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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

IT’S TIME ORAL LANGUAGE TOOK A FRONT SEAT. OPEN THE MARKET AND LET THE OUTSIDE IN.




IT’S TIME TO LET EDUCATIONAL ENTREPRENEURS SUPPORT TEACHING AND LEARNING IN NZ SCHOOLS.
Today as I was trolling through the National Party  website, as you do, I notice that the Right Honourable Hekia Parata is sending a delegation of New Zealand educationalists to Asia. “In anticipation of hosting the 4th International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) in 2014 I have asked the delegation to investigate the characteristics of these top performing systems, and report on what can be learned, and what might be applicable to the New Zealand context,” says Ms Parata. (full article http://www.national.org.nz/Article.aspx?articleId=42091).
I am prepared to take a few risks when I say “good on you Hekia”, seriously I mean it.  She does mention that NZ has a good track record on the world stage with reading and literacy. She says we cannot become complacent and that our system is not performing well for everyone, particularly our Maori and Pacifica boys.  No surprises there Hekia! Having identified that we do have issues and wanting to do something about it is the most admirable position and in my opinion to be commended.
Where I believe we run into trouble is in the professional learning system that our Ministry of Education is overseeing. It’s just not working.
Over the past 7 years I have been involved with the teaching of oral language in a variety of contexts. Most recently in the development and implementation of the TalKit Oral Language Programme for Primary Schools.  While my business is privately owned we have worked hard to get the programme running successfully in 15 schools throughout NZ, which is a great start.
So what do we know after 2 years of working in schools-
·         Oral Language is the cornerstone of literacy.  James Britton (1983) put it so eloquently, "Reading and writing float on a sea of talk". Talk-Read-Write is the progression. 
·         Teachers are struggling to find time in the day to explicitly teach oral language.
·         Teachers are under pressure to deliver to national standards in literacy and while oral language does feature in the curriculum document they just don’t know what to do.
·         Teachers do not know how to assess oral language.
·         The vast majority of schools do not report on oral language to parents.
·         Many kids are starting school with an acquired language age of 3 years. Ask any new entrant teacher.
·         Talk in the homes is on the decrease.  We talk about the importance of books in homes, what about talk in homes. Positive, constructive and meaningful talk. It’s on the decline in all socio economic areas.
·         Highest at risk are kids from marginalised homes and boys. Our system struggles to teach oral language and this impacts on their literacy development.
·         The Ministry of Education fund 5% of the primary population with assisted Speech Language Therapy. I have seen first-hand some kids waiting up to 6 months to be assessed once they start school.  Speech Languages Therapists have huge workloads.
·         There are hundreds of oral language teachers throughout NZ with the skills to work in schools and to support teachers but many of them are not recognised by the MOE.  www.speechcomm.org.nz
·         Oral language skills improve thinking and problem solving ability.
·         Oral language skills build better citizens, it keeps kids out of jails!
The TalKit Oral Language Programme is working and to see what teachers are saying in our TalKit Schools check out this link http://www.talkit.net.nz/reference-sites
So herein lies the frustration..
FACT: I have contact the MOE via as many avenues as I can possibly consider and have had not success in getting so much as a response.  I was referred by a colleague to Dr Janne van Hees at Auckland University and  did meet with her. From my perspective Dr van Hess is doing an admirable job in the area of oral language research and has written a resource call “Expanding Oral Language in the Classroom” but is there professional development available?  Apparently there were limited workshops in the North Island in 2008. Anything current…who knows!
FACT: I have received dozens of expressions of interest in the programme from schools. Considering we have marketed in a small target area (lower North Island and part of Auckland) this has indicated the need for such a programme.
FACT: Out of these expressions of interest, only 15 schools have managed to find the funding to implement this programme.
FACT: School leaders, trust boards and teachers all recognise the importance of oral language as a keystone to educational success.
FACT: When asked why they were not able to go ahead all schools (without exception) stated lack of budget as the reason. (note: the programme is not expensive, schools don’t have the budget for anything much) the majority of professional development comes from the Ministry contracts (these are the only option for many schools who are not capable of raising funds by other means). That means choose a MOE funded programme or nothing.
FACT: The Ministry of Education does not presently have any oral language specific professional development available to schools in NZ (see www.mindu.govt.nz)
FACT: As a private educational venture, it is very difficult (impossible) to access Ministry of Education Professional Development Funding for a programme such as the TalKit Oral Language.  It is impossible to even try and talk to anyone in the Ministry about this- dead ends at every corner. It appears to be a closed shop.
FACT: The MOE are restricting schools abilities to choose programmes and providers that suit the needs of their students and communities. Why-who knows! Dame Wendy Pye of the Sunshine Book empire which provides educational resources worldwide says “the Ministry of Education (in NZ) seems to see me as a threat, to be honest with you, it’s a joke. I’ve submitted multiple papers and proposals backed up by conclusive research, but they don’t want to know. They fob me off with ‘Dear John’ letters, which say things like ‘thanks for your interest, but our contracts have already been fulfilled’ or they fail to respond. In doing so, they’re closing a door on our children and young adults. That would never happen in America”
FACT: The USA, Australia and many other countries around the world are happy to allow private professional learning providers and resources into the market. Wendy Pye- “In America, government bodies and private enterprise work co-operatively to provide the best solutions. Here, it’s a different story. People go on and on about poor levels of literacy and numeracy, particularly in certain sectors, but they don’t take responsibility. They expect the government to sort things out and are suspicious of private enterprise.”
The current government has invested millions supporting research and development across many sectors. It is frustrating to see educational entrepreneurs stonewalled and pushed offshore when we have such need here in NZ.  Our tangata whenua have an oral language history and while we work hard on our commitment educating all NZ’ers, without explicit oral language teaching in our schools we are doing a gross injustice to our kura and the treaty itself. Our focus should be on giving our students a voice. 
As a nation we have the ability, the professionals and the expertise to deliver an education that is second to none. The dozens of classrooms that I have worked in show me that we have dedicated teachers and leaders who want access to the tools to provide the education we desire for our kids. The politics and the bureaucrats are  in the way!
So what about Hekia’s delegation to Asia? Well, if I was a betting woman I would put high odds on them observing-
1.       Private educational enterprise working alongside state systems for the benefit of everyone.
2.       Oral language as a key competency in all classrooms. That the education providers of Singapore and Hong King recognise it as the cornerstone of all learning.
The cynic in my thinks that these things won’t be included in the report back to the Minister. 
It’s time that meaningful, appropriate and collaborate professional development started to support our education system in NZ.