A blogpost by David Duffy, Systems Manager, Think Beyond Ltd
In the late 1990’s the then Minister of Education, Trevor Mallard, took a step towards moving schools into the 21st century by allowing Discovery One School to open in Christchurch. It was, for a conservative Ministry, a bold step and it took many people beyond their comfort zone. Twelve years on the school is well established and the school’s community is enjoying and benefiting from the educational opportunities available in the wider learning environment.
The Canterbury Earthquakes have presented another opportunity for bold leadership in education. The rebuilding of Christchurch has focused on the redevelopment of the central business district, the restoration of the infrastructure serving the city and the relocation and welfare of the people whose homes have been ruined in the series of earthquakes. The Ministry of Education, school boards, principals and their teaching staff have been focusing on the restoration of ‘business as usual’ in the education sector. There have been huge demands placed on the education system at all levels and the fact that schools are functioning so well should be acknowledged and the efforts of all concerned applauded.
However, beyond the need to have schools functioning again is the growing concern for the long term outlook for education for Christchurch, particularly in the eastern suburbs. Schools have suffered in many ways; their communities have been severely dislocated and, in some cases, dismantled and are disappearing; their buildings and campus sites have been badly affected by liquefaction and structural damage; their governing and managing bodies have been stretched to the limit coping with the need to have schools functioning again while coping with their own personal circumstances.
The projected roll outlook for Christchurch indicates that some schools may no longer be economic units and may face closure. An assessment of the pre-earthquake situation reveals that there has always been a number of schools at different levels struggling in Christchurch for a variety of reasons. Throw in the extra dimensions of new housing developments, the relocation of a number of families, and importantly, the growing acknowledgement of the demands of 21st century learning and information technology developments, and there emerges a platform for reassessment about how we do things in Christchurch.
A simple ‘worst-case’ scenario would be for the Ministry to simply close some schools and amalgamate others. Some schools would disappear and some would get bigger but effectively, nothing would have changed and the opportunity for real progress would have been lost.
A ‘best-case’ scenario would see political and personal interests laid aside and a ‘think tank’ of knowledgeable people gather together to present a blueprint for education in Christchurch. They could address the need to educate our children in a seamless system which encompasses health and welfare issues as well being responsible for delivering an appropriate education system for our children as they emerge into the 21st century workforce and life generally. They could address the types of school campuses which would best meet this need by utilising current space and buildings in a more efficient way. This would reduce the need for unproductive competition between schools and ensure that children are coming first in our thoughts. They could address the governance and management systems presently utilised and adapt them so that greater efficiencies become evident which, in turn, would lead to better performance in schools.
They could address the impact of information communication technologies and present ways in which current and future systems can be used for the benefit of pupils and staff. They could communicate with communities who are presently connected with the education system in a remote and/or fractured way and who sometimes feel disenfranchised by the ways we have worked in the past.
They could also explore issues such as middle schooling; kindergartens and primary schools on the same campus site; single sex education in separate schools but with shared infrastructure; and the establishment of learning hubs and resource centres to support the needs of all our children.
Other innovative issues might include flexible enrolments enabling students to pursue studies at other educational facilities, transport networks to facilitate flexibility, and establishing more effective partnerships in the teacher training programmes.
There are examples of such schemes and community projects all over the world. The need for a physical rebuild of our schools in Christchurch has presented us with a unique opportunity to develop some exciting strategies within a responsible fiscal framework. We have the expertise and the knowledge within our community to formulate such plans. The research, the knowledge, the many examples of excellent practice are out there waiting to be tapped into, co-ordinated and manifested into a transformed, modern, effective system.
“Preparing for 21st century learning” has become an outdated catch-cry. We are 11% through this century already. Are the Government and the people of Christchurch going to waste the chance to really seize this opportunity and work collaboratively to prepare an educational environment the people of Christchurch can be proud of? Will be catatonic or catalytic?