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National’s Budget Blunder – Increasing the quality of education by eliminating technology teachers?

May 29, 2012

“Technology News” Balmacewen Intermediate School Newsletter No 3 May 2012 p. 5

In their eagerness to cut costs in their recent budget, regardless of the effects, the governing National Party made a serious blunder. Aside from a complete lack of vision and leadership, they are trying to argue that increasing class sizes and eliminating specialist technology teachers will improve the quality of education for young New Zealanders.

In a press release from the New Zealand Association of Intermediate Schools, association President and Principal of Pukekohe Intermediate School, Gary Sweeney, reported that more than 300 intermediate school teachers could lose their jobs next year. These are experienced specialists who teach cooking, sewing, art, ICT, woodwork and metalwork. Following an avalanche of complaints from teachers, principals and parents, the government set up a working party in an attempt to deflect some of the criticism. Radio New Zealand continues to follow the story, reporting on the working party yesterday (Monday, 28 May), and, this morning (Tuesday, 29 May), on the Government’s effort to backtrack due to the unintended consequences of spreadsheet decision making.

It is very hard to see how increasing class sizes and eliminating specialist technology teachers can possibly improve the quality of education. The government may well have realized that they have made a mistake. The question now is whether they are able to correct it. The ability to learn from our mistakes, and to correct them, is one of the fundamental skills that we learn at school. Let’s see if our political leaders have learned this lesson.

Last night, I sent the following email to Mr Andrew Hunter, the principal of Balmacewen Intermediate School, where one of my two sons is a student.

Dear Mr Hunter

As a parent and academic in Applied Sciences, I am shocked to hear that the government is planning to cut the funding that currently supports the teaching of technology to Year 7 and 8 students in New Zealand. Removing specialist, experienced teachers in Art, Food, Fabric and Workshop Technology clearly undermines the government’s stated objective of encouraging more students to pursue a career in science and technology. Furthermore, it will limit the ability of schools to expose young learners to the broad range of disciplines and experiences that enables them to develop as a whole person.

By offering well-supported, hands-on teaching in technology subjects, intermediate schools support a thoughtful engagement with the world of physical materials, as well as with the world of ideas. They encourage students to extend the capabilities of their hands as well as their mind at a formative stage in their development. Understanding the properties and potentials of materials is crucial to design thinking, problem solving, product innovation, and creative expression.

We need creative problem solvers who can navigate and operate within an increasingly complex and unpredictable world. Intermediate schools play a crucial role in helping young students realize their potential as well-rounded, well-educated, multi-talented individuals and citizens. By reducing the capacity of intermediate schools to do what they do best, this ill conceived cost-cutting measure undermines not only the education of our youth, but also the future of our society.

Best regards,

Mark

Dr Mark McGuire
Senior Lecturer, Department of Applied Sciences
University of Otago

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