Education is a wicked problem (AKA What’s broken in education and how do we fix it?)



This is a soapbox rant

Click away now while you can. You have been warned…

Houston we have a problem

From primary school to higher education something ain’t right… Like Neo, you know there’s something wrong. Even if it’s hard to pin down.

Actually, there’s no shortage of description.

Just google “education broken” for a quick look. Nearly everyone has something to say about what’s wrong.

And there’s no shortage of prescriptions for fixing the problems either. But these tend to be complicated, contradictory and emotionally charged.

Learner problems

What I see in my own work is that we have learners of all kinds in all educational settings struggling with things like reading comprehension or understanding what’s required in assessments.

Most learners can read, but many lack the literacy skills needed to succeed in their studies, let alone in the real world of 21st work and community life.

That’s aside from the fact that many of the assessment tasks seem trivial or meaningless.

And then there are numeracy issues.

This is not just the inability to deal with fractions, decimals and percentages.

We’re all crap at those…

But basic maths as well. And an inability to apply maths outside the classroom.

In fact, I have an unsubstantiated nagging worry that a lot of classroom-based maths and numeracy training doesn’t actually transfer at all to the real world.

And what about all the factors that we associate with poor literacy, numeracy and low employability?

Learners with drug, alcohol and behaviour problems… Enduring cycles of family poverty… Poor housing and other societal factors. Second and third language issues… Learning-related anxieties… The impact of repeated academic failure…

And that’s just the tutors.

Damn it! I mean the learners. It’s the learners.

Tutor problems

Teachers, tutors and trainers face their own problems too.

This includes overload and overwhelm, not to mention problems with the content that they have to teach while somehow trying to address their learners’ issues at the same time.

Add in layers of bureaucracy, compliance and professional development and you start to see why tutors are so stressed.

Why wouldn’t you go back to an industry-based job after a few years?

Or sell real estate instead.

I don’t really want to get bogged down in the specifics of description or even prescription.

Well… maybe I do a little.

But what’s interesting for me is how complex this has become.

And we haven’t even got to the organisational problems yet.

Wicked problems

What we are facing in education is what’s known as a “wicked problem”. This is a technical term.

A wicked problem is one that:

  • Is essentially novel and unique.
  • Is not understood until after the formulation of a solution.
  • Has no given alternative solutions.

We don’t know how to deal with the exponentially increasing and unceasing acceleration and increase of technology and knowledge.

We don’t know how to deal with the impact of this in our own lives.

We certainly have no idea how to deal with the impact of this on education in the 21st century.

Characterising education as a wicked problem which is hard to understand until after the formulation of a solution helps me understand the phenomenon that people can only tell you what they don’t want as a solution.

For example: “No…! Don’t fix it like that”.

I call these negative solutions.

This is when one or more possible solutions to a problem are eliminated, but can’t actually be eliminated until they are fully developed and also weren’t initially obvious at the start of the exercise.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. But it is time-consuming and frustrating.

No Stopping Rule

Another characteristic of a wicked problem is the following:

  • It has no stopping rule.

A stopping rule is a rule that tells you when to stop doing something. For example, if you’re gambling at a casino, a stopping rule would be something like “I’ll stop when I run out of money” or “when I’ve played five games of roulette”.

Not only do we not know what to do next in education, but I’m not sure that we know what the conditions would look like that would tell us that we fixed it.

Or even fixed some part of it.

There is no Omega point.

And given that we’re on some kind of exponential curve of accelerating change including technological growth that now permeates every aspect of life and work we may never know what it looks like to “fix” education or when we’ve “got it right”.

At least not in the ways that we think we could at the moment.

One shot…!

What’s more, any solution to a wicked problem is a kind of ‘one-shot operation.’ This is compounded by the fact that solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong.

You can see this in history partially thought out, half-solutions that get proposed, funded, rolled out with enthusiasm and then thrown out, scaled back, defunded or otherwise scrapped.

It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just the nature of the problem.

Actually, it might be someone’s fault. But let’s not get on that train.

It’s a mess

This kind of problem is also known as a mess. Yes, that’s also a technical term.

This is when every problem interacts with every other problem. It’s a set of interrelated problems.

A system of problems.

(I wish I’d thought of that turn of phrase myself, but I lifted it from a Wikipedia entry).

