During this Covid time, we are acutely aware of the pressures both personal and institutional that teachers, parents and students are experiencing. As we look with hope for a sometime end-point, we are also aware more than ever of the need for a robust public sector infrastructure in which education is inclusive, enlightening, challenging, comprehensive, and actively values diversity in school and society.
We look for a system that tries energetically to promote high-quality delivery and equity in education services in the face of inequality across society. In the interests of an informed and thoughtful populace, we look for an education system that encourages intelligent thinking rather than just transmission of information.
When we someday emerge from Covid, we can expect massive pressures to return to the status quo in a context of enormous public debt. Government response to demands for funding then will likely be that the coffers are empty (though Geoff Bertram of VUW argues that government can issue money to counter the debt). Much of society will understandably want to just return as quickly as possible to business as usual.
But as in the Great Depression, the current crisis is an experience that should push us to create a new, far-reaching and progressive vision of a socially just culture. We will need to be very carefully prepared with powerful arguments and data to promote enlightened education in NZ.
At the same time, we need to keep some aspects of recent history firmly in mind. A change of government could usher in a return of calls for standardised testing,national standards, and even COOL – the proposal to put primary school students into extensive online learning. There would be a paradox here. Online education is obviously a resource at this time of crisis. And by chance, a new online private online school opens in April, (see RNZ 9 to Noon, 17 Apr, 9:42 Transforming teaching and learning online , Crimson Global Academy .)
Meanwhile, tertiary managements have been salivating for years at the prospect of ever-increasing use of online learning to streamline delivery, "create efficiencies," cut costs and staff. But teachers and lecturers argue that for really effective education to take place, they need sustained face-to-face contact with students, no matter how much it's supported by online platforms.
Here are some items that might be worth pursuing, building a case for:
~ moving ECE from its extensive private ownership to public funding and oversight, preferably under community direction
~ supporting equity in society and in education funding and structure
~ fully funding public tertiary education
~ extending fees-free tertiary education to do away with crippling student debt (remember university in the 1960s?)
~ replacing the relentless push for polytecs to "meet the needs of business and industry" with tertiary education that serves the enrichment of the nation, in other words, the public good