On a cold and rainy Tuesday night in May, TV3 gave their prime time, 7:30pm slot to a special report on NZ education by the prolific documentarian Bryan Bruce. Whether it was the rain or interest in the subject matter, an estimated 560,000 New Zealanders watched. The figurative picture Bruce painted of our current schooling system matched the weather going on outside - bleak. Links to neoliberalism and an unshifting reliance on standardised testing formed part of his investigation as he attempted to discover where everything went wrong. It started some great discussions here at Banqer HQ, but also in many New Zealand households, where some of it found it’s way to Twitter. I’ve chosen some of the more interesting and relevant Tweets, as well as reactions to some of the points raised, and would love to get your feedback too.

One of the first points fleshed out can be summarised from this tweet by @michaeltarry. Bruce discussed some of Labour Prime Minister Lange’s education reforms of 1987, which devolved more power to parent-led boards of trustees as well as the schools themselves, and publically stated that education is a commodity, not a right. A lot of this is pinned down onto the ideology of neoliberalism. According to a post on The Guardian, Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning. Bruce made the argument that schools competing with each other discouraged collaborating and sharing resources - things that will actually make our education system as a whole less effective.

The competition between schools also drives false comparisons and sensationalistic reporting of school measurables. In an effort to attract students and stay afloat, schools must demonstrate they have high levels of things parents find desirable in a school. These factors are quite often subjective, and it is not always abundantly clear what certain results mean in the context of the child’s education, but still pull students away from perfectly good schools in the chase for higher measurables. This has lead to more schools with large student numbers and putting a strain on small school finances, despite research showing small schools provide a better education. @dianne_khan was very active during the Report, and added this tweet to communicate this sentiment.

Because schools have to compete, it is evident that test scores are given much higher priority than holistic learning. This was a major theme throughout, and Bruce sought to showcase learning environments that put more emphasis on promoting learning rather than promoting better scores. This took him to Finland and an education system that has moved away from standardised testing but are still performing very well on the international stage. Like Finland, we have highly skilled and qualified teachers (top 10 in world):

It could be argued we are simply not giving them enough space to truly take learning into their own hands. @melulater summarises this well with this duo of tweets.

This is where the rubber hits the road, and where the national discussion on education should be anchored. Bruce makes the valid point that our students need to be internationally competitive, but not in simple and cold tests that give an unfair advantage to certain students and incentivise a mishandling of scores. To prepare them for the burgeoning creative economy, students need to be taught how to love learning and think in different but constructive ways. According to Bruce, this starts with less bureaucracy and more empowerment. An education that promotes and enriches differences more than similarities.

One of the things that was largely underexamined in this report was the role that technology could play in holistic learning. As a society, we have the technology for students to learn at their own pace - and we can measure more nuanced learning patterns better than ever before. At Banqer, we are trialling the idea of some small tests to discover the depth of our user’s knowledge, but more often than not we can tell how comprehensive a student’s knowledge is by how they allocate their Banqer dollars, and their method of saving.

In closing, I’d love to see the conversation continue in a meaningful and productive way. Schooling has implications across all facets of modern society and should be treated with utmost importance. I personally share the view of @barridullabh who tweeted:

Did you watch World Class: Inside NZ Education - A Special Report? If not, you can watch it on TV3 On Demand for the next 11 months here.

We would love to hear your thoughts on anything brought up in this blog, or subjects in the report. Comment below or make a post in our Banqer community!

Insights from Cam Richardson (Doco debutante, world class questioner, and Banqer Team Member)