If you want to look at the problem, you can’t really separate out the variables without losing the bigger picture.

In the past, when I’ve done professional development work with tutors I’ve referred to the problem of low adult literacy and numeracy as an ecological problem.

I didn’t use those words exactly. I called it a kind of swampy mess.

A swampy mess is something that ecologists understand but educationalists often don’t.

For example, in a swamp, you have to study the frogs, the mud, the old rubber tires, the decaying vegetation, blood-sucking mosquitoes, rotten tree trunks, slime and muck and all of it as a system.

When we’re looking at low literacy and numeracy our conversation might need to include poverty, colonisation, technology, poor schooling, anxiety, and fill-in-the-blank with a lot of other things.

In this kind of swampy mess, everything is complex.

Here are some things you’re likely to find when you’re dealing with a mess like this. See how many you can recognise from your own experience in education:

  • There is really no unique “correct” view of the problem;
  • People and organisations have different views of the problem and often pose contradictory solutions;
  • Most problems are connected to other problems;
  • Data are often uncertain or missing;
  • There are multiple value conflicts;
  • There are all kinds of constraints including ideological, cultural, political and economic;
  • There is often a-logical or illogical or multi-valued thinking (i.e. many possible truths are possible rather than a black and white view of the problem);
  • There are many possible intervention points;
  • Consequences are difficult to imagine;
  • There are considerable uncertainty and ambiguity;
  • There is great resistance to change; and,
  • Problem solvers might be out of contact with the problems and potential solutions.

Not finished yet…

The wicked problem and swampy mess are further compounded by another set of problems which I don’t have time to get into right now but I’d love to at some stage:

  • Groupthink.
  • Analysis paralysis.
  • Activity inertia.
  • Non-agile thinking and solutions.
  • Inability to “ship” any kind of solution.
  • Dysfunctional teams.

I realise that I haven’t said how to fix education. And I realise this was promised in the title.

Whatever the answer, I don’t think it’s another prescription.

Perhaps, more of an approach.

Cultural Capability Trial for Foundation-Level Educators


ako brand

Here’s something new from my He Taunga Waka Colleagues at Ako Aotearoa. They would love you to trial new content they have been writing.

The focus is on working more effectively with your Māori and Pasifika learners.

You’ll need to visit Pathways Awarua to trial the new material and there’s a link to a survey to complete at the end. Your comments will be anonymous.

Please participate. Your comments will help make this work even better. If you already have an account, just log in with that. You’ll see a screen like the one in the image below once you’re underway

Cheers, Graeme

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Kia ora tātou/ Talofa/ Malo e lelei/Kia orana/ Bula vinaka/ Greetings!

We are pleased to announce the launch the Cultural Capability trial for tertiary foundation-level educators!

General information

The purpose of this trial by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) is to improve the cultural competencies of educators across the tertiary sector.

The trial is based on cultural values – values will guide any educator to attain a broader understanding of their adult learners. The Māori Cultural Capabilities pathway trial focuses on the key value of ‘ako’, the concept of learning and teaching. The Pasifika Cultural Competencies pathway focuses on ‘values’ that are embedded and practised in cultural and everyday settings of Pasifika people.

What to do?

Firstly, read the attached information. The activities are located on the Pathways Awarua site, and here is the link to get there – https://www.pathwaysawarua. com/

Reminders

  • Read the information sheet first
  • Login by creating a username and password
  • Complete the survey monkeys after each pathway to give feedback
  • This trial will remain open till the 28 February 2018

Thank you for your participation,

The He Taunga Waka team from Ako Aotearoa

Information sheet for Cultural Capability trial 2018

Greetings/kia ora /kia orana/talofalava /malo e lelei /takalofa lahi atu /ni sa bula vinaka!

The purpose of the Cultural Pathways initiative by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) is to improve the cultural capability of educators across the tertiary sector. For this trial, the TEC are focussing on Māori and Pasifika cultural capability. This information sheet provides details for about the Cultural Capability trial created by the He Taunga Waka team from Ako Aotearoa.

Tell me more about this Cultural Pathway trial?

The cultural pathways consist of some sample activities which are interactive, for trialists to engage in, and respond accordingly. There are two pathways for trialists to complete; the Māori pathway focuses on ‘ako’ (the concept of learning and teaching); and the Pasifika pathway focuses on ‘values’ that are embedded and practised in cultural settings or instilled in the everyday actions of Pasifika people.

