Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Democratisation of education: The Manaiakalani Project, and more ...

Nothing could capture the moral imperative of education better than this image:

Image result for equality equity liberation image

It captures the challenge that faces us better than anything else that I can think of, and I've used it repeatedly.

How can we reduce inequality, how can we improve equity? I believe that ONE strategy is the democratisation of education,  making education 'fit for purpose' for everyone, not just those from the European middle class, not just those who have traditionally benefited from our past educational systems. Education offers the opportunity for liberation.

That is the background to my thinking after another great meeting with Cheryl Doig. We discussed a really interesting piece of work that she is involved with called 'Learning City Christchurch'. The name speaks for itself. What does it involve? What would a 'learning city' look like? That's the million dollar question.

Here's my take on it: we want Christchurch to be a city in which learning is ''what we do', the 'we' being all citizens, regardless of age, race, religion, and regardless of the purpose or context of the learning. Such a 'construct' is a very complex thing with lots of inter-related parts.

In Christchurch we have a formal education system that is evolving in ways possibly unique in the country. Secondary schools are increasingly collaborating, working together, sharing practise in order to improve outcomes for learners. Much of this began post earthquakes through the work of the Ministry funded 'Grow Waitaha' organisation, and continues on to this day. This in itself is important work that the Ministry of Education needs to continue to fund.

I recently discovered another exciting piece of collaboration in the making when I had a delightful meeting with Cheryl de la Rey, the (new) current Vice Chancellor of University of Canterbury. She spoke of moves to improve collaboration between the four key tertiary providers in Christchurch. To get more learners into formal tertiary education, regardless of the institution, is winning for the city, for learners, and for the country. Her views were refreshing.

Back to the meeting with Cheryl Doig; we talked of a concept of 'supernodes'.. something that blew my mind, but if I understand correctly it involves systematic development of areas of advantage that the city already has - agri-technology for example with Lincoln University.

So, how does this connect with Hornby High School?

We are already doing great work in the democratisation of education with The Manaiakalani Programme. The outcomes for our learners, regardless of gender or ethnicity, are transformational. Students are encouraged to find their voice, to connect their learning to their own cultural world, to make their learning visible, to coach each other. We are also working to transform curriculum so that it is more relevant, engaging, and effective. These things support development of student agency and efficacy (that is, control and effectiveness). These two things improve achievement for learners.

In this journey we are not alone. Many secondary schools in Christchurch are working to improve the ways in which they cause learning so that they improve outcomes. Whether it is Haeata and their new learning paradigm, or Christ's College and their 'Inspire' programme for their year 10 boys, it is all a part of the innovative educational landscape that we have in Christchurch. I am aware of many other initiatives across the city (and across the country) that are seeing extraordinary transformation in learning. Beyond Christchurch, try Hobsonville Point Secondary School, or Rototuna High School.

What is holding us back? In my opinion one barrier is the media, ever ready to 'bag' any attempts at doing things differently. After all, growing a sense of outrage is the best way to sell advertisements and generate revenue. To hell with the truth. To hell with improvements in society. The net result is that schools and Principals tend to keep their heads down in their attempts to avoid that public media gaze, that pseudo-scorn that the media is so keen to heap on educational innovation. Thank goodness many schools and Principals have the moral courage to try new things.

Well, Dear Media, let me offer that famous Einstein wisdom "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

In schools we are trying to do things differently. Whenever you see change and you 'bag it', you disincentivise that change and improvement. In doing so you create a push factor that resists change and maintains the status quo, that keeps those who have traditionally been poorly served by education down at the bottom on the economic heap. Perhaps most specifically you keep Māori at the bottom of the heap, because they are the people who have been least well served by our traditional euro-centric system. That sounds and looks a lot like institutional racism to me. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's certainly my perspective. And here's the fascinating thing in this regard: things that improve educational outcomes for Māori improve educational outcomes for all (He Kakano)

These are things that help to make a learning city, or to use a Christchurch City Council phrase, a city of opportunity. So too are moves to micro credentialing, to creating a system that 'badges' or recognises small pieces of learning that are important to the learner at a specific point in time, and that may well accumulate towards qualifications but which more importantly focus learning on what matters, not on gaining qualifications that may be largely irrelevant to the learner, and to society.

This looks a lot like democratisation of learning, and equity for learners. For Hornby High School, the democratisation of education comes in the form of The Manaiakalani Programme, in the shape of new connected curriculum, in the shape of a shift in pastoral practices and structures. Other schools have their own journey, as they should. This happens to be our journey. Many schools have the courage to change. Let's not be brow beaten by others into avoiding what is right.

Iti te matakahi, pangāia ke te tōtara pakaru ai (The wedge may be small but it will split the greatest tōtara).

At the very least we all bask in the economic benefits of this democratisation. By crikey, even the OECD agrees. And some of us even bask in the knowledge that what we are doing is morally right.

Ma te hururu, ka rere te manu

Robin Sutton


  1. Think you nailed it when you said 'Many schools have the courage to change. Let's not be brow beaten by others into avoiding what is right'. Schools, especially those in comfortable surrounds, are averse to risk taking. Remember when one Principal said 'NCEA gives us the flexibility to axe Level 1 now - why don't we do it'??? It's stuck in my mind.
    The two Cheryls will be proud of you Robin Sutton!

  2. Kia ora Robin, thank you for continuing to challenge the status quo. It reminds me of a saying ... I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees! You are correct about the democratisation of education through TMP. TMP and Uru Mānuka are levelling the playing fields by reducing the digital divide, providing visible and rewindable learning through the use of sites. As for those who continue to 'bag' change, it is up to us as professional to continue raise our heads above the parapets and keep telling our stories, sooner or later they will get it! Kia kaha Robin.