Monday 3 August 2015

The landslide

For many years I have become more concerned that the lower tiers of the Tertiary system are largely useless.  I don't mean NZ in particular, nor do I discount the amazing work of educators in the field, but the outcomes, despite Government endorsement and spin, are by and large horrific.  Yes, learners get qualifications, but the courses in many cases DO NOT change the trajectory of learners' lives.

Quote: Policy-makers have confounded the acquisition and award of certificates with substantive skill improvement (Wolf & Jenkins, 2014)

My specialty is on the micro-aspects of education.  I.e - what happens in the moment by moment experience of the learner.  I can tell you with some certainty - the learning outcomes, in terms of 'skills and knowledge' of learners in NZ is poor.  And it has been poor for a long time.

It's not a question of fault - as everybody involved is working hard, it is something else entirely.

Anyway, I can't post the whole article because of copyright issues - but the UK is actually starting to talk about it.  Education Journal, issue 227, 2015

16-19 education and training failing to reduce skills inequality

England's post-16 education and training system is failing dismally to reduce literacy and numeracy skills inequality, according to new research from the UCL Institute of Education. Previous research studies have shown that England has very high levels of skills inequality by age 15 in comparison with other developed countries. But 16-19 education and training, only adds to the problem.   

Did you catch the last phrase?  "Only adds to the problem".

'The authors found that the high rate of early school leavers in England and some other English speaking countries led to too many young people taking short, low quality vocational courses that give too little dedicated time to improving their English and mathematics skills.'

Hmmm, that puts the cat among the pigeons.  Would love anyone's thoughts out there.  Agree/disagree?


  1. I'd love to see some Freakonomics style analysis here as it seems the law of unintended consequences is at work. Also, there's an escalation effect in play which is probably making things worse too. E.g. the more the funders become concerned the more they increase the compliance and measurement of the problem which in turn makes everything worse.

  2. Agreed, the Freakonomics lens would be fantastic. But I think I can pick the result - and that is that it is the economic cycles that determine success (as measured by the Gov), in the meantime they must be seen to do something, and take credit. I found it interesting though that the UK findings were so negative! I'm thinking YG? What are our results? Is YG just a holding cell until learners grow out of the age range?

    1. that is really interesting...If you're right, then the answer to your (rhetorical) question is fairly straightforward.

      This raises other questions too. One is re the efficacy of professional development to these tutors. Is success here also linked to the economic success and failure cycles.

      And another question relates to government: do they know (and they're just doing stuff for the sake of it) or perhaps they have no idea (in which case... well, I don't know what that means...)

      How then to avoid the downward spiral into determinism and fatalism...? This could be a very negative place to go in terms of thinking about this supposedly at risk group.

      Changing direction, here's a prediction then: if the success or failure of low level funded vocational training like YG is linked to economic success cycles as determined by government, then we should expect to see continual and cyclical upheavals in terms of both policy and funding criteria around this as the economy moves through this cycle. I think we can see this retrospectively over the last few years for sure.

      And perhaps, if the current trends around the nature of work continue (offshoring, outsourcing, downsizing, and general gutting of the middle class), then the upheaval cycle time should decrease, i.e. the time between major policy and funding revisions should get shorter.

      This is probably my own cognitive biases speaking, but one possibly implication is that the business of education becomes progressively more about risk and risk management.

      Larger organisations who know how to manage risk and can speculate on the outcomes of the economic success cycle and where the market is at will succeed and their investments will make money.

      Organisations who don't understand the rules of the game are like betters or gamblers who will keep holding on to a losing position to prove that they are right or simply because "that's they way we've always done it and it's always worked". This crowd has been rewarded for making the wrong (or irrelevant) decisions so long that they won't know how to adjust.

      Over reliance on YG funding = fragile position with limited upside and major potential downside if you fail to meet the shifting compliance goalposts and can't limit risk.

      However, I'm not sure that there is a clear alternative. I can almost hear the strains of "bring back the old apprenticeship system... like we used to have in the old days...!"

  3. We are certain that the future is uncertain! To your point regarding big organisations who are slow to adapt look at the Auckland polytech now laying off staff. That hurts. You are making me think of the anti-fragile content. An organisation like ALEC might just be the right type to manage the upheavals- quick to adapt, adding value to other organisations, and light on its feet.

    But, I don't get the feeling National are going to do anything to dramatic. They are in third term (steady as she goes) territory. Tinker around the edges but don't overhaul anything as long as the public feels things are okay.

    But, if we started to get some high profile research findings like the one referenced above - that might get things jumping.

  4. Hmmm at the moment ALEC is in a fragile position as well due to similar issues but a different funding stream. Upside is good, but potential downside is great as well due to TEC funding recovery policy. Most PTE's are in a similar situation if they have their eyes open. I've been thinking about Taleb's antifragile stuff a lot lately, so yes you're right re the reference.

    I think to be truly antifragile in the education sector you really need to have income streams from a whole smorgasbord of different things including outside of TEC funding. This is hard, and I can't think of many organisations who achieve this. Some TEOs who can straddle the corporate world as well probably come close, but you need business models that work with and without TEC funding.

    I think that even 5 years ago it was enough to be agile and quick to evolve. Now I think the situation is different. Agility is not enough. Not sure what the solution is. Currently, I think it is around risk mitigation, but that's my current lens due to reading Taleb.

    Another question in my mind is whether the economic success cycles are independent of government. I think there is some connection, but I'm not sure if these cycles are things that National (or any government) can actually control. The reason I think this is that our economic cycles are probably hardwired to the international economic cycles.

    What would be interesting is to find some way to correlate the international economic cycle to ups and downs in the tertiary sector here and see if there are any patterns.

  5. Yes - I was thinking you are more anti-fragile than tough, because you can benefit from the upheavals to a greater degree than other larger organisations. Your specialty may be to mitigate OTHERS risk, with your unique skill set (which is valuable to other organisations). Hence the more riskier the environment - the greater the opportunities. But yes, the single funding stream is unsustainable.

    Re the economy - ha ha, I don't think the Government has the slightest control, it's a goldfish in the ocean, but they live or die by it in most countries.