Where are they?

These two pathways and activities can be found on the Pathways Awarua platform, an online site for adult learners seeking to sharpen their literacy and numeracy skills in real-life situations such as driving skills, dealing with money, and health and safety. It is intended that educators (such as tutors, kaiako, lecturers, and training advisors) will be able to access these cultural capability pathways for their professional development too (easy instructions are found below).

How much time will it take?

This trial takes about 45-60 minutes, and there is a short survey to complete at the end of each Pathway.

How do I access the trial?

  1. Click on  https://www.pathwaysawarua.com/   and create a login-username and password.
  2. Click on go
  3. Select a pathway (Māori or Pasifika) on the left of your screen and complete the activities.
  4. Click on the link to a short surveymonkey to complete for that pathway.
  5. Go back and select the other pathway (Māori or Pasifika) and complete the activities.
  6. Click on the link to a short surveymonkey to complete for that pathway.

What happens after the trial?

We assure trialists that your personal details and written responses will be kept confidential and private. Your responses in the surveys will inform the design of further activities on these two cultural pathways. Information gathered in the surveys will be used for educative and research purposes only; and primarily for the benefit of tertiary educators.

We wish to finally thank you for your participation in this trial

The He Taunga Waka team from Ako Aotearoa

 

DEMANDS – New Content for the new NZCALNE Assessment 3 with ALEC


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Kia ora ano and welcome back

You’re up to the third assessment task in the new and improved NZCALNE (Voc). Kai pai you…!

We’re working hard to get all new content for this and other modules live on Pathways Awarua, but until then you can find the first draft here.

The new Assessment 3 still focuses on mapping the demands of your programme using the Learning Progressions. However, the format is simpler and easier to use.

There are six short sections to complete in the new assessment task.

  • What are the big picture literacy demands?
  • What are the big picture numeracy demands?
  • What are some specific reading demands?
  • What are some specific writing demands?
  • What are some specific number demands?
  • What are some specific measurement demands?

Follow the links below

If you already know what you’re doing with mapping, please skip ahead to the assessment template. Email us if you don’t already have it. You can always come back and dip into these resources as you need to.

Overview

The Learning Progressions

Looking at the big picture for literacy

Looking at the big picture for numeracy

Getting more specific

If you’re stuck, please reach out by email here: assess@alec.ac.nz or call Graeme on 0800-ALEC-1-2

Concepts: What is whakapapa?


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What is it?

Whakapapa refers to genealogy, history, stages of development, or layers.

Can we dig a little deeper?

Knowledge about who you are (identity) and where you come (background) from are integral to Māori approaches to education

Whakapapa helps connect people to knowledge about the world through stories.

Also, everything has a whakapapa, not just people. Everything comes from somewhere. The story of where something or someone comes from is whakapapa.

How does this help describe a learner-centred teaching environment?

This helps describe a learner-centred teaching environment because for Māori and many others, whakapapa is always the starting place. Whakapapa means that the learners are central to the learning from the beginning.

Whakapapa is also both a noun and a verb. This means that as well as describing someone’s background or genealogy, it’s also something you have to actively do.

Learners’ cultures are important. This extends beyond Māori and Pakeha as well. Learning to whakapapa your own and other histories opens you up as a whole person and helps create relationship and connections. You can use whakapapa as an education tool to help others:

  • Make connections to people, the environment, and things.
  • Understand history and human relationships
  • Explore different viewpoints and ways of understanding.

We often use the “Wh” words (Who, What, When, Where, Why) as a quick way of teaching the basics of an inquiry process for learning. Whakapapa is another “Wh” word that we could add to this set.

In fact, whakapapa sums up all of these words and provides a great tool for framing any learning.

Exploring the whakapapa of something, e.g. a subject, a discipline, an object, a person, a group of people, an organisation, or your own genealogy allows you to actually deal with all of the “Wh” words and to investigate the relationships between the parts and the whole.

What’s your starting point with a new group of learners?

  1. How do you whakapapa with your learners in your teaching context?
  2. What’s something that you teach, that would be interesting to whakapapa?

Teach better: How should we look at teaching and learning?


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Introducing Approaches

In these next modules, we look at some of the approaches and concepts used in adult teaching.

