|Prospects - Quarterly Review of Education, Vol. 25, No. 4, 1995 (Issue 96) - Education and Culture (UNESCO, 1995, 264 p.)|
|OPEN FILE: EDUCATION AND CULTURE|
Edna Tait (New Zealand)
Served as principal of Tikipunga High School in New Zealand from 1983 to 1995. Executive member of the World Council of the Teaching Professions (1984-88), and a member of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO (1989-94). She has recently taken up the position of Head of the UNESCO Office for the South Pacific States, based in Apia, Western Samoa.
This paper describes the approach of one New Zealand State secondary school, Tikipunga High, to the formal learning needs of its students. The paper focuses on Maori students but the school's approach is intended to help all students whose culture makes them vulnerable to school experiences which could reduce their adult life choices.
The concept of culture is complex but for this paper and for the school's work it means the shared perceptions within social groups, and these may be as numerous as the different value systems on which they draw. Culture can be described in terms of the language habits (spoken or symbolic) which define, produce and reproduce the world for its users, and often are reflected in the practices of the group. In simple terms, culture can be viewed as the way people think and act. As well, culture may be modified in its transmission from generation to generation and it may be imposed on subordinate groups. This definition allows for ethnic culture and, for school purposes, the cultures of gender, socio-economic status and youth in particular. It also recognizes the multiplicity of cultural challenges which schools face.
It should be stressed that the school's work is not and never will be finished because the school context and the students' learning needs will keep changing. The model is offered, therefore, only as the current response to students' needs. The claim this paper makes is that the practice of continuing and democratic critical reflection on educational theory and school policies and practices is the essential feature of the school's approach. It is process, rather than product, which is stressed, although the school does recognize that the product is always important.
The Maori are the first people of New Zealand. Increasingly, they are preferring to call the nation by its original Maori name - Aotearoa. The term 'Pakeha' is used to denote the non-Maori population. Space does not allow a full account of Maori history and achievements, but a brief summary is useful for this paper.
The legal barriers used by many colonial powers to control indigenous populations were not as discriminatory in New Zealand as elsewhere. As early as 1840, Maori were extended all the rights and privileges of English subjects by the Treaty of Waitangi, which was signed by many Maori chiefs and by the governor of the (then) colony. Full male voting rights and special electorates gave Maoris representation in parliament in 1867, while Maori women gained their right to vote in 1893, at the same time as 'Pakeha' women. Non-governmental support began early and included church groups and tribal councils; later came more focused action, such as land-incorporation schemes, health and housing campaigns, a Maori Arts and Craft Institute and the Maori Women's Welfare League.
Schooling also was provided, either in the local schools with the settlers' children or by the provision of special schools for children living in remote areas. Maori children were included in the 1877 Education Act which established compulsory elementary education for all. They also were included in the 1902 Free Places Act which marked the beginning of secondary schooling, at least for the most academically able children. By this time there were already some secondary boarding schools established for Maori students.
The intentions and expectations of the colonial leaders throughout this period were that Maoris should and would be assimilated into the European way of life. This view continued as policy until the 1960s, and some argue that it is still a covert goal of some 'Pakeha' practices today. Initially, however, the Maori cooperated with the new settlers and rapidly and enthusiastically adopted their goods and ways including the new schools and the English language which they saw as the paths to equality in the future (Metge, 1967). It was not long before concerns arose, but, although these were increasingly expressed and in a variety of ways, the cultural adaptations continued.
In the last thirty years, however, there has been a Maori renaissance and although its impact has been uneven it reflects a strong cultural response to the effects of Maori/Pakeha interaction. In the 150 years that have followed the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi there has been a serious erosion of the foundations of Maori culture: land ownership and language usage both have declined. Land loss is a concern beyond the scope of this paper but its coincidence with language loss contributed to the renaissance. The decline of Maori language usage was important and reflected the growth of two cultures, one private and the other public. As the numbers of settlers increased, and their control grew, the use of English spread. Its use in the work place, schools, government and in all aspects of life made it the public (and therefore necessary) language, and for a long time the Maori language was not offered, nor allowed to be spoken, in schools. Consequently, Maori language, and the values, beliefs and practices it conceptualized, became private, used only in the home or emerging occasionally at communal or ceremonial gatherings. As the Maori became urbanized and dispersed, notably in the 1950s, it became increasingly difficult for families to hold on to their language and its use declined further.
