The Education Conversation/Kōrero Mātauranga, the Government’s consultation with New Zealanders on our education system, is under way, including an online survey which closes in July.
It is time we seriously considered the purpose of education and the responsibility we have as a community to ensure that education serves our young people well.
Education is a dangerous activity if not wielded wisely. Driven by economic and bureaucratic considerations, our current education system is deployed as an instrument to work on individuals so that they can acquire or develop certain “capacities”, “skills” and “qualities”, in order to “improve performance”, which has become a “measurable activity”. Education is focused on the production of a particular kind of individual that will fit the prevailing job market and contribute to the economy. This is epitomised by the cult of “innovation”: the utilitarian, saleable outcome of human creativity.
This model of education trades thinking for the recall of facts; reifies competition and downplays co-operation; champions debate at the expense of open dialogue; and constructs siloed and alienating work tasks instead of engaging thoughtfully with meaningful, worthwhile activity. This model of education measures success in terms of “academic achievement”, obscuring that living well with others in a challenging, interconnected world is the ground of success.
* School wants kids to love learning, not just pass tests
* Depression among Kiwi students is a ‘crisis’
* Few schools well placed to support mental health
When students struggle in this dehumanising system “deficiencies”, “failure” and ”deviance” are said to be “located” in the young person, rather than in the systems that are imposed on the young person. Framing the situation in terms of an individual’s problem further marginalises and stigmatises, at the same time further obscuring the inter-related social structures that we live within and uphold through our actions.
Our young people are the canary in the mine. They are the most vulnerable and sensitive to things going wrong. With growing numbers of young people ending their own lives, with the increase in young people feeling depressed and hopeless, and being “diagnosed” with “mental illness” (again framing this as an internal or underlying issue of the individual), the high number of young people involved in the criminal justice system, and many young people looking to gangs as a place to belong, it is time we recognise that it is our social structures that are flawed and are failing us.
We have an opportunity now to transform our educational system, and as a corollary our social and economic structures, which education is both framed by and also perpetuates.
If we are to educate our young people well we must rehumanise education so that it becomes a medium through which our young people have a place to belong, understand who they are, cultivate bonds and connections that hold them well, discern and work with values that will enable all people to thrive, and are affirmed and empowered to change practices that are harmful.
The Government’s online survey is an important tool through which people can have a voice. However, face-to-face discussions are also taking place around the country, including at a “Rehumanising Education” conference, on in Wellington on July 23 and Auckland on July 25. We hope the Government will be bold enough to really transform education in a way that serves our young people well.