Here are a few things you need to know first. Feel free to skip ahead if you want.

What’s a teaching approach?

  • When we talk about teaching, an approach is simply a way of looking at teaching and learning.

Teaching approaches lead to teaching methods, which is the way you teach something. And this involves using activities, strategies, or techniques to help learners learn.

What’s a teaching concept?

A concept is an idea. In this case, it’s an idea about teaching or learning. For us, it’s related to adult literacy and numeracy.

We want you to know some of the key ideas about teaching and learning that relate to your work in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Why are we talking about this?

Any approach to teaching and learning has some theory sitting behind it. This includes the work that you do.

But we’re not going to get deep into education theory. Our goal is this… For you to:

  • Know some of the terminology.
  • Have a working understanding of what the words mean.

This is a big topic, but we’ve picked key approaches and concepts that are relevant to adult literacy and numeracy in Aotearoa New Zealand.

At every point, what we’re most interested in is our thoughts and answers to this question:

  • How does this approach help us make our teaching more learner centred?

This means that it’s the practical application that we want you to focus on.

What’s the problem? Socio-economic factors


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There is a range of socio-economic factors associated with low levels of adult literacy and numeracy.

This includes things relating to education, income and occupation that have a negative influence on someone’s position in relation to others in society.

Sometimes this relates to the kind of home environment that a person grew up in. For example, the following kinds of home life are associated with low levels of literacy and numeracy.

A home environment:

  • That is chronically stressful. For example, if parents are distressed.
  • That is characterised by low literacy and numeracy. An example would include a home where there are few books or reading is not valued.
  • Where parents may be unable to afford resources such as books, computers, or extra tuition needed to create positive literacy and numeracy experiences.
  • Where parents have less time available to read to their children at younger ages or provide academic support as they get older.

The kind of school environment someone grew up in has an impact too. For example,

  • Schooling that doesn’t meet the needs of learners who struggle for various reasons.
  • Poorly trained or inexperienced teachers.

In terms of income and occupation, these factors below are often associated with low levels of adult literacy and numeracy.

  • Poverty or low incomes
  • Unemployment or underemployment.

Other factors sometimes include poor physical or mental health, or discrimination because of culture, religious or other reasons.

Some questions to think about

Again, it’s good to stop and think about the impact of these on your own learners. The questions below are not assessed, but thinking about your answers to them will help you with the assessment task.

  1. Can you identify any socio-economic factors affecting your own learners?
  2. If you think about your learners, is any of this their own fault?
  3. Make a list of what factors you can positively influence versus what is outside of your control.

Plain English Definitions for the Literacy Progressions


Lit Progs

I’ve started writing new course content for the new NZCALNE (Voc) – the latest version of our course. I want to revise the definitions that we use to talk about the Learning Progressions for Adult Literacy and Numeracy.

The terminology is confusing for most people. And some of the existing definitions are not very helpful either.

Here’s a list of the literacy progressions below, with my plain English explanations. If this is something that you’re involved with using, either as a tutor or manager, I’d like some feedback.

I want to know if these make sense below. This is still a specialised area, but I’ve tried to use a limited vocabulary, active voice, and no adverbs.

Have I missed any critical aspects of the meanings? If yes, how can I add these without making it sound like rocket science? The audience is trades and vocational tutors who are non-experts in literacy and numeracy.

Here’s the list. Please direct any feedback to the comment section. Thanks…!

Vocabulary Knowing the meanings of words, how to use them, and how they relate to each other.
Language & Text Features Using and understanding language, texts, and parts of texts including speech.
Comprehension Understanding the messages, making connections with what you know, inferring meanings.
Listening Critically Understanding who is speaking and why. Aware of speakers’ purposes and points of view
Interactive Listening & Speaking Taking part in conversations and discussions. This includes taking turns, interrupting in a way that is appropriate and checking meanings.
Using Strategies to Communicate Getting ideas and information across to others in a way that is effective.
Decoding Knowing how to say written words out loud
Reading critically Understanding who wrote something, why, and for whom.
Purpose & Audience Having reasons and goals for writing. Knowing who you are writing for.
Spelling Writing words in a way that is correct and consistent.
Planning & Composing Deciding what to write about. Then recording ideas.
Revising & Editing Making changes and corrections to writing. The aim is that the writing is clear, meets your purpose and engages with the audience.