The loss of land and language is common to many colonized people and the consequences are similar. In the case of the Maori, leadership and power-holding declined and there was a general demoralization of the people. The accumulated effects may be seen in a summary of their social and economic position today.
The self-identified Maori comprize approximately 12.9% of the population (although inter-marriage with 'Pakeha' blurs this figure) and for the most part they are urban dwellers (The New Zealand yearbook, 1994). Some have achieved high social status as doctors, lawyers, judges, members of parliament, church leaders, academic leaders in tertiary institutions, diplomats and heads of government departments. A very recent governor-general of New Zealand, Sir Paul Reeves, is Maori. But for the majority of Maoris the picture is different.
In comparison with 'Pakeha', the Maori have a higher rate of unemployment, poorer health and a shorter life-span. They are less likely to own a home (a New Zealand 'norm') and are more likely to leave school with no or few qualifications. Almost half of the custodial sentences are for Maoris. Only about 10% of Maoris speak their language (The New Zealand yearbook, 1994).
With the renaissance, Maori culture is a little less private than thirty years ago. Educational leaders have recognized the role of schools in the efforts for Maori equity. The content, practices and place of culture in formal learning are now well-established. The teaching of the Maori language is pursued in schools, as are efforts to promote Maori learning achievements, but there is a long way to go before the early dream of equality is reached. One difficulty is that the learning process in a New Zealand State school is different from the traditional way in which Maori children learned.
The Maori knowledge system was sophisticated in organization and, as in the European system, there was a hierarchy of learning with status given to some areas and not to others. Values education was (and is) significant and the language reflects this, with metaphor and allusion giving it a special richness. Language is the essence of Maori knowledge today because it provides access to the culture. Family histories, the protocol of ceremonies, knowledge of the spiritual world, traditional medicine, music, dance, games, stories of the different tribes, the significance of land and more, are all transmitted in their fullness only through the Maori language.
The processes for acquiring knowledge were multiple and included learning by watching and doing, with a high emphasis on verbal skills and memory. The context originally was provided by the ebb and flow of life in the village and so learning was task-focused and integrated with work and leisure, birth and death and the rituals and responsibilities of communal life. The family members and elders, especially, all contributed in different ways to a child's education. Some young people who showed special abilities were selected to receive privileged knowledge and were taught appropriately.
The tasks for Tikipunga High School, therefore, were to increase opportunities for language learning (especially), to involve the elders and families in teaching activities, and to find a curriculum delivery process which matched more closely the learning styles of the students.
The New Zealand secondary schooling context
The organization, curriculum content, assessment systems and teaching styles of New Zealand secondary schools today reflect the interaction of the nation's economic imperatives and social aspirations.
Before 1989 the focus of secondary schools was academic, with status and post-school opportunities going to students with the highest examination results. A basic view was that if students worked hard they would succeed in school and, by implication, in life. This suited those students who were comfortable learning in a culture in which knowledge was organized hierarchically, transmitted abstractly and compartmentally, assessed anonymously and focused on distant goals. However for many students with cultural knowledge and experiences different from those of the schools' policy makers and teachers, failure was the common experience and with it came consequential restrictions in adult life.
In 1989, however, the whole education system was reformed. Administrative control was decentralized to school Boards of Trustees; based on the concept of a seamless education system, new national curriculum and assessment frameworks were developed. The result has been an expansion in the learning areas schools may offer and in which students may gain nationally recognized credentials. The vision is that schools will be responsive to their communities' aspirations, as well as providing their students with the skills, attitudes and values specified in the national curriculum framework. It is hoped that there will be a more efficient use of national schooling resources, a greater responsiveness to students' and the nation's needs for life in the twenty-first century, and an improved equality of access to, and equity in, schooling outcomes. Equitable schooling outcomes for girls and Maori students require special attention and extra funding for schools serving low socio-economic areas is provided. All schools are urged to foster not only academic achievement but also skills for work, a reflection of the decline in employment opportunities, particularly for the unqualified and under-qualified school leavers.
