“The Government’s objective, broadly expressed, is that every person, whatever [her or] his level of academic ability, whether he [or she] be rich or poor, whether he [or she] live in country or town, has a right, as a citizen, to a free education of the kind for which he [or she] is best fitted and to the fullest extent of [her or] his powers.” – Peter Fraser and Clarence Beeby (1938)
Labour is committed to a New Zealand in which all people can reach their full potential through education. High-quality, lifelong learning is vital for both social and economic development and for a successful democratic society of informed citizens. New Zealand’s public education system is amongst the best in the developed world. Maintaining that standard requires a willingness to innovate and invest to keep pace with changing needs and new challenges.
Labour has always been at the forefront of driving progressive educational change – from Peter Fraser and his Secretary of Education, Clarence Beeby, ushering in the modern school era in the 1930s, through to David Lange with Tomorrow’s Schools, which still underpins our school system today, and the development of our modern early childhood education system.
We are reaching another turning point. A range of factors are combining to put our school system under pressure. These include demography, technological change, international competition, and Tomorrow’s Schools reaching the limits of its usefulness. The modernisation of schools in other nations means they are starting to outpace us, and there are signs that our educational outcomes are starting to worsen. We cannot stand by and allow this to happen.
A fresh approach to education
As the way we live and work continues to change rapidly, so too do the demands we place on our education system. However too often creativity and innovation is being hampered by government red tape and compliance requirements.
Increasingly teachers and educationalists tell us that they’re spending so much time testing and filling in forms to satisfy bureaucratic accountability requirements that they don’t have enough time to do what they’re actually there to do – teach.
Relentless changes to legislation and regulation, the importation of failed approaches from the US and the UK, lack of funding, and a lack of collaboration between those who set policy and those who are expected to implement it are all distracting attention from what really matters.
We need a different kind of education
Our education system needs to prepare our people for a world we can’t yet imagine. We will need to be resilient, creative, and adaptable, have great communication and interpersonal skills, and be prepared to work collaboratively as well as independently.
Far from having a ‘job for life’ we can expect to chop and change careers on a regular basis. We will probably undertake a range of different types of work, some salaried, some contracted, some in a workplace, some from home.
Subject specific knowledge will be a lot less important, transferable skills will be essential. Attitude and aptitude will be just as important, if not more important, than qualifications.
The current focus on standardisation and measurement works against adapting the education system to the needs of the modern world. Those policies seek to refine a system that was well suited to the last century, but simply won’t cut it in the future.
It's time for a fresh approach
Our focus has to be on a much more personalised learning experience, one that brings out the best in each and every individual. No two people are built exactly the same so we should stop forcing the education system to treat them as if they are.
We need to rebuild an educational environment that is characterised by high levels of trust, ongoing opportunities for professionals working within the system to engage in professional development and access the kind of support they need to thrive, and a much closer connection between the education system and the other social services that impact on citizens' ability to participate in it.
Labour's way forward
The Labour Party will continue to champion a free public education system that provides all New Zealanders with lifelong learning opportunities so that they can reach their full potential. Our work will be organised around five main priorities:
- Learners at the Centre: Placing learners at the centre of the education system with a much greater focus on personalised learning, strong foundations and lifelong learning, the recognition and celebration of diversity, and a focus on learning environments that are culturally and socially responsive
- Barrier Free Access: Breaking down the barriers to participation at all levels, with a particular focus on breaking down financial barriers by returning to the principle of a free public education that is available to all New Zealanders throughout their lives
- Quality Teaching: Championing quality teaching and the importance of a respected and supported teaching profession at all levels of the system
- Quality Public Education: Investing in and backing our world-class, public education system
- 21st Century Learning: Focusing on learning that is relevant to the lives that New Zealanders are living today, the technology they will interact with, and the types of skills that will provide them with the opportunities to thrive in all aspects of their lives