There have been two Herald sponsored stories in quick succession about children in the Tamaki Manaiakalani programme. The first an inspirational one about Noah, titled ‘The tech changing kid’s lives’, is about the clever things Noah can do digitally. Computers should be in all schools, are in all schools, and should be readily accessible. They have been made so in Noah’s school as part of the Manaiakalani programme and Noah’s response is admirable, important, and significant.
The second sponsored story is ‘Boost to learning pays off in low decile schools’ and sub-headed ‘Unique digital learning programme helps produce great results in low decile schools’.
The two articles in combination are seriously unbalanced and are a boost, in my view, to a dangerous mythology about what makes for success at school. The second article is really about linking the digital to NCEA success. I fundamentally disagree that the digital is important to NCEA success, only to computer success.
It is mainly the second sponsored story I focus on – the link to NCEA success. I don’t believe it is, and even if it was, is unknowable because NCEA is an utter mess.
Yes – computers should be at school, because they might not be at home and children should know about computers; they are, however, only marginally useful, at best, in general learning. But could I take an educated guess that Noah’s home is a computer-laden one.
After the Spark sponsored Herald first article is taken through its preliminaries, the real message is delivered:
‘Tamaki College is the secondary school where most of the primary school pupils, like Noah end up. As part of Manaiakalani, the college went fully digital in 2012, meaning every student has a laptop or tablet – and the results have been at least part of the reason Tamaki College has improved results, and likely future, for their school leavers.’
The real message is the digital one.
I now move to the second sponsored article.
Yes – the writer of this very smooth sponsored article knew where the challenges to the message might come from and set up a series of qualifications to divert them.
I identify with the area. A good number of years ago I taught at a primary school that contributed to Tamaki College, not so many Maori and Pasifika, but how I loved that group of children.
Such sponsored articles, no matter how fair or honest, and this one is a mile from being so, are a pernicious part of education.
Their point, no matter the context provided, is to build up a product, provide a glow for a company, and walk on the sunny side of the education street.
The overwhelmingly evident message is the digital: the writer, as for so many in education, cannot grasp the idea that the digital, at this stage, is in schools to learn about, not learn with. That learning with will come, but if quality learning is the aspiration, only if very hard earned.
Most of the research I read has digital learning, along with its often associated inquiry learning and cathedral-like open spaces, as part of the perfect storm for a decline in school performance – I’m not talking here about official results here but real results.
If there has been a lift in results for Tamaki College students, it will be to do with non-digital variables – they are listed in the article, declared as being important, but in the reading don’t come across as being so.
In regard to results, oddly enough, with all the build-up, only writing is put forward by Stuart McNaughton as a noted improvement, but I do accept from the article that the children’s attitude to learning has been boosted.
Which brings me to the point: Manaiakalani has not travelled well, not really been successful in duplication – a key characteristic of education change with any claims to validity.
So we would have to examine if the real benefits, if there are any, came from extra resources, extra people, and the Hawthorne effect.
I am transcendentally unimpressed with any use of NCEA results to prove the worth of an education programme. I am saying this in general, not aiming it specifically at any teachers or schools – but NCEA is a huge rip-off. Why, is explained in detail by going to the following link, and at the end of that going to other links which detail how national standards and NCEA are being hugely inflated.
Then there is the culminating rip-off in NCEA: the choice between putting forward roll-based results or participation-based results (nearly always participation-based). But such a consideration is just a final touch to a horse feathers farce.
I don’t like sponsored articles, they are very different in nature to even the shakiest education ones; and I don’t like the fantastically destructive obsession of the media with digital learning. I would be far more interested in the legendary new entrant teacher and her developmental programme or the Tamaki College geography teacher (usually the best in any secondary school) and the wonderfully inspiring things he or she is doing.
It is time Manaiakalani grew up.