Our education system needs several silver bullets

Photo Courtesy: Stuff New Zealand

Jason Heale
Auckland, October 17, 2022

In September 1928, something revolutionary happened in a laboratory in London.

Alexander Flemming returned from a holiday to find some contaminated mould samples effectively killing bacteria. Thus, he discovered Penicillin.

It is one of the most significant medical breakthroughs of all time. Responsible for curing a wide range of diseases, Penicillin is a perfect example of a “silver bullet,” one simple solution to complex issues.

We love silver bullets. They neutralise a problem that might typically take years and involve many different and varied solutions. We’re impatient. We prefer action to reflection.

In education at the moment, we seem to be looking for that silver bullet.

Jason Heale

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schools failing children

The truth is our schools are failing our children. Results on a global scale are falling. They have been trending this way for the past 18 years. We have a shortage of teachers. With fewer graduates and many people leaving to go overseas, we fear the problem will increase next year.

We also have the “digital divide” that Covid-19 exacerbated.

Falling attendance rates, meaning fewer than 60% of our students regularly attend school. How will they learn if we cannot even get them to school?

One proposed solution currently supported by the PPTA is to ban streaming (the process of grouping students with similar abilities) in schools. The research is in, they say, that streaming is terrible for students across the board. Not only that, it “increases inequality and robs too many students of their shot at a quality education,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said.

Internationally, the debate rages. One study shows that streamed-within-class students could sometimes progress an extra three months of learning in a year. Another suggests it could reinforce a poor sense of self-worth. One study finds unanimous agreement between parents, teachers, and students regarding the positive effect of streaming.

Complex Issues

Let us put streaming and not streaming to the side for one moment. Rather than looking for one easy solution to solve all of our educational problems, let us agree that our education issues are far more complex than we like to think. No student comes to school as an isolated individual. They come from a family with personalities and learning styles.

One single response will not fix our education system. We must ensure that we offer answers that fit the problem’s reality. Streaming is one aspect we need to consider. There are other remedies that we might implement as well.

Smaller classrooms will help teachers understand their students’ specific needs.

Teacher retention and support for teachers dealing with burnout will ensure that experienced teachers give their best over the long term. Teacher recruitment and training mean new, enthusiastic teachers are brought in to keep the education system vital.

That is just at school; we can help outside the classroom by supporting families. Any lasting solution must take a multi-faceted approach to halt the slide and ensure our children have the best and brightest future possible.

As anyone with children knows that humans are complex; silver bullets are rare.

Jason Heale is the Communications Manager at the Auckland-based Maxim Institute, an independent think tank working to promote the dignity of every person in New Zealand by standing for freedom, justice, compassion, and hope.

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