The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr coined this well-known aphorism in his 1848 novel Les Guêpes (The Wasps). Teaching Council Chief Executive Lesley Hoskin would do well to bear it in mind as she contemplates the future of education.
Teachers need to be registered by the Teaching Council to practice. One of the requirements for registration is to show that they are developing their use of te reo and tikanga Māori.
Hoskin was recently interviewed by Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB. Hosking put it to Hoskin that, given all of the problems besetting our education system, it might be better if teachers focussed on more fundamental things like literacy.
Hoskin agreed that literacy is important. However, she asserted, our education system is ‘holistic’. “We’re … working with students to learn to be successful in the world as it is today. It is complex, it is relational, it is emotive, it is all kinds of things”, she said.
The world has certainly changed since Karr wrote Les Guêpes. Many things, however, remain the same. Like today’s world, the world of 1848 was complex and relational. No doubt it was ‘emotive’ (whatever that may mean). It was certainly “all kinds of things”.
The last three decades have seen a resurgence of Māori language and culture. This is to be celebrated.
Te reo and tikanga Māori have an important place in our education system. But insisting that all teachers focus on learning te reo Māori, irrespective of the communities they serve, is a distraction.
New Zealand faces an acute teacher shortage, especially in mathematics and science. The state of literacy and numeracy is, frankly, a disgrace.
One way to address the shortage is to employ teachers from overseas. But having to learn a new language will be a deal-breaker for many, especially when they can earn more in Australia.
Attracting mathematics and science graduates to teaching is difficult enough already. They have far more lucrative prospects available. Requiring prospective teachers to learn te reo Māori will make it even harder.
Primary school teachers are already overburdened and stressed. We desperately need them to focus on more effective ways of teaching reading, writing and numeracy. Additional requirements, like learning te reo Māori, will not help them to do this.
The future is, and has always been, uncertain. Sound education in reading, writing, science and mathematics will set up young people well, whatever the future may bring.
The more things change in education, the more children’s needs stay the same.