The approach to working with students which Tikipunga High School has developed began before the 1989 reforms, but those reforms have eased the process in later years.
Tikipunga High School
Tikipunga High School is twenty-five years old and is situated in Whangarei in the northern part of the north island of New Zealand. It is a state school of 750 students. Its student body is bi-ethnic (48% are Maori and 52% are 'Pakeha' of European ancestry) and co-educational (with equal numbers of boys and girls). The school is ranked by the Ministry of Education as a Decile 2 school on a 1 to 10 scale in which 1 equates with severe social and economic deprivation in the school's community.
Unlike most secondary schools in New Zealand, Tikipunga's students usually come in at Form One (approximately 11 years of age), but each year 50 to 70 students join the school at the upper levels depending on the places available. The school also welcomes about 30 adult students and offers places for 32 severely physically and intellectually disabled students every year.
The school is one of five secondary schools in the city and most of its students come to it because it is local. Others, however, attend because families value its innovative approaches or because they want their children to take some of the special courses the school offers.
The cultures of the school are complex and interconnected. The student cultures of gender, ethnicity and disability all meet in the culture of youth, and most students share the culture of the socially and economically disadvantaged. The staff culture is more homogeneous: men and women are evenly divided but the majority are 'Pakeha' and middle class, and they share the experience of academic success and a commitment to student achievement. Students and staff participate in a school culture which is best described as a culture of change. A high value is placed on 'having a go', that is, on trying out ideas with the understanding that if a practice is not effective it will be adjusted or dropped. This 'rational and responsible' risk-taking approach has produced many changes in the school over recent years.
The first challenge for Tikipunga High School lies in the question: 'What causes school failure?' There were many educational and sociological theories to consider. The first set of theories could be called 'deficit' theories, as they blame the family, citing inappropriate child-rearing practices, inadequate (English) language skills, a lack of parental interest in education, poor study habits and negative peer pressure. Alternatively they blamed the schools, citing such reasons as inappropriate use of resources, low expectations of students, inadequate teaching skills, and institutional bias against girls and Maori. A second theoretical approach argued positively (but in spite of the evidence) that equal treatment would produce equality of achievement. A third set of explanations talked of social structuring and the role of schools in reproducing the culture of the dominant group in society. They argued the far-reaching impact of poverty and its special significance for learning. Which of the many explanations for school failure should the school accept?
The second challenge was provided by the views of Maori and women writers. Although there were differences between them, there was also a strong common theme, with both groups describing their lack of power in an inequitable society. Pat Hohepa (1978), Ranginui Walker (1985) and Wally Penetito (1988) protested the dominance of non-Maori practices and perspectives, while Mollie Neville (1988) and Sue Middleton (1985) argued against the hegemony of New Zealand's patriarchal society. Both Maori and women views highlighted the need for schools to think more closely about equity of outcomes rather than equality of treatment. How was the school to meet this problem of powerlessness?
The next challenge was particularly difficult. If the school reform process, for example, pursued a strong Maori focus there were potentially negative side effects. One might be that Maori students, willingly or not, would be locked into a cultural cage. While it was important to affirm Maori knowledge and learning processes it was also important not to deny Maori students access to other knowledge systems and learning processes. A second concern was that an emphasis on Maori or girls' cultural learning needs might well side-track the school from more important negative effects (such as economic need) in some or all of their school lives. Furthermore, an affirmation of ethnic or gender knowledge without the necessary skills for modern living might have an even greater marginalizing effect than being Maori or female. With these concerns the school recognized the challenge of providing both necessary or basic knowledge and also multi-cultural learning opportunities. How could this be organized so that there were no negative consequences for some students?
The fourth challenge grew out of the third. Whatever the school did, it should not be at the expense of the cultural needs of other groups of students. Thus, a promotion of Maori culture should not diminish the learning of girls or the disabled, or any other students in the school. But at the same time, whatever was done should not be an add-on extra, superficial in status, process and results. How could this be done?
Equally important was the challenge of gaining support for any changes in school processes. If the reforms were unacceptable to families or to the community, the effects on the students could be worse than the negative influences being targeted. Was it possible to make major changes and keep the support of most cultural groups in the school's community?
