People & Performance – August 2002 issue     back to articles menu

Education - Losing the Plot?

“May you live in interesting times” - apparently, an ancient Chinese curse. Well, I’m all for a good curse here and there, but surely we can come up with something a bit more blood-curdling like, ‘May your funding be forever stopped’, or ‘May a Moratorium on all PTE’s darken your future’ or perhaps ‘We’ll send your kids home from school’. Employers are co-customers of the education system. Are they being short-changed?

 We are certainly ‘living in interesting times’. Like many of my colleagues reading this journal, I spend so much of my time working on my business that I don’t get to know deep inside information about many of the things that are ‘hot’ subjects in the news. Therefore I find myself often in a state of mild perplexity at the latest antics of those with powerful influence in our education system. Perhaps some of those influencers might feel uncomfortable enough (while reading this) to write letters to mine Editor and explain, thus we will all be educated. For instance, I’ve never been a Secondary School Teacher – or any other kind of school teacher, and from what I hear of the lack of discipline and many reports of actual assault on teachers, I don’t think I’d want to be. I mean, if you join the Police or take a job as a nightclub bouncer, you accept the potential risk, you know the risk before you take the job on, and you’re trained to minimise the risk of actual harm to your person. But a Teacher? So in that at least, they have my admiration and sympathy. What I don’t understand is the resistance of many to the prospect of the new NCEA. Perhaps a Teacher might want to write in and explain – I came through the old School Certificate system many years ago, and I’m one of those people who don’t cope well with exams. For instance, in the 5th Form I could speak French conversationally pretty well, if I do say so myself. My Teacher expected a good result. So did I. My School Cert result? 17%. Fail. Had I been assessed on actual Competency rather than simply what I could remember under pressure, I know I would have passed moderately well. I wonder if people have forgotten that it wasn’t so long ago that, as the exam results started to come in, if too many people looked like passing School Certificate, ‘they’ (whoever ‘they’ were) would artificially ‘raise’ the pass-mark – a process called ‘scaling’ – to ensure that the proper number actually failed, and in so doing totally ruined the employment chances of thousands of young people. How anybody can defend that is beyond me. If the NCEA means that our young learners are judged by what they can do as much as by what they can remember, then I am in full support of it, and I just wish people would stop using the NCEA as a means of ‘hydraulic-ing’ their pay and conditions, and remember who the customers are. No, teachers are not paid enough – the good ones, at any rate – but should the future of our young people be adversely effected as a tool for raising pay? Watching TV news the other day, the item on the demise of Best Training, a successful Private Training Enterprise (PTE), due to cessation of Government funding left me feeling particularly depressed about where this country seems to be headed in terms of education. To be frank, it’s why I have always held back from the temptation to involve our company in any training that involved Government (or anyone else’s) funding. He who can turn the tap on, can turn it off at will, and there is simply no way you can run an enterprise with any kind of certainty when the money supply can be turned off in response to political whims. I’ll stay with a commercial market that, while tough sometimes, usually acts with a degree of intelligence and responsibility. Best Training, an enterprise involved in providing much-needed education to people who otherwise would be denied it, and by all accounts doing a bloody good job of it too, has been trashed in an eye-blink because of political interference. Somehow I can’t imagine that happening to a Polytech or a University – why is that? I guess PTE’s are a soft target, and in the competition for Government funds, the big pigs shoulder out the little ones at trough-time. My sympathies go not only to the students who won’t now get the education they might have otherwise, nor to the trainers who have to find a job somewhere else, but also to the gutsy entrepreneurs who came up with the Vision, had the determination to see it through, and took the big business risk – something those in control of Government funds clearly don’t currently understand and will never aspire to. Long live the Status Quo, God, please, don’t let anything change – we’re happy in our mediocrity. The interesting thing is that, when NZQA was set up, there was clear recognition and acceptance that, in terms of workplace training, employers are the customers and do actually know what they want in terms of competencies in the workforce, and were included as major – if not equal – partners in the decision-making process. Why is it that the same realisation cannot be applied to Secondary schooling? I think it is high time that those decision-makers in school education stopped seeing themselves as the only decision-maker in how our young people are educated, and that those in control of the Government purse give more credit to those in the Private sector who just might actually be capable of producing a better output. I have long believed that those charged with educating our young should be performance-rated in terms of how many of their students actually demonstrate competency, in exactly the same way that any other service provider is judged – quality of output. If you don’t produce top quality, you don’t get paid top money, and if you continue (after opportunity to improve) to not produce quality, you are encouraged to seek gainful employment elsewhere. Perhaps I’m too commercial. It’s not that simple, is it. Or is it?

Carpe Diem

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
© Steve Punter 2002 All rights reserved by the author.                                                                                                                       back to articles menu