A concerned parent and the Manaiakalani programme

Dear Kelvin 

I’m writing to you after coming across your very interesting website networkonnet.
I’m a parent with a student enrolled at a local school in Auckland.

I’ve been recently made aware of a number of parents who are very concerned with the roll-out of an e-learning programme for all senior children. Up to now the e-learning programme has been opt-in. I’ve only just been made aware that the programme is an off-shoot of the research activities of the Woolf Fisher Research Centre at the University of Auckland, specifically a programme titled Manaiakalani.


I’m seeking some advice in relation to the manner in which this roll-out is occurring. I would understand if you’re not able to provide any advice, but I thought it worth seeking your opinion.

There is no official mention of our school in the Manaiakalani materials. It seems that the roll-out at our school is a parallel development to the pilot programmes being conducted at other schools; effectively an untested, unproven pedagogy – referred to on their website as ‘retooling school’ – which is being deployed without parents being made aware of the what, why, how, and who are behind the approach.

Manaiakalani is an unambiguously neoliberal project of (gentle) indoctrination – the antithesis of education – perversely couched in the language of Maori mythology. ‘The hook from heaven’ (Manaiakalani) is a none too subtle (but oblique) reference to market forces for which it would seem we are being asked to groom our children. This showcase provides a sense of the slippery language being employed https://vimeo.com/98980880 note the use of key phrases such as ‘being on the same page’, ‘paddling in the same direction’, ‘efficiency’, ‘digital citizen’ and various other watch words which belie what would seem to be some undemocratic tendencies within the project.

Regardless of how you feel about Manaiakalani, the project remains an experiment and claims of significant ‘whanau engagement’ (http://www.manaiakalani.org/our-story/retooling-school) simply have not occurred at my child’s school. I was not even aware that my child was participating in an educational experiment until coming across it by chance.

In relation to specific impediments to educational efficacy – these are my observations from this year:

Shallower engagement with content (copy and paste is taken to be a form of research)

Weaker relationship with teacher (teacher adopts a central oversight role and does not engage as frequently with students)

Weaker critical engagement with ideas (very little sign of seeking to establish relationships between things)

Weaker emphasis on acquisition of basic mathematical skills

Focus on productive outcomes (power point presentations feature significantly) over educational outcomes (that is a grasp of material being explored).

My questions are:

  • Does this contravene the current relationship NZ primary schools have with the NZ Curriculum, the Education Act or any other relevant legislation?
  • Are schools free to implement an experimental education programme with no option of opting out (and without full disclosure of the fact that it is indeed an experiment)?

In part I had thought that the poorer quality of education this year was due to the specific teacher involved (who has since left) but having now looked into Manaiakalani who are driving the specific form of ‘e-learning’ offered at my child’s school, it’s hard to imagine how teachers might establish a quality educational environment within the constraints of the project.

I have no problem with using computers in a classroom – it was a feature of my primary education all those centuries ago – what I object to is the covert introduction of an ideological framework which is clearly disempowering to teachers and students alike.

Dear perceptive parent: your e-mail is wonderfully pertinent – following are some additional ideas:

There is no illegality concerned but the lack of introduction by the school is deplorable policy implementation – I’m surprised because if there is one thing principals are very good at these days it is public relations

The pedagogy outlined for the Manaiakalani programme is sound in its broader aims but as with computer programmes in schools generally, weak and misdirected in implementation

The overarching control of all pedagogies is the national standards pedagogy so the broader aims are bound to fail

The programme was researched by competent academic researchers which doesn’t mean the research was sound or they understand how children learn in classroom settings

I could sense throughout that after the Hawthorne effect (of something new and being under close attention) had worked off, programmes would become run-of-the-mill

Manaiakalani lacks robustness (in other words, unlikely to transfer well or last the distance anywhere)

I laughed at the touching faith at Level 2 NCEA as a validator of Manaiakalani, e-asTTle, and national standards: I am presently writing a posting about the corruptness of NCEA Level 2, the wrongness of e-asTTLe, and corruptness of national standards (not quite yet to the level of Level 2 NCEA)

I suspect that Manaiakalani may report an improvement in writing but e-asTTLe is a hugely faulty test bound to produce results to match

‘Retooling a school’ is a hideous and worrying term to use – the sort of term employed to hide true purposes and provide misleading ones

I agree the framework for the programme is neoliberal in the examples you provide also the implication that the digital will overcome the education effects of inequity – it won’t

Your point about using Maori values and mythology as an idealistic cover for policies likely to be unhelpful to Maori children is now entrenched in the education review office and ministry of education publications; it is nauseating to me and clearly to you – a commercialisation of Maori values to the detriment of those values

