Monday, September 26, 2016

Youth Guarantees Scheme - NZ outcomes

A flurry of activity within the NZ Voc Ed Blogger community after a local media article reporting on the outcomes of the Youth Guarantee programme in NZ, published in August.

Details are summarised in powerpoint by David Earle and Tertiary Education Commission - TEC - summary sheet.

Youth Gaurantees is set up to provide free tertiary education to students 16 - 19 who are in danger of becoming NEETs (not in employment, education or training). As such, the funding has mainly been targeted at students who have dis-engaged from the formal school system. Programmes tend to revolve around providing learning to ensure literacy and numeracy foundations are established, often within situated learning environments - i.e. pre-trade / vocational pathway programmes.

The media snippet on TV1 news, sparking the blogging, was confused Youth Guarantees with apprenticeship :( leading to a mishmash of outcomes being reported which did not make much sense.

Stuart Middleton's latest blog covers some of the misconceptions and challenges related to helping young people find their feet in an educational systems still very much premised on preparing school leavers to move into further academic study.

This morning, more fuel added to the debate with an analysis of the types of NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) Level 2 subjects completed by students' ethnicities. The summary makes for important reading. Basically, academic subjects have low numbers of Maori and Pacifika students and when these students do undertake study in physics, chemistry etc. they are less likely to achieve. Completion of the 'vocational' subjects - hospitality etc. tends to be higher in the lower decile schools and with higher proportions of Maori and Pacifika students.

Quote from article:
Dr Aaron Wilson, the co-author of a University of Auckland paper about similar trends, said the fault was partially with the qualification design.
"NCEA's greatest strength and greatest weakness is it's flexibility," he said. "It can be used to recognise strengths and open doors, or pigeonhole kids and limit their pathways."
So, the conundrum is, how can the educational system work for all students, regardless of ethnicity and social economic status? Unfortunately, society still measures ones worth through 'intellectual' muscle. Never mind that 'vocational learning' can be just as complex. My example is coffee making. For the average person, making coffee using a domestic espresso machine can be fraught with variables. To get every cup of coffee the same, each and every time the machine is used, takes quite a bit of practice. One needs to learn how to 'read' the machine and match the machines function to the type of coffee being used. Frothing milk to the right consistency and temperature each and every time is another challenge! Yet, a learner who completes competency in coffee making is seen as 'less worthy' than someone who completes level 2 physics. 
Therefore, back to square one :( Vocational education's credibility and respect, as Stephen Billett argues, is really the prime objective. Until society as a whole, commits to respecting the parity of skill and knowledge, we will still be reading articles as produced over the last two weeks. NZ has set the framework with NCEA and the qualifications framework - to provide equivalency to all learning. However, there is still lots of work to bring the general populace to understanding the need to respect all forms of learning and contributions.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Future of Jobs - a critique

John Hagel provides here, a counter to the recent flood of articles, op eds and blogs on the future of work / the future of jobs. In the main, the theme in various articles summarised on this blog e.g. from the World Economic Forum,  nature of work into the future, changing nature of work, why we work, etc.

In the Hagel article, discussion is had on the following:

Firstly, is STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) the future. An important factor, especially in the NZ context. Hagel argues that focus on just one disciplinary aspect, leads to a rather unbalanced provision into the future. In the NZ context, there has been a big push for STEM with increased tertiary funding and support through Careers advise for STEM programmes. Schools are also encouraged through various initiatives, to encourage students into selecting STEM subjects and continuing into the advanced courses. In some universities, the decline in students studying humanities subject has let to restructuring - see recent article on Otago University.

Some aspects of the NZ economy could be enhanced through better STEM input. With an economy based around agriculture (including horticulture and forestry) and tourism, the tyranny of distance has recently been obviated through the rise of 'tech' companies, producing software solutions for a range of industries. For example Xero is often trotted out as an exemplar. Also, media stories on large number of small 'start-ups' and 'incubators' working on mobile apps, video games (rocketwertz),  sports visualisation etc. NZ is also a world leader when it comes to integration of technology with farming / horticulture / forestry practice.

However, as argued by Hagel, there is need for individuals to find, attain and sustain passion in what they set out to do. Not all individuals will have the attributes to be successful at STEM.

Also counters the perspective that technology will lead to jobs disappearing. Some jobs will never (?) be taken by computers / robots. Hagel's examples include craftspeople and artists, customizers (as in people who meet bespoke needs of consumers), curators, coaches, counsellors, compelling experience hosts, community hosts and moderators, captivating performers. The common theme with these jobs - creativity. Something educational systems have always struggled with assisting to develop.

The article then goes on to explain how people make a living. Suggests costs of living will decline due to technology and a move from 'ownership' to access. e.g. instead of owning a car, hire when required. Also that we should all consider and attain the attitudes to be entrepreneurs rather than employees.

