Thinking about education reform


If we wish to deal with education reform seriously, then it is unproductive to begin with attacks on the Concordat and denominational boards and with simplistic calls for the abandonment of the SEA. This approach simply leads to defensive positioning from vested interests.

A more fruitful start is to consider the kinds of educational outcomes we would like for our young people as we move forward in this 21st century. If we are able to come up with some range of desirable outcomes, then we have to assess whether our present arrangements for schooling will allow us to achieve these outcomes.

Keep in mind that we face a world being shaped and reshaped by digital technologies, environmental challenges, huge migration, health pandemics, changing business models and a whole new set of possibilities for what it means to be human in the way the individual is connected with the others near and far.

To my mind desirable 21st century skills include but are not limited to the development of creative and innovative outlooks, science competencies, competence with several languages, digital competencies, media literacy, physical and spiritual health competencies, citizenship skills for a plural post-colonial society and, of course, numeracy and literacy skills. Some of these may be articulated in Ministry of Education documents.

Do our stakeholders feel that these outcomes are being achieved in our school system for the majority of our children? All stakeholders – parents, teachers, school leaders, ministry officials, employers, business associations, school boards – have to answer this question honestly.

It is my humble opinion that the answer is no. We have a problem with those who pass as well as with those who fail in the present system. When it comes to national life is there any evidence here that our successful graduates over past decades make the kinds of contributions to promote a just and productive society? Are they not the ones in our Parliament and also the dominant ones in the judiciary and health services? How are they doing? After all, medicine and law were the two prized options for bright and successful students.

So our high exam achievers make a mess from above and our low achievers are making a mess from below. We must derive little comfort from any belief that there is a successful school sector that must be simply imitated by a weaker school sector. This does not mean that all have been delinquent and in fact some may have been working very hard. We have to all admit that the entire system requires reform.

So we need to ask the fundamental questions: What are schools for? What should our children be learning in school?