New Zealand is a small, some would argue, perfectly formed, country. We’re diverse and proud of it. That diversity is reflected in our education system.
Our roughly 5,000 early childhood education providers, 2,500 schools, 30 universities and polytechnics, and more than 400 private training establishments all run relatively autonomously. That autonomy creates a lot of choice for students and their families, as each provider reflects the diversity of its community in both its values and the local curriculum they offer.
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The core attributes of this system have been in place for a long time and it generally serves us pretty well. We punch above our weight by international standards in terms of investment and outcomes from education. Our main challenge is that we have huge variability in outcomes – our top students do exceptionally well but too many of our students fall behind and never catch up.
At least some of this variability is a side-effect of the autonomous system we’ve adopted. While high autonomy allows for local flexibility and accountability, it doesn’t always support effective collaboration between schools and other parts of the system.
We know that teachers and school leaders do a great job with the students and learners in front of them. However, we also know that it can sometimes be difficult to focus on the entire pathway for each learner, particularly when some of our structures don’t support easy access to information that can support that pathway.
This can create barriers to learning, further compounded when a learner shifts between schools. That’s because each new school and teacher needs to re-discover and learn what’s unique about that student, and what particular needs and skills they have. There can also be a lack of trust in facts and figures coming from previous links in the chain.
This system has been evolving over the last 5-10 years. We have been driving towards increased collaboration, including the establishment of school communities where information about learners and common resources can be better shared to respond to local learner needs. We’ve also been looking for technical solutions to help those who are involved in supporting learners, to achieve the best possible outcomes.
We’re now embarking on our biggest education reform in 30 years. The government has announced a major reform of the vocational education system. The Tomorrow’s Schools policy that created schools as independent Crown Entities is under review by an independent taskforce. And an independent Ministerial Advisory Group has delivered a draft Early Learning Strategic Plan that would result in significant changes to the early learning system.
A lot of the kōrerō (conversation) underpinning these reviews has centered on building a more interdependent and seamless system; an education system that supports each and every learner throughout their education journey; that is inclusive; and that can adapt to their changing needs.
We will need a lot of foundational capability to build this system and information will be one important strand of that. If we are to truly put children at the center of our education system, we need to build more sophisticated systems to share information about what works and to evaluate whether the system is delivering for all learners. We need the ability to store and move high quality, useful and relevant information securely, safely and effectively, so that it’s available when it’s needed.
That’s where Te Rito comes in. Using a platform provided by Edsby, Te Rito will provide a national learner repository that will enable the safe and secure transfer of information between school student management systems. It means that when learners shift between schools, the information that their new schools and teachers need to know will be available on day one. In due course, it will also enable this information to move from early learning into schooling and beyond.
Te Rito will improve the education experience for learners when they change schools and help to make the transition more seamless, because information doesn’t need to be repeated and re-told at each step in their journey. Not only will this improve decision-making at all levels of the system, we expect this to reduce workload for administrators, school leaders and teachers.
It will give an increased understanding about the skills, talents and needs of individuals and groups of learners. Because the information will be more readily available and more rapid, targeted action can be taken at all levels of the system – including at classroom, school and local community levels. It will also help inform policy decisions and system changes.
We’re trialling the system in one Kāhui Ako (group of education and training providers) in the Bay of Plenty in the second half of this year and we’ll learn from that before we scale up. It’s early days but we’re excited about the possibilities that Te Rito offers.