Changes in ideas about education reflect different ways of thinking about children.
‘Tomorrow’s schools’ is one of the major changes that occurred in New Zealand education system in 1989. This policy with its Neo-liberal approach, decentralized the education system, opened the doors of the education system to the free-market, brought in national objectives and gave opportunity for the individuals’ free-choice. Firstly, I would describe these key features, secondly, identify specific assumptions the policy has brought about and finally, evaluate its impact on education.
The government got rid of the too many layers of bureaucracy of the centralized Department of Education and educational administration was handed to the local communities. Schools were given control over their own resources and this encouraged community input. The simple structure enabled the government to save money.
The welfare liberal system which operated before the implementation of tomorrows schools could not achieve equality for all and the economy then was in bad shape. So the national pride changed from ‘care of all its citizens’ to a free market system (Carpenter, 2009, pp 3). Schools became self managing enterprises, in competition with each other for pupils, resources and teachers. The free market had the power to promote “economic growth and in allocating and using scarce resources” (Adams et al. 2000, p.153). The policy meant to promote excellence and efficiency by being responsive to communities and market. Schools were to be flexible in order to respond to student demands. This I think was the price New Zealand had to pay to achieve the stage of “developed” (when compared to other developing countries) – a 1st world nation.
The national objectives and standards did not necessarily convey neo-liberalism but it was a good way to generate league tables. Comparing schools by its ranking and surface standards can be frowned upon, mostly by educational professionals who know that real education of a school cannot be measured only by the academic success of its students. And yet, most parents do this when deciding the best school for their child.
To give freedom of choice, the Boards of Trustees included the parents who became the employers of all staff in schools, so that they will have a more say in their children education (Carpenter, 2009). School zoning rules changed. Schools in low socio-economic status (SES) areas lose their kids as the schools in wealthy areas chose the students they want (these were high achievers, students with rich parent who donate money). When low SES area schools lose students they also lose funding, as schools are funded on the basis of student numbers. And so they are lesser number of teachers and less subject choice.
Shuker (1987) describes destitute and neglected children who roamed the streets, engendering ‘moral panic’ through their activities. Partially then, education was bestowed as a ‘favour’ to the poor.
This was the picture of children before tomorrow’s school act which the government wanted to change. And so the government assumed children and their parents can make the rational decisions about their education. And these decisions might be for their individual economic benefit. Children were required to compete with one another for a good education. Dragging children to the market system was seen as a necessity. National standards stereotyped students into strict academic categories. The system also needed to label the students who were underachieving in order to help them. The result was that some children from disadvantaged groups became even more disadvantaged.
The evidence of underachievement of the low SES and Māori groups was one of the reasons for the change in education was necessary. And yet, marketisation of education only bridged the gap between the winning schools which were in wealthy communities and the loser schools which the poor attended...
References: Adams, P., Clark, J., Codd, J., O 'Neill, A. M., Openshaw, R., & Waitere-Ang, H. (2000). Education & society in Aotearoa New Zealand. Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.
Carpenter, V. (2009, 15th July). Education, teachers and the children of the poor. Paper presented at the Researching Professionals Symposium University of Otago College of Education, Dunedin.
Lauder, H. et al. (1994), The Creation of Market Competition for Education in New Zealand: An Empirical Analysis of a New Zealand Secondary School Market 1990 – 1993, Wellington: Ministry of Education.
Shuker, R. (1987). The One Best System? a revisionist history of state schooling in New Zealand. Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.
Gordon, L. (1997). “Tomorrow’s schools” today: school choice and the education quasi‐market. In M. Olssen, & K. M.Matthews (Eds.), Education policy in New Zealand: the 1990s and beyond (pp. 65‐82). Palmerston North, NZ: Dunmore Press.
Wood, B. (1995), ‘The Geo-Politics of School Choice: Auckland Secondary School Selection’, unpublished MA thesis, Geography department, University of Auckland.
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