Next - and this challenge had major imperatives in it - the reforms had to be possible within the national curriculum and all other legal requirements, as well as compatible with the funding provided and the skills of the staff. The time limitation was recognized as a part of this challenge. A school week of only twenty-five hours provides very difficult constraints for reform. How could effective changes be made with no extra resources?
Finally, there was the challenge of 'Schooling For What?' To talk of preparation for adult life, or life in the 21st century, was not only simplistic but also potentially arrogant. The possibility of being wrong, of making mistakes, had to be recognized, and safeguards for the students needed to be built into whatever was done. Schooling should provide students with stepping stones, not stumbling blocks, to happy and fulfilled lives, but that judgement is usually not possible except in retrospect, and then it is too late. The concept of transformative schooling was attractive but offered no tested prescriptions for action. What should the school do?
So many challenges required some basic guidelines. For Tikipunga High School it was agreed that there would have to be continuing critical reflection on all processes and their results, a willingness to change processes if they were ineffective, and the school system had to be organized in such a way that desired changes could happen. So the work began.
IN THE BEGINNING
The work of James Banks (1981) provided the starting point. He stressed the importance of all aspects of the learning environment and the need for their review and reform for effective multi-cultural learning. This approach produced the first full school review by staff and members of the school community, and a number of areas requiring change were identified. It was agreed that a programme of transformation should commence, that risks were involved, and that ongoing review was essential.
The early changes tried to address some of the mixed cultural messages of schools. For example, teachers promoted the value of democracy and equal rights but often delivered the message autocratically, unevenly and in a hierarchically-organized context. Or the school urged co-operation when, at the least, learning for assessment was obviously competitive. Sometimes the school claimed that it existed for students when all of its processes and practices were clearly to meet teaching needs. Changes, therefore, included a flattened corporate management system based on portfolios and staff committees, a student centre to help students with their day-to-day concerns, the abolition of the school uniform, the building of a student cafeteria, the replacement of all school rules with a single rule of nonviolence, and the introduction of courses in health and school-to-work transition. The practice of celebrating achievement, small or large, staff or student, in or out of the school, was also established.
It was this spirit of ongoing critical reflection for total school reform that brought the staff and community of Tikipunga High School to thinking about the way in which the curriculum was delivered. The first thinking focused on the needs of senior secondary students for whom tertiary education was either not desired or was not even a possibility. For these students the academic, examination-oriented senior curriculum was irrelevant. What was needed were practical life skills for work and leisure, and recognition when such learning was achieved. This focus raised a number of problems including the difficulty of running two different senior programmes with no extra staffing, the possibility of second class status for the non-academic courses, and the recognition that a senior life skills course would not necessarily address the student-school culture gap and might continue to structure students and reproduce social inequities as theory suggested.
A one-year trial was held. The review showed that the anticipated problems of organization had emerged but that the approach had the potential to respond to different cultural learning needs including the recognition of other (non-school) knowledge and skills and also students' diverse learning styles and speeds. The review showed, however, that the programme was essentially a 'tack-on' and that a more inclusive approach was needed if the vision of helping all students was to be pursued. More thinking was needed, and more extensive changes were required. It took two more years before the new model of curriculum content and delivery was established, and the consequential changes to other related school processes are still continuing. An overview of this part of the reform now follows.
THE MODEL AND ITS RATIONALE
What has evolved has become known in New Zealand as a modular curriculum delivery system, but the title is deceptive. The model includes more than the way knowledge and skills are taught. It includes what is taught, how learning is assessed, students' access to learning opportunities, the approach to timetabling, the guidance systems needed to assist students' choices, the all-important retraining of staff, and the changing of perceptions, in and out of the school, of what 'worthwhile knowledge' is and should be.
The model is based on the view that the school should make a positive contribution to the choices students are able to make for their post-school lives. It recognizes that most of the students in the school are culturally vulnerable to learning experiences which might restrict or negate their post-school opportunities, and that many students are particularly at risk because of the combination of the biological and biographical cultures they have inherited. Maori girls from working class homes, for example, are potentially more vulnerable than their brothers, and both groups are more at risk than the 'Pakeha' working class children.
