to reach their greatest potential”.
Plus “an unprecedented degree of parent and local community involvement in shaping the future of schools in their area”.
Recent opinions from a familiar name summed up the issues the new government here must face up to in education – and quickly – in among all those other worries.
John Minto, who taught at Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate in its glory days, and is now an outspoken spokesman for the Quality Public School Coalition, says the time is long overdue for a full review of what was then the biggest change in education in two generations.
The coalition has repeatedly urged a review as the problems grow more obvious and pressing.
Minto knows all about the before-and-after of the Lange scheme 20 years ago.
He remembers then how it was hailed as a step forward for Otara.
Instead he sees it as a huge step back.
Intended to reform education bureaucracy, it has forced 3000 schools to reinvent the wheel.
They’ve struggled to pick up responsibility for what seems just about everything previously done by the system the plan was supposed to reform. The result has been more bureaucracy, not less.
Schools, students, parents and communities have paid a price.
The Minto verdict: People without the qualifications or the time have been lumbered with the work of lawyers, accountants and money managers instead of looking after the well-being of students.
It sounds as if the system now needs to revert to the best features of yesterday’s schools and drop the shortcomings of today’s.
Talking of schools – and in hundreds of thousands of homes around the country it’s a top topic as the first term gets under way – here’s an issue raised by colleague Karl du Fresne in the Dominion Post, the Fairfax daily in Wellington:
“There’s a new class of have-nots.
“On radio, a Wellington woman complained that her son’s high school seemed to assume that all pupils’ homes had internet access, when his didn’t.
“She couldn’t find out when the school reopened for 2009 – apparently the information was available only on the school’s website – and, even more astonishingly, she said many of her son’s homework assignments last year were delivered online.
“She had been fighting a running battle with the school administration and getting nowhere.”
Karl suspects this is “the tip of a very large iceberg of disaffected and disconnected citizens”.
People without computers find themselves excluded from a steadily widening range of activities, from taking advantage of cutprice deals to participation in public affairs.
“It can be argued that this is simply the market at work.
“Technology changes and people eventually have to adapt if they want to stay ‘in the loop’.
“But have we reached the point yet where vital public institutions such as schools are entitled to assume that everyone is plugged into the net?
“I wouldn’t have thought so.” • Experiences and reactions please.
Building up to Waitangi Day, talk at a lunch table got on to the fervent way Australians sing their national anthem compared with the ventriloquist trick of singing with their mouth shut favoured by most All Blacks, and maybe you too, for example.
That night, on transtasman cricket commentary, yet another example of Oz national pride.
On Australia Day in Adelaide and during lunch, a group of new Australians marched in to front up to the Don Bradman stand, turned to the thousands watching and recited their oath as part of naturalisation.
What an event. What a memory.
Worth the sort of applause normally kept for Australian century-makers.
Good on ya, mates. Any chance of an Eden Park replay? In the mailbag: “Your column concerning the toll road exactly echoed my own opinion, however, there is one more factor that seems to have been forgotten by the powers that be.
“Now the road has opened there is no rest or service area on the left hand side of the road between Wellsford and Papakura.
“We are continually being reminded by the road safety authorities that drivers should not drive when tired, but, as I write, I realise that the toll kiosk north of the tunnels does actually provide the break needed.” – Graham Roberts
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