7 trends in education

Whether your child is about to start school, your teenager is stressing about university or you’ve applied for tertiary study,  education is changing. Jai Breitnauer takes a look 

1. Ed-tech

One of the most exciting growth areas in education at the moment, EdTech is worth $86 billion globally and is forecast to grow to $257 billion by 2017. So what is it? Learning-based technology programmes: apps, games and software children can use at school and home to succeed academically. Once ‘computer studies’ was compartmentalised as an independent subject; today devices such as iPads, smartphones, laptops and smart boards are being integrated into everyday learning scenarios.

    It’s not just about kids doing their homework on the family tablet – it’s about changing cognitive behavior so children can learn in an easier, faster and more technology-orientated way, reflecting the world we live in. We may worry about the effect of too much ‘screen time’, but we must also accept that mobile gadgets are our future, and if our primary-school child can use them instinctively, their brain is being trained for what lies ahead.

2. Those who can, teach 

Across the globe a number of charity-based teaching qualifications are springing up, moving the career away from the vocational and toward the missionary. Teach for America was  launched in 1989 to address postcode inequality in America’s schooling system. It has since launched the global Teach for All network, with partner organisations in Lebanon, Argentinia, China and elsewhere.

Teach First UK began in London in 2002 to bring good-quality teaching to the 3.6 million children living below the poverty line and attending low-income schools. Teach First UK put the best graduates through an intensive ‘summer institute’ followed by two years of on-the-job supervised experience. 

In New Zealand thousands of students leave school each year without NCEA Level 2, and students from low-income households are half as likely to achieve a place at university as their well-off peers. Teach First NZ, part of the Teach for All network, launched in Auckland in 2011 and put University of Auckland students through the same intensive training and classroom-based experience. They’re looking for more candidates now. For more, visit: www.teachfirstnz.org

3. Smaller schools 

The biggest education scandal of 2012 was the government’s decision to close a number of schools in Christchurch and merge the children into schools elsewhere in the city. This prompted very real concerns about the impact on local communities, and on class sizes. Across New Zealand, particularly in the primary sector, average class sizes range from 23 to 29 pupils. Education Minister Hekia Parata’s announcement in 2012 that ratios would move to a set 27.5 across the country caused great controversy: while it would save around $43 million a year in teaching costs, research has repeatedly shown children achieve better when class sizes are smaller (particularly in urban areas). In the US, charter schools are driving the change toward smaller class sizes, and in the UK, Govian Free School policy (although not popular in itself) has allowed charitable organisations like ARK Education to open smaller schools with higher pupil-to-teacher ratios.

4. Performance pay 

The current National government has talked extensively about introducing performance-related pay for teachers, linking salary directly to their students’ results. This in turn means increased standardisation of teaching practices and the curriculum, and the introduction of national standards tables. Opponents argue this does not celebrate the cultural diversity of New Zealand, or allow teachers to embrace their strengths and their students’ interests. A May 2012 OECD report has shown that linking teacher pay to student performance is a flawed concept, as it assumes the teacher has total responsibility for the student’s results and fails to take other factors into consideration. One  US study demonstrated how one in three teachers were mis-labeled as ‘ineffective’ based on one academic year’s worth of student results. See www.standupforkidz.org.nz for more.

5. E-learning

Technology advancements in the last few years have improved the capabilities of e-learning – that’s got to be a good thing for New Zealand’s geographically dispersed population. Te Kura, the Correspondence School, launched in 1922, offers courses from early childhood to year 13. In 2001, they began running these courses online, and in 2011 they upgraded much of their online resourcing to help respond to the Christchurch earthquakes and subsequent school closures. There are also more than 6,500 home-schooled children in New Zealand, benefitting from interactive online content and networking. 

But education isn’t just for kids, right? Tablet, apps, camera phones and the file-sharing benefits of the cloud have opened up tertiary education to an even wider audience. This has lead to an increasing number of competency-based education courses in the tertiary sector. These courses are self-paced, flexible and more affordable than traditional higher education, with points awarded for mastery of the topic as demonstrated by your skills, rather than just course completion.

6. Student debt 

One inescapable global trend is the ‘massificiation’ of universities. The loss of vocational and on-the-job training programmes has led universities to grow and diversify – which is good, right? Thing is, this takes money, and increasingly, the money is coming
from the students. The Education Act of 1989 changed the face of New Zealand tertiary education, first introducing a flat $1250 tuition fee, later allowing institutions to set their own fees. The government began funding universities based on number of students enrolled, not the quality or relevance of the degree received.

Despite a cut in ‘poor-quality’ courses of 15 percent, OECD research has shown that over your working lifetime, the net value of a degree in New Zealand for a man is just $63,000, and for a woman a measly  $38,000. With the average student debt exceeding $28,000, it is no longer viable for many students to take purely academic courses out of interest. Universities must re-design and defend the value of their mainstream degrees, and even partner with employers to offer jobs on graduation.

7. Pure research versus the real world

A knock-on effect of the need for degrees to provide students with real-world skills, is the need for research to mimic that as well. Funding is increasingly only available from the private sector, and given to research projects whose goals are relevant to and aligned with national productivity agendas. While many believe this is a logical extension of accountability for spending public money, others see it as sacrilege, eating into the tradition of the intelligentsia seeking knowledge for knowledge’s sake. The impact has been widely felt in the arts sector, and funding for science innovation has become directly linked to financial return. One example would be developing treatments for conditions based on the profit margin from pharmacutical sales. A positive is the professionalisation of the creative sector, turning artists into entreprenuers with a business head. 

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