To help every student is difficult, but the modular approach tries to do so by providing each with her or his own individual learning programme, not just in senior school but from the first year of joining Tikipunga High. To do this, the introduction of more and new opportunities for knowledge and skills acquisition was required and this meant that somehow more time had to be found. It was created in two ways. First, all curriculum content was examined for unnecessary overlaps; these were surprisingly numerous and were removed. Second, all areas taught, both existing and new, were reassembled into modules of four hours a week for ten-week blocks. This not only gave the extra time needed but also provided visibly equal status to all parts of the curriculum. Furthermore, it provided increased staffing flexibility and so eased timetabling difficulties.
The change from year-long courses to modules had other, and major, advantages for cultural reasons. Learning became focused on close rather than distant goals which suited most students while not working against any of them. Also, learning became much more task-oriented and 'real', which suited Maori students initially and is now favoured by all. Most of all, it broadened student choice from six year-long courses to twenty-four modules and immediately increased the students' opportunities to explore new areas of knowledge. If a choice turned out to be inappropriate, at most only ten weeks had been given to it rather than a full year.
A modular approach is more than just a reorganization of school learning areas. Each module has five important parts in its description: the prior learning needed for entry, the content to be covered, the level of difficulty, the desired learning outcomes and the method(s) of assessment. This information enables students and the staff assisting them to select the modules most suitable for their goals and learning styles. There are also modules in many areas which allow students to 'catch up' or gain prerequisite knowledge and most modules can be credited if a student can demonstrate mastery of the desired outcomes. Some modules at each level of difficulty are compulsory to meet the seven learning areas required by law.
The provision of a wider choice of learning opportunities and a clear statement about what the students will experience in the classroom removes the 'stepping into the dark' of the previous system and promotes confidence and the anticipation of achievement. Most importantly, it frees students to learn at their ability level. In the past, to be fourteen years of age was to be a fourth former following the prescribed course. In the modular system, to be fourteen might mean studying a range of modules from Level II to Level VI.
But modules are more than simply dry descriptions of proposed teaching. They are all named precisely and enticingly. For example, English at Level III includes 'Writing for children', 'Mime and talk', and 'Using a video camera'. From these titles it may be guessed that practical skills have been elevated in status. With the expanded curriculum the worth of practical knowledge is promoted not only in the traditional 'academic' areas but also in many of the new modules: gardening, care of children, budgeting, vehicle maintenance, establishing a business, managing a cafeteria, finding an apartment, public speaking, relating to others, physical fitness, anger management, legal studies and first aid. The list is long and includes Maori arts and crafts, music and dance, bilingual learning and specialist modules in Maori history, rituals and practices to complement the Maori language classes.
Assessment for all modules is achievement-based or criterion referenced, using a scale of 1 to 5 for each learning outcome, each number translating into a statement about the level and content of achievement for the particular outcome assessed. In senior school many modules also provide access to external examinations or awards. All school assessments are provided at the end of each module so that students have quick feedback on their achievements. This practice means that every student leaves school with a detailed set of descriptions of school learning achievements, and this is especially helpful for early leavers or those with no national awards.
The staff initially required a major retraining programme to learn how to write modules. The usual practice is that school curriculum statements are written for teachers to follow, with their students being given only the titles of the year's work, such as English, Mathematics, History and so on. The modular curriculum is written for students and the staff had to learn how to do this. The staff also had to learn how to establish prerequisites, build in opportunities for students to reprocess work to reach a higher achievement level, establish assessment tasks and the criteria for assessment, and determine the different ways students could achieve the described tasks. Staff also had to learn how to provide guidance for the students, not only according to their ability but also their goals, their preferred ways of learning, and their prior knowledge and skills. One consequence of this was that the (now large) Modular Studies Book, which contains a full description of each module offered, was quickly extended with flow charts to show modular paths; a page was added on which students could explore possible choice variations, and some general advice on making choices and the national requirements for learning were included. Some staff also took up the challenge of timetabling the new approach and computerizing the production (each ten weeks) of the many assessment statements.
In some ways the staff development was the most difficult part of the curriculum reform. Retraining had to be carried out along with full teaching programmes and was inevitably slower than desired.