My goodness, your observations of classroom practice are acute

OECD research is showing that the more computers in an education system, the less well it performs in the things PISA measures

I can add that in the things that it doesn’t measure, education systems are doing even worse

But computers, of course, have to be there, but as a tool to be used only when they are part of promoting better learning (than other tools and practices)

Computer use is found to have the most deleterious learning effects on children from lower socio-economic environments

Most computer learning has a certain stillness about it; is fragmented; rarely placed in an affective-cognitive context of deep challenge; and lacking connections to previous learning, central disciplinary learning, and the immediate environment

There will be those who point to the discussion that often surrounds something called inquiry learning – inquiry learning is a curriculum practice specially devised for computer use – in the vast number of instances it bears no relationship to genuine social studies or science; it is terrible social studies and science – big issue abstract mushiness

In the video I saw, the questions the children were inquiring into were superior to the usual, but they could be easily answered by cutting and pasting, and they still had a generality that lacked sharpness and the likelihood of the absence of all those important connections referred to

Use of such questions need to be in the context of shaped learning units

They promised the computer would be a tool, then they invent a special kind of programme for it, appoint principals for it, dismiss teachers and principals for lack of it (oh what they did to so many wonderful leaders of junior classes), build special rooms for it, build whole schools for it, soon a whole system to be built for it (for multi-nationals and private companies to profit from) and for social control to suit government ideological purposes

What I saw in the video, with only minor variation, was the same shallow use of computers (despite all the good intentions) I see in hundreds of New Zealand classrooms

I inferred the cliché of the teacher not standing at the front of the class (the implication being that teachers would otherwise stand there and direct a whole lot of useless information to children); the teacher as the facilitator

Principals are going to courses to hear about computers, in other words, to hear about a tool, but not the curriculum (the genuine curriculum) that it is designed to serve

Principals are going to Singapore and paid propaganda trips to China for what curriculum purpose I do not know (it reminds me of those right-wing sponsored trips that used to be offered to go to America); I urge principals to stay at home and make people want to come to you; go to a curriculum course run by someone who can talk about the curriculum freely not bound by the constraints of the national standards philosophy

There is the huckster sales pitch, you can hear it and sense it as always there, of computers leading to jobs (and behind that again is that 76 trombones leading the big parade?)

All the time you can hear the clichéd idea that computers are for the future in the sense of ‘future proofing’ the children. A tool is going to do that? It is the humanity of the classroom context and development of the values that will best prepare children for the future; it is the sincerity of expression in the writing, the drama, and the art; the independence in the reading; the setting and solving of problems in the maths; the affective-cognitive challenge in the social studies and the science – that will future proof classrooms.

The aim of education should be the development of world citizen not a digital one.

All the best perceptive parent. Thank-you for your observations. I hope what I have added helps your understanding of the Manaiakalani programme in particular and computers in education generally.

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7 Responses to A concerned parent and the Manaiakalani programme

  1. Stephen says:

    Much of the development of computer use in NZ schools is characterised by;
    Hype, ignorance, competition, philosophical deficit, shonky research, egotism, greed and inequity.

  2. John Carrodus says:

    This is the most effective way to introduce an Core International Curriculum, slipped in under the guise of something home grown. It is about compliance, control, and cost effective megadata driven distribution of resources- especially tax dollars. It is also about multinational business and minipulation of the mases. Conspiracy?- No, It is much more serious than that.

  3. Brent Godfery says:

    An interesting read, and another dot to join with the others

  4. Sue McIntosh says:

    I embraced computers and inquiry learning, but only in the context of specific teaching to immerse children in a theme and using computers only when they did things better. In NZ this contributed to my downfall. I have left NZ and primary education, in favour of ECE in Australia, where I am actually allowed to be innovative and use my experience and aptitude for lighting fires in children’s minds.

  5. Kelvin says:

    A horribly sad comment Sue … and beautiful.

  6. Vanessa Burrell says:

    It’s definitely not computers themselves which enable learning but the teachers who guide students on how to share their learning with others. Computers are tools like paper and pencils and the main advantages are inspiring children and families to be excited about learning and share it. School need effective educational leadership to provide professional development to teacher to implement the curriculum in a variety of ways. I agree that changing the way we think about education does seem experimental. When we keep the best interest of students at the heart of our classroom the teacher should be able to plan and deliver a curriculum that suits their students needs. In any educational pedagogy people need to take from it what is important and works in their context. Parent engagement is a factor in student achievement but using computers by themselves isn’t the answer. Developing relationships with family is a priorty. Good two way communication, a sense of belonging and trust are important.

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