Chris Hipkins, Labour and the education unions seem to oppose just about every change proposed by the Government on education, so it is no surprise to see hackles raised over proposals on online education that may involve private providers.
On Tuesday Education Minister Hekia Parata announced in Biggest update to education in 27 years:
One of the proposals in the Bill is to modernise online learning through the establishment of Communities of Online Learning (COOLs).
“COOLs will be open to as wide a range of potential providers as possible to gain the greatest benefits for young people. This innovative way of delivering education offers a digital option to engage students, grow their digital fluency, and connect them even more to 21st century opportunities.
“There will be a rigorous accreditation process alongside ongoing monitoring to ensure quality education is being provided.”
So it was not surprising to see this come up in Question Time yesterday. The Government got in the first shot.
6. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Education: What recent announcements has she made about expanding 21st century learning options for parents and whānau?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Yesterday the introduction of the Education (Update) Amendment Bill was announced in this House. It is the biggest update to education in 27 years and will provide flexibility for parents and whānau, and for children and young people at the centre of learning. One of the proposals is the establishment of communities of online learning that will enable online learning in whole or in part as a supplement to classroom learning or a complement to what their schools offer. Digital fluency is the universal language of the 21st century. In the future a provider, including our mainstream schools, tertiary providers, or private providers will be able to apply to become a community of online learning. This will give students, parents, and whānau the benefit of a digital option, grow their digital fluency, and ensure they can be global citizens in an increasingly connected 21st century world.
Dr Jian Yang: What measures will she put in place to ensure the quality of education is maintained for the young people who choose this option?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: To become a community of online learning, a provider will be required to meet a very high threshold. They will be required to undergo an accreditation regime to ensure that students will have access to a great New Zealand education. They will also be subject to monitoring and an intervention regime, just like all our schools. Providers will also have to provide evidence of their capacity to provide pastoral care and to meet the well-being needs of students. They will be subject to an accountability regime, including reporting against agreed student achievement outcomes, financial reporting requirements, and Education Review Office reviews. We also propose to set strict enrolment criteria—for example, a restriction on the enrolment of students for whom there is a high risk of disengagement in an online environment. We welcome the submissions of parents, families and whānau, and the education sector to the select committee.
Then Hipkins asked Parata about the policy, with David Seymour, John Key and Marama Fox joining in.
Education—Communities of Online Learning
7. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: How will her Communities of Online Learning (CoOL) proposal differ from online charter schools in the United States, given a study partially funded by a private pro-charter foundation found students attending those schools lost an average of about 72 days of learning in reading, and 180 days of learning in maths during the course of a 180-day school year?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Significantly. As I set out in the answer to the previous question, before a provider could become a community of online learning, it must undergo an accreditation regime, be subject to an intervention regime, provide evidence of its capacity to provide pastoral care, be subject to an accountability regime, and demonstrate that it meets strict enrolment criteria—for example, a restriction on the enrolment of students for whom there is a high risk of disengagement in an online environment. We have put these checks and balances in place because, like the Labour Party members in their Future of Work document, we agree that—and I quote from Labour’s Future of Work document—”… people can obtain entire qualifications online with the same quality of direct learning and engagement as if they were on site.”
Chris Hipkins: Does her own regulatory impact statement state “Historically, academic achievement for New Zealand correspondence school students is lower than that of students in face-to-face education. Engagement can also be low.”; if so, what New Zealand evidence does she have that fully online learning that is allowed for in this proposal will result in better educational achievement?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The member is damning 23,000 students, which is the roll of Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura)—the biggest school in New Zealand—and of course it has problems and challenges. [Interruption] Absolutely, and the regulatory impact statement outlines that, so I am glad the member has taken advantage of it. But like all schools in New Zealand that do face difficulties with engagement and achievement, so too does Te Kura, and it does a significantly good job with those kids who have been disengaged from other schools. As Dame Karen Sewell, the chair of Te Kura, has already publicly said, she welcomes this new approach and looks forward to Te Kura becoming a community of online learning.
David Seymour: Is the Minister aware that the study referred to in the primary question was popularised earlier this week in the American show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver; if indeed that is how the member researched his primary question, would that be an example of online learning?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: To answer that question in reverse order, yes, it would be an example of that; in answer to the first part, unlike the Opposition, who use overseas comedy writers as the font of their knowledge, we do not.