The winning of family and community support was simple and speedy. The students quickly understood the new approach, liked it, and said so. Families saw positive attitudes to, and achievements in, school where there had previously been none, and they encouraged the school to continue its approach. Also, deliberate and considerable efforts were deliberately made to involve Maori families and elders in classroom work. This was good not only for students' learning but also for the status of the reforms. Media coverage followed, other schools came to watch and learn, and in three years Tikipunga High School was established in national opinion as the exemplary modular school.
The critical reflection continued, of course, and for two years the school worked with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority which evaluated progress and the results. The Authority concluded its study of the school by publishing The Tikipunga experience (1992), which gave a positive account of the school's approach.
THE OPERATION OF CURRENT PROGRAMMES
Now, six years after the introduction of this programme, all students learn in a modularized curriculum. Selection of modules is made from the Modular Studies book, which is produced annually and which describes in some detail the modules which are offered. The programme is supported by careful monitoring of individual students' selections to ensure that government requirements of core programmes are followed, and to help students gain the learning they need for their post-secondary school goals. There are now a large number of students working in one or more areas of learning above their chronological age level or in catch-up modules.
It is difficult to statistically demonstrate the linkage between modular studies and external examination results, but the latter have risen dramatically and in the University Bursary examination for 1994, in almost every learning area students achieved above the national norm. But there are interesting changes of other kinds. For example, the proportion of Maori students in the school has risen from one-third to one-half. There may be other reasons why they come to this school, and its recent selection as a technology lighthouse school may be one, but still-to-be-published research carried out in 1994 indicates that Maori students feel comfortable in the school and like the wide range of choices. It is also interesting that students who have been rejected by other schools come to Tikipunga High and succeed. This second chance, of learning in a different way, appears to be useful for them also.
To describe the students' programmes is difficult because they are all different. At any time the combination of a catch-up module in one area, one or two compulsory modules at a different level, and some challenge modules at a higher level, is quite possible. The approach is complex and the students' use of it is total. More and more, they are in charge of their school lives and not merely observers of school experiences which they either do not understand or do not want. The emphasis is on student choice, the provision of a wide range of equal-status learning areas, the use of extensive staff guidance and shorter and more precisely focused delivery of the curriculum, which altogether seem to close the student-school culture gaps.
It is now six years since the reform of the curriculum area of the school began. James Banks appears to be right: reflection on one area will produce changes elsewhere if the total school environment is reviewed. At Tikipunga High School the curriculum reform led on to major changes with staff development programmes, student guidance, assessment practices, timetabling and reporting. It changed the school's language of teaching and learning and put the voices of the students into their classroom experiences. It broke down the uniformity of age in class groupings and it broke open the chronological cage of learning. The school experience for the students is now much more positive. A recent publication, Succeeding generations, by Roy Nash (1993), has noted the impact of limited family resources on learning and this research has encouraged the school to continue its modular approach. Also, two official reviews of the school in 1993 and 1995 have declared that the school is meeting the cultural and learning needs of its students effectively.
But what of the cultural challenges which started the process of critical reflection thirteen years ago? Maori knowledge, and ways of accessing and processing it, are better provided by the school. The choices between and within modules, the varied teaching styles, the achievement-based assessment, the guidance systems, indeed, all that the modular system includes, is culturally more appropriate for Maoris, for girls, and for the majority of the school's working class students. Also, the challenge to avoid locking students into or out of their own or other cultural knowledge is safeguarded by the accessibility of all modules. Nor is one culture promoted or tacked-on; there is more visibility of Maori practices in the school but much else is also non-Maori. The challenge of gaining public support was achieved by involving the community from the beginning. National curriculum requirements were met and work was completed with the resources already in the school, mostly because it had to be, but also because of the modular flexibility itself.
Two challenges remain. While students (and their families) have gained power in the school and now have better choices for their adult lives, the society in which they will live as adults is not yet culturally equitable. Thus the challenge of 'Education For What?' remains.
In August 1995 the school and its community will come together again to review the total school environment. It is likely that 'Education For What?' will continue to be the major concern for the families of not only the Maori students but also of the girls and - in particular - the socially and economically underprivileged. The hope is that better schooling will produce wiser adults and a future better than the present:
I teach I touch the future
I learn I am the future.
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