All in , a worthwhile read, bringing some balance to the hype of technology advances and the other side of the coin with regards to the pessimistic outlook of the impact of technology on work. My take is that humans have survived due to their ability to adapt, innovate and re-invent themselves. There will be collateral damage along the way - such is life :( but like Hagel, I am an optimist. The future of work should not be feared but should be seen as another opportunity, to make use of technology to make the world a better place into the future.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Summary - op ed from Gavin Moody on 'what Australia can learn from England's plans for vocational education

Read through Gavin Moody's opinion piece last week on the conversation. Some interesting aspects, with several relevant to the NZ context.

The report Gavin refers to is the proposal  for Degree apprenticeships put up by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. In summary, there will be TWO routes post school - the college based academic and the employment based pathway to 'degree apprenticeships'. The report proposed 15 routes (industry sectors / discipline areas). Other recommendations are to reject 'market qualifications' and competency-based training'. Additionally, public funds should not be allocated to for-profit providers. A levy on employers would fund apprenticeship.

The above draws from two recent reports in the UK. One on post-16 skills published in July this year and the other called the 2012  'Richard's review' - full report available at this link.

There has been much debate and review in the of post-school alternatives by the UK government of late. Mainly, to try to engage their large number of NEETs and to ramp up skills to meet the demands of the post- industrial age. A major challenge has been (and still is) the stratification of the class system and a general attitude of non-academic / non-university qualifications as being inferior.

The Richard's review sets the scene by "redefining apprenticeships, focusing with greater rigour on the outcome of an apprenticeship, and using recognised industry standards to form the basis of every apprenticeship". A goal of 3 million apprentices has been set for 2020. Employers are to feature with the Institute of Apprenticeships set up to regulate apprenticeship quality, encourage better gender, minority participation across all trades, and a UK-wide levy for employers to pay out more than 3 million pound annually.

The post-skills report intention is to have all students move into either an academic or technical option post-16. Students should be able to move between these two routes seamlessly as well.
The technical route is an applied education pathway into skilled employment and may be attained through college-based or employment based (apprenticeship) options. Of note is the recognition of degree equivalency through wither pathway.

15 routes (industry sectors / discipline areas) have been identified. A ‘road map ‘ towards implementation of all the recommendations by 2020 included in the report.

Some learning from the above for NZ. We currently has 'vocational pathways' set up which is steadily gaining momentum. Credits gained at school or through shared 'tertiary college' programmes held in partnership with polytechnics or similar, may be used towards completing the National Certificates in Education at levels 1 - 3 (these are the school-base qualifications). Apprenticeship still has a way to go to gain parity with university qualifications, although the intend of the NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has always been to have qualification levels as stepping stones from level 1 (foundation) to 10 (PhD). However, there is difficulty, especially at the university level, to transfer credits across levels or for credits gained through vocational education into university degrees. There is movement, especially through various 'recognition of prior learning' arrangements - and example being the Centre for Assessment of Prior Learning (CAPL) at Ara. Skills and expertise gained through work are aligned to qualifications offered at ARA, providing a means of qualification attainment without having to commit to an entire programme of study.

Therefore, important to keep up with the play as various countries seek contextualised solutions to meeting the skill and work demands of the future.

Monday, September 05, 2016

NZ COOL - elearning from home for school kids - impact on tertiary education in NZ

A flurry of activity in the NZ blogsphere and slight reactions in the news media from NZ Minister of Education's recent announcement. Minister Hekia Parata advocated for schools to keep up with 21st century learning and the use of technology to allow students to complete schooling from home called COOL - community of online learning.

NZ has a history of distance education at the school level due to it's small population and geographical spread. The NZ correspondence school - te aho o te kura pounamu has a history going back almost a century of providing distance education to students living in remote country farms.

Generally positive reaction was provided by Derek Wenmouth from CORE ED and Dr. Steve Maharey, vice chancellor at Massey University. Both cautioned for the need to be circumspect. COOL should not just be about shifting to a different mode of learning. 21st century learning is to ensure students gain knowledge and skills to allow them to participate and contribute to the society they live in.

Critiques abound, with opinion pieces from education journalist, overviews from opposition parties and a summary from the Science education sector. Overall, good to see actual discussion on the topic.

In tertiary and vocational education, elearning has been percolating for two decades. There are some excellent examples of good practice in the NZ ITP (polytechnics or community colleges / further education) sector, but they are small when the scale of things is considered. The MAIN observation from my point of view, as an observer over the last 20 years and a contributor to the cause, is the following. NOT all vocational / applied learning is suitable for conversion to on-line learning. To work well, both students and teachers require digital literacy / fluency and learning to learn skills before on-line learning is embarked on. Careful selection of the types of learning that will work well for on-line learning is a key. Then, its a matter of 'listen to the learners', building confidence and capability with teachers and continual monitoring and support. Only then, will outcomes from on-line learning match the ones we currently meet with f2f delivery.