Rt Hon John Key: Does the Minister find it very odd when she constantly gets to read reports from people who claim that they want children in New Zealand to get a better education, especially the least well-off New Zealanders, but never want to do anything other than just back up their union mates?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: It is terribly disappointing for New Zealand parents, who are very focused on how they get the best education for their kids and are constantly obstructed by naysayers.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A little less interjection from my immediate right.
Chris Hipkins: Is she seriously suggesting that a primary school child sitting at home in their bedroom in front of a laptop or a tablet is going to get an education at least as good as a child sitting in a classroom, surrounded by their peers, and with a fully trained and qualified teacher guiding their learning?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Unlike the Opposition, I do not propose to prescribe for every child in this country or hypothetically—
Hon Annette King: Yes, you do.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, I do not, and that is why the bill is full of enabling provisions. We actually trust New Zealanders to make choices for themselves rather than have them prescribed to them by all-knowing other people.
Rt Hon John Key: Is the Minister aware that on Stewart Island the school there has 28 pupils and those 28 pupils are all learning Mandarin, the entire school, and they are learning online, and is that not a great thing—that young kids on Stewart Island are learning Chinese?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The first part of the question is in order. Supplementary questions should have only one leg to them.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am aware of that. I am equally aware that Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Waiu o Ngati Porou in Ruatoria is teaching physics and chemistry in Te Reo Māori to other parts of the country. The members of the Opposition seem confused about this policy—because in my answer I made it clear that mainstream schools can be incorporated in this policy as providers of online learning.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We now have a discussion between two front-benchers, which will cease.
Chris Hipkins: Can she confirm that all of the students mentioned in her answer and in the Prime Minister’s question were attending a school, and what evidence does she have that they will get an equally good education if they are at home by themselves without a teacher?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Again the member falls victim to his own prejudices. In the policy that we have laid out we have said there is a full range of options of what these communities of online learning could be like. It includes provision by existing mainstream schools. It includes provision by existing tertiary institutions, and it includes provision for provision by private providers. We are not saying yet what proposals will be acceptable.
Chris Hipkins: Does she at least accept the irony that while she is talking about opening up more flexibility and choice she is massively reducing the flexibility and autonomy offered to existing public schools and subjecting them in the same bill to even more compliance and red tape?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do not, because this Government has invested over $700 million into those exact same schools to ensure that they can have digital technology—24/7 ultra-fast, good-quality broadband data, at no cost to them—and we have incorporated as of a month ago digital technology as a core part of the curriculum. This is a next step because this Government is future focused, living now in the present, and providing for our young people to be internationally connected. [Interruption] Yes, very disappointing for those still living in the past; I understand that.
Chris Hipkins: When her bulk funding proposal results in schools reducing the number of subjects on offer, is she going to suggest to those students who can no longer take the subjects in school that they want to that they can enrol online rather than have the teacher in front of them as they have had previously?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: First of all, I have no proposal around bulk funding. Second of all, in the funding review we are still in the middle of a consultation process. The third thing to know is that schools already offer blended learning and they do offer it outside the boundaries of their own school, and, fourthly, our Government is absolutely supportive of that kind of collaboration.
Rt Hon John Key: Has the Minister of Education seen a press release by the Labour Party from Jenny Salesa saying that when it comes to Pacific population and bilingualism in New Zealand, the associate education spokesperson for Labour said this is a crucial—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is absolutely no—[Interruption] Order! I do not need help from Mr Chris Bishop. There is, firstly, no ministerial responsibility, and, secondly, it is a question that I perceive is designed to attack the Opposition party, which is in breach of Speakers’ rulings.
Rt Hon John Key: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I am not interested in arguing about it. If it is another matter, I will happily hear it.
Rt Hon John Key: Yes. I seek leave to table the press release, then.
Mr SPEAKER: No, and I am not prepared to put the leave.
Marama Fox: In addition to digital technologies being made a core curriculum subject, will the Minister consider Te Reo Māori and the New Zealand Land Wars also being made a core curriculum subject?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Te Reo Māori has exactly the same status in our curriculum as digital technology. It is available in any school where parents wish it to be available—
Hon Trevor Mallard: That’s not true.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: —and it is resourced accordingly—it is true. In terms of the—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Not true.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Argh! So from the past! In terms of ngā whawhai nui o Aotearoa, because the Māori Party has made strong advocacy to beef up the resources around Māori history, we have developed a significant website. I thank the Māori Party for